Engaging and Embracing People with Disability

How can we welcome people with disability—often forgotten or neglected—so that they feel like they really belong to the body of Christ?

It is Tuesday morning and your WhatsApp alert goes off for the tenth time. “I am sorry I can’t come to small group this week,” the message says. Your heart sinks. It means that no one is coming.

You pick up your Bible for your quiet time, discouraged and a bit grumpy. You feel you are the only one who takes small group seriously. Opening your Bible to Luke, you begin to read the day’s passage: “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many….”

“Yeah, and no one bothered to come, just like my small group,” you mutter to yourself.

“So why don’t you invite Raju?” you hear yourself think.

“No”, you say out loud, “Raju just says negative things all the time; he takes too much effort.”

“Invite Raju”, you hear again.

“Really?” you groan. “You want me to invite him?”

“Invite Raju.”

You sigh as you pick up your phone to send a WhatsApp invitation.

Minutes later, a return message from Raju pops up on your phone. “Okay,” it says.

As you read the message, you think about Sheila and her family. Her son has an intellectual disability, and they are rarely invited anywhere because he can be disruptive at times.

You send them an invitation as well, and in seconds she replies, “Are you sure? Arjun can be a challenge at times.” You quickly reassure her that you are serious. She readily agrees to bring her family.

Engaging People with Disability, Weakness, and Infirmity

The Call to Engage

Around one in ten people in India are living with a disability. In a church of one hundred people, that means ten would be living with a disability. Is this true of your church? If not, where are they?

The Lausanne movement says that people living with disability are one of the largest unreached or under-reached people groups in the world.

We live in communities full of vulnerable people. These communities are full of people dealing with grief, sickness, disability, family conflicts, and mental illness. In these communities, we must work hard to belong.

The portrait of the gospel in Luke 14 challenges us to create communities of belonging. In such places, imperfection is welcomed and accepted. As a result, even a “broken you” will be missed when you are not there. Through this story in Luke 14, the gospel challenges us to engage with those living with disability and embrace them with God’s love.

Intentional Engagement

Engaging with people with disability, weakness, or infirmity begins with listening to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He may call you to invite that person or that family who pushes your buttons, makes you feel uncomfortable, or just takes a lot of effort to be with. It begins with recognising that we are all broken, and yet we are all image bearers of the triune God (Gen. 1:26-27).

Around one in ten people in India are living with a disability.

Imagine looking at yourself in a broken mirror. It is still a mirror. You can still see your reflection, though you might have to tilt your head a bit and squint to recognise yourself.

In our weakness, we still reflect God’s glory. It might be a bent reflection, but it is still a reflection of  God’s glory. In fact, sometimes a person with profound disability may reflect God’s character more clearly than those of us who hide it behind masks of control.

To engage with disability, we begin by intentionally creating space for people who are often neglected. We welcome them into our homes, into our small groups, and into our sacred spaces. As we do this, we learn that we have more in common with our elderly neighbour who is living with dementia than we had suspected.

However, beware, these spaces will demand a vulnerability of us that will be uncomfortable. As a result, this vulnerability will push us to accept ourselves without the mask we hide behind and cause us to relate with others as we are—secrets, sins, weaknesses, warts and all.

Embracing People With Disability, Weakness, and Infirmity

Recognising God’s Plan

Embracing the neglected with God’s love starts with recognising that people with physical, mental, or relational limitations have value and are an indispensable part of the body of Christ.

With this in mind, the apostle Paul makes this clear when he says, “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Cor. 12:22, NLT).

In our weakness, we still reflect God’s glory.

Often, people living with disability or long-term illness are seen as a burden. Embracing forgotten people with God’s love includes remembering that God has a purpose for their lives. It involves recognising that their disability or illness is included in God’s plan for them and the fellowships to which they belong.

Therefore, embracing others with God’s love requires that we actively create opportunities for the broken to minister alongside the other parts of the body. We need to design opportunities to fit the person’s gifts, interests, and abilities.

Living Out God’s Purposes

We can encourage and equip an outgoing person living with Down’s syndrome to be part of the welcome team. A wheelchair user might join your music team with the simple provision of a ramp. A person with communication difficulties can be an active part of your fellowship’s prayer team.

These additions to your teams will not be without cost. You may need to adjust the way you do things, how you communicate, or even the physical structure of the space to include these new team members. But the consequence of our failure to embrace brokenness is that we lose the opportunities for growth that comes with such embrace.

In Jesus’s parable of the banquet, the servant journeys from resistance to obedience. His heart expands to see the world the way his master sees it. For us, the journey of engaging and embracing results in transformed hearts. We are compelled to gather in “the weak, the frail, and the infirm.” God gives us hearts that long for them to experience the sense of belonging that we know. And isn’t this, after all, living out the great commission?