In this Christmas season our focus is often on giving gifts. We want to give gifts that are just right for each family member and friend on our lists. We make lists, search through ads, and ask people to email us their wish list. Have you or your church ever wondered what gift you could give to a person or family impacted by disability?
Have you considered the gift of community? God has wired each one of us to desire a place to belong, a place where we are known and valued; a place where we not only receive love, but we give love to others. If you are familiar with disability ministry you have probably read statistics stating that families impacted by disability are largely missing in our churches, and yet one of the greatest gifts we can give to these families is the gift of an authentic, caring and affirming community. People of all abilities need a community where they not only receive care, but care for others. People need a community built on mutual relationships, where they are co-laborers; sharing the love of Christ with others in their local church and communities.
Finding the perfect gift usually begins by knowing the person. What do they enjoy doing? What are things they are good at? What brings them joy? How do they give and receive love? Is there an individual or family in your church impacted by disability that you could get to know this Christmas season? In getting to know that person or family you will be going on a journey that may transform both of your hearts. It is a journey that may begin in ignorance but ultimately ends in community where we are co-laborers in Christ.
The 5 Stages: Changing Attitudes was created by Dan Vander Plaats of Elim Christian Services. It describes the journey that God may be calling you and an individual affected by disability to take this Christmas season. You might begin by not really knowing the person (Stage 1: Ignorance), but as you begin to know the person God moves in your heart to have compassion (Stage 2: Pity). Even though you may at first feel sorry for or even look down on a person with a disability as you continue the journey of getting to know this person God gives you His kind of pity, a godly compassion that leads to acts of care (Stage 3: Care).
But to truly give the gift of community you need to keep going on this journey of attitudes to become friends (Stage 4: Friendship). Friendship is a mutual, accountable, encouraging relationship. But God does not want the journey to stop there. In the Body of Christ we are more than friends, we are co-laborers (Stage 5:Co-laborers). We encourage one another to use our gifts in serving Christ and in sharing the love of Christ within and outside of our community.
Where are you on this journey? Where is your church on this journey? Is He calling you to give the gift of community to an individual or a family impacted by disability this Christmas? We would love to hear your story.
Karen Roberts is the Academic Studies and Church Relations Manager for Joni and Friends Chicago. She is also a certified instructor of Beyond Suffering. She has a passion to equip churches to begin and develop disability ministries, especially in the areas of accessible worship and community outreach.