A friend on Facebook, recently, posted a link to an article, titled "How to Find a Good Church". It is less about how to find a church and more about what a good church looks like. It is a fantastic article, and I chose to share it with my friend's list.
There was one line in the article that drew particular interest to me and has sparked a bit of conversation. Conversation is always good, especially when it involves children with special needs and their families.
Half-way into the article, the author states, "The tragedy of modern Christianity is that when members of the body hurt, too often we relegate them to finding resources outside the walls of the church. " The article is not necessarily referring to families who have special needs children but to hurts in general. But, the statement still holds true. Within my own county in Texas, I can name only one church that has teachers who are trained to work with children who are deaf, autistic, or who have various delays. There are a few churches who provide interpreters for the deaf but that's a whole other blog post.
The question of starting a ministry in this area arose in our conversation, but I think it is more about attitude and education than ministry. I'm not sure what type of ministry would be specifically set-up outside of the typical support groups. It is more about an overall attitude of both the membership and the church's leadership of acceptance, encouragement, and education. It may not be cancer but 7q11.23 duplication can be very trying, frustrating, and even heart breaking.
I know the same is true for families who have down syndrome, autism, and other genetic disorders. One person told me recently, "Raising a child with special needs is a lonely job." It shouldn't be. The church should be surrounding them with encouragement and prayer. Members of the church should be the one of the first to educate themselves on the disorder, not to mention be there with constant encouragement.
This is not to say I, personally, don't have educated and encouraging friends. I do. But sadly, I can count on one hand those who have personal knowledge of my trials and are willing to be a shoulder to cry on and a voice of encouragement when I need it most.
But, so you don't feel like I am singling out the church, the same is true even within family. It is hard for family members to accept that a child does not meet the same norms as their other nieces, nephews, cousins, or grandchildren. It is easier to just ignore the issues. It is also hard for some within family to listen because they feel it is more about attention-getting than anything else. Acceptance within family is difficult on so many levels, and I am not the one to even begin unraveling the psychology behind that. There are others much more qualified.
The purpose of this post is to merely say that families with special needs children need more encouragement than the typical family. You don't have to provide answers. You don't even need to fully comprehend the issues at hand. You don't need a special degree or a ministry leader. All you need is a merciful and caring heart and a listening ear. Sometimes all we need is someone to hear our story or let us talk through our emotions without those emotions being dismissed. Our children may not be dying but it is an emotional journey all the same.
*Note: If you want a better glimpse into the emotions of a parent with special needs, I invite you to read Amsterdam International. Written by Dana Nieder, the mother of a child with an undiagnosed genetic disorder, she explains what it is like to land where you least expect it and just how frustrating and lonely it can become.
You can also read my article, The Quest for Encouragement: Are You in the Airport or Not?