Recently my pastor told a story from his days as a youth leader that made me laugh out loud and tear up with emotion.
Back in 1987, Pastor Brian from First Baptist Church in Geneva, Illinois, brought some youth with him to serve in rural Mexico. They partnered with another pastor and group of youth that included a 25-year-old named Randy. While everyone else was digging holes in the field to plant crops, Randy sat alone dropping seeds into cups for future planting. He had cerebral palsy and walked with metal crutches dragging his legs behind him. One day he made his way out to the field and said, “I want to dig.” Someone got him a chair to sit in, and having a lot of upper body strength he was giving it all he had and doing a great job. In fact, he was digging with so much force that he wound up face first in the hole with his legs sticking out! Once Randy was upright again the exasperated team leader asked, “Randy, what in the world are you doing?”
Randy’s response? “I’m just serving Jesus—what are you doing?”
What a perfect response! He was, and I hope and pray still is, going strong and serving the Lord Jesus.
Randy and anyone else, regardless of abilities or disabilities, who know Jesus and have God’s Spirit in them has one or more spiritual gifts. In The Message, author Eugene Peterson, puts it like this: “God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!” (1 Corinthians 12).
In fact, later on in 1 Corinthians Paul writes that those parts of the body that seem weaker are actually given greater honor (1 Corinthians 12:23). Why do these portions of Scripture and Randy’s story affect me so much? Because of my 11-year-old son, Luke. Luke has autism and lost his speech when he was 3 years old. He needs a lot of help and support; I love him so much but have to confess that in my darkest moments I’ve wondered if he has any gifts or talents to share.
Terrible of me, I know. But, God’s word tells me that Luke DOES have spiritual gifts to serve and build up the body of Christ. He and others with disabilities have much to teach the rest of us. But, are we (myself included) giving them the chance to do so? In spite of all Luke’s challenges (and who among us doesn’t have those?), especially during tantrums when it is hard to keep him and others safe, I can tell you many things he has shown me. One thing is through his smile– full of innocence and joy which is hard to find in this world. He is so happy and excited when he gets to swing or have one of his favorite foods. It makes me ask myself why I don’t have joy and thankfulness in the small pleasures that God provides.
May we welcome those with disabilities into our communities but not stop there. Let’s give them the chance to serve—and dig—like Randy did, with gusto, many years ago.
Debbie Abbs graduated from University of Illinois–Champaign/Urbana with a degree in journalism, works as a freelance journalist, blogger and disability ministry coordinator for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Her writing has been featured in Chicago Parent Magazine, Autism Asperger’s Digest and the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) E-Journal. She was a columnist with the Kane County Chronicle and currently contributes to www.comfortinthemidstofchaos.com where she is one of several special need parent writers. At her home church, she facilitates a ministry for moms of children with special needs that includes a breakfast, speaker and sharing time. She lives in Batavia, Illinois, with her husband, Mike, and their two sons, Brandon, 16, and Luke, 11. Her journey in the special needs world began when Luke was diagnosed with autism at age 3.