United Through Disability

Spanning Our Divisions of Race, Culture, and Class

Article by

Director of Donor Partnerships

When I’m in a group of parents where disability is the topic or reason for our gathering, the characteristics of ethnicity, education, economic status, and geography fade in their importance. I talk and listen to people who are very different than I am, and they talk and listen to me. And it isn’t weird or uncomfortable.

Because of disability.

Some of it is because of common experience. I have been ignored by health care professionals who assumed a dad didn’t have anything worthwhile to say about his son. I have been talked down to by school administrators as they explained why it was perfectly acceptable for them to break the laws protecting my son. I have had strangers say outrageous things to me after seeing my son.

Every parent of a disabled child of every ethnicity and economic status and educational level has a story like this — and many of them much more severe. And we share common feelings — of grief, of sadness, of fear, of bitterness, yet also sprinkled with moments of joy that “normal” families cannot understand. Both tears and laughter come easily. Boundaries get broken down because of these common experiences and feelings. Seeds of relationships are planted.

Because of disability.

Every people group in the world experiences disability. When my friend Justin, who runs a ministry dedicated to the issue of disability and Christian faith, goes to other countries with his hope-filled message, the more effective messenger is his teen-aged son, Eli, who lives with Down Syndrome. They see this dad isn’t just talking about life with disability; he is living the life right there for the world to see. And seeds of hope are planted because of a real boy who lives in a real family.

Because of disability.

Now, I’m not suggesting those differences don’t matter. I admit I have unusual advantages as a white, educated male in this society. That isn’t something everyone with a disabled child experiences. But I also know we desire authentic relationships in our churches that cross boundaries of race and ethnicity. Might it be we’re ignoring a significant tool that God has given us to destroy boundaries that seem insurmountable?

We’ve seen it before. When adoption became part of the language and life of my church, the color of the church started to change. My children have experienced church in a different way than I did, with other children who don’t look like them being a normal part of their Sunday School and youth group activities. I’m really glad about that.

Might disability play that same role in our churches? Families like mine are hungry for the truth of God’s sovereignty over all things and the hope that is found through a Savior who suffered. Might pursuing families in love, opening hearts and minds to see the gifts that all children and families are, regardless of physical or intellectual capacity, also open the doors to real relationships with people who normally wouldn’t attend because of artificial barriers like ethnicity or income?

Might God destroy this massive work of the devil — separating us by ethnicity, social class, and income — through the so-called weakest members among us? Perhaps God might allow brothers and sisters experiencing disability to build pathways for spanning our other divides.

(@johnpknight) is Director of Donor Partnerships at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne, and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments, and a seizure disorder. John writes on disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.