Welcome to Just Juniors

In September of 2008, my 7th daughter Samara was born 9 weeks early. 4 weeks later, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. My self-therapy in learning to fully embrace her diagnosis involved designing t-shirts that portrayed Down Syndrome in a positive light. It is from this that my business, designing disability awareness products, has grown.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An open letter to the church

Last night, I was at a prayer meeting, and we were discussing the topic of  'why does God allow suffering'. In the course of the discussion, Samara having Down Syndrome came up. One of the women mentioned the classic belief that God only gives special kids to special parents. So I shared with her the tshirt design I have just come up with that it is through God blessing us with our special children that we become special parents, not the other way round.

Anyway, lately I have really felt a call to promote disability awareness. That's why I do the t-shirts, after all. But last nights conversation really got me thinking about the role of the church in reaching out to those with disabilities and their families. One day, I hope to share this with my church. One day, I hope to share it with churches everywhere. So if this touches on something in your own heart, please, feel free to share it.


Jesus would leave the 99 to save the 1. What does that mean? Would we put ourselves out for the 1, or are we happier with the 99 we already have? If 99 are already saved, who is the1? I don't think He was just talking about your average everyday sinners who need saved. If He was, the ratio would be more like leaving the 10 to save the 90. And I don't think that He was referring to the Christians who backslide. Cos the ratio would still be more like leaving the 80 to save the 20. Now, I know it is a parable. We are not really sheep grazing in a field. But why did He choose the number ratio that He did? I believe it is because we, even as Christians, put a value on human life. A value based on our own narrow views of who we invest our time on. Usually those who we expect to gain from. Either in church attendance, physical help, friendship, financial assistance, or other tangible 'returns'.

Think I am off the wall here? Let's imagine for a moment that I am a full time wheelchair user. I cannot walk at all. I've noticed the people milling around after the Sunday morning service, and they all seem to be happy and friendly. The kids are running around laughing, and climbing trees in their Sunday best. Something tugs at me. Maybe God has been gently calling me for a while. So one Sunday, I get all dressed up. Something that isn't easy for me, but if I'm going to meet God for the first time, I kinda want to spruce myself up a bit. Put in the effort if you know what I mean. It's a cold morning, but pushing myself up the gentle slope of the street (which, incidentally has no footpath, so I am sharing space with the cars on the potholed road), I quickly work up a sweat. I arrive at the church. Hold on. Something I hadn't noticed before. There is no ramp. Ok, so the building is old, the church is small, and ramps cost money. And until now, there hasn't been a wheelchair user in the congregation. The 99 people attending that church all have full use of their legs. But then I remember. I am the 1. The forgotten loner. It isn't cost effective to have wheelchair access when no-one has needed it before now. And even now, my tithes won't cover the costs for a long long time. I am, after all a beneficiary, so my tithes don't really amount to much.

Feeling despondent, I turn to leave. But a couple of people notice me. They run over and offer to lift me, chair and all, to the door. I gratefully accept. I repeatedly thank them for their generosity. I am basically prostrating myself with thanks that someone is offering me the chance to enter their church, where I should have automatically had access anyway. Just because I am human. But, instead, I have been put in a place of having to lower myself to the position of grovelling cripple. I am used to this, so I shrug it off. It is just a part of my life now.

The service itself was great. I really felt God calling me. So at the alter call, I wheeled my way forward, wanting to give my life to Jesus. But the pastor doesn't take the time to find that out. He immediately prays for the 'obvious'. That I would be healed. Saved from the curse of the wheelchair. HELLO, I want to be saved from the curse of sin, not this chair! I am a person here. Not a case study. Or an opportunity for you to witness a miracle. Please. Accept me as I am. Love me as I am. And lead me to the one who saves the soul. There will be plenty of time to talk about the other aspects of my life later. You could maybe even install that ramp.

Oh, but next time........Install the ramp first. I may not be the first one who has turned away.

So, what should we as a church be doing? Well, Jesus said that as we do to these the least of His Brethren, we have done it to Him. So, have we decided that those with disabilities and their parents have been given some sort of supernatural powers to deal with the life they have been given, and pray for them, while secretly being thankful God didn't think we were that 'special' to have to handle that situation? Do we tell them that if they can increase their faith enough, that He will heal them? Do we leave it to the government agencies to support them in whatever ways it is that people like 'THAT' need support?

God made it pretty clear. In what we do for these Brethren, we are doing for Him. Conversely, in what we ignore in regards to these Brethren, we are ignoring Him. It is not the state's job to provide for the disabled, the orphans, the widows. It is the church's job. The state has just had to take over, cos the church wasn't doing it's job properly. And truthfully, the state doesn't do that great a job of it either. Sure, there is some financial help and respite care available. But have you seen the hoops you have to jump through to get it? Sometimes it's easier to not bother. And those financial helps never come close to covering the cost of not being able to work, having to travel for specialist appointments, paying for a housekeeper cos you're too tired to lift your head another moment.

So, what as a church should we be doing? I don't believe God gives a special needs child on a family and says 'Well, you're on your own now. Let's see if you can pass the test'. No. He has provided for the least of His Brethren, by telling the church to take on the responsibility of helping out. If every Christian in our small town devoted just 3 hours a week (that's as much time as one church meeting) to helping a family with a disabled member, then I believe that we would be reaching into the lives of every disabled person in our community. 3 hours to offer some respite. 3 hours to do a bit of housework. 3 hours for an overworked, underpaid single mum to have a sleep.

Think you're too busy? Have too much else to do? Have your own family to care for? I know mothers out there, whose partners have left them, and whose children literally need 24/7 care. They sleep with one eye open. They are up and down adjusting tube feeds through the night. THEY are the ones who have no time. Yet they do it because they have to. It is the right thing to do. Well, Jesus tells us ALL it is the right thing to do. Not just the parents. Are you too busy to give Jesus 3 hours a week? Because, if so, then you are too busy to do just what He asks of you.

Doctors, lawyers, miners, 2 income families. You may work hard for your high incomes. Those with family members who are disabled work a lot harder. And most of them live below the poverty line. Think about that. Some of these people work 24/7, always on call. Doing medical procedures most of us have never heard of. Being Dr, Nurse, Carer, Interpreter, Researcher, and more in addition to the role of being a parent. And, they live below the poverty line. Something is amiss. And I believe it starts with the church to turn things around.

Disability awareness isn't just about acceptance. It is about embracing. Taking on whatever we can to ease the burden of care. The person isn't a burden. But often, the health issues, the physical demands, and, sadly the attitudes of others, create a burden. It is our job as Christians to be servants. We are Christ's representatives on Earth. Are we giving Him a good name?