Disability ministry is a unique blessing which teaches many invaluable lessons. It blesses not only the families affected by disability, but the church as a whole. Children can be especially blessed by the introduction of disability into their lives: it can provide them a way to serve and love others.
Every year, my church hosts a Vacation Bible School and children and adults with disabilities participate in this week. Many of our children with disabilities are placed in classes alongside other children.
A few years ago, a little girl with severe physical disabilities came to our VBS. This little girl did not look like the other children. She was adopted from another country and this was the first time her parents were leaving her somewhere for a few hours. Her mother was understandably nervous — it was difficult for her to leave her daughter in the hands of others. She knew her daughter looked different from other children and she feared others’ reactions toward her daughter.
On her first day in the classroom, the other boys and girls stared at her. They were frightened because she looked different from them. They asked many innocent questions, which the teachers answered to the best of their knowledge. The little girl’s “buddy” for the week encouraged the other children to play with her and help her with the activities.
At first, the other children were very shy and not too keen on playing with her. During the week, however, a beautiful transformation took place. After the first few days, little girls and boys were arguing over who would sit by the girl, who would walk with her to the next activity, and who would help her with the art project. This little girl who began the week as a stranger, ended the week being so loved and sought after. Her mother cried when she peeked her head in the classroom and saw her daughter surrounded by friends.
While the mother and daughter were both greatly blessed, many others also benefited from the little girl and the transformation in the classroom.
Her teachers saw the importance of introducing children to the world of disability from a young age. Other adults and children were greatly impacted by watching children love on a little girl who looked different than themselves.
Just like childlike faith, these children who were at first frightened by the unfamiliar eventually became curious enough to ask questions. Once their questions were answered, they were able to see past the unknown and see the person before them.
Our human nature fears the unknown. Once the unknown is made familiar, as in the case of these children, fear melts away and is replaced with love.
It is powerful to introduce children to disability at a young age. Your disability ministry provides countless learning opportunities for you, your team, but also the entire church. Those touched by disability can offer your church something that no one else can. Welcome those with disabilities in your church and do not be afraid to have children with disabilities in a classroom with other children. You will be amazed and blessed seeing children step up to love and serve those who are different from themselves.
Emmalyne Kwasny is a senior at Mississippi State University and serves as editor-in-chief of the university’s student-led newspaper, The Reflector. Emmalyne volunteers with Joni and Friends Mississippi and is currently interning with Joni and Friends Cause 4 Life.