Inclusion is one of the top buzz words in the disability community. Extensive research has been done on inclusion, countless articles have been written and everyone seems to have an opinion on appropriate levels of inclusion in schools. I think we can all agree that there are clear benefits to inclusion.
In the church world, the conversation on inclusion almost always is centered on children and the world of children’s ministry. Obviously, there are more possibilities for inclusion outside of children’s ministry.
Many in the church world are waking up to the fact that children with disabilities don’t stay children forever. Special needs ministries often struggle to keep children engaged when they grow older. We must continually look for more opportunities for inclusion as our friends age.
Have you ever heard someone say, “They may be 20 years old, but have the mental ability of a 5 year old.” Too much emphasis is placed upon cognitive ability and social and emotional needs often get ignored. This mentality not only stifles people with disabilities from achieving what God wants them to do, but also puts up roadblocks to meaningful inclusion opportunities.
At First Christian Church in Canton, OH we took the conversation of inclusion to a whole new level. For the past few years we have been talking about a philosophical switch in our approach to disability ministry. The conversation is about moving beyond just doing disability ministry “for” or “to” people with disabilities. We realized that this approach made our friends the objects of our ministry and that was never our intent. We wanted to move beyond that and become a place where we do disability ministry “with” people with disabilities. They are our ministry partners as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Ultimately we simply want to empower our friends to “do” ministry.
We finally saw this play out in a very unique way through my friend, Nick. Nick is a young adult in our Hidden Treasures Sunday morning adult class. Nick was going through a difficult time last December. He found himself stuck in depression. After weeks of counseling I challenged Nick to go into the worship service and to simply pray. I asked him to pray that God would help him discover what he could do that would be positive. Nick was so consumed by negatives in his life at the time. After the worship service that Sunday, Nick’s entire countenance had changed. He was no longer slumped over and dragging about. He was completely upbeat and wore a smile on his face as he approached me. He could barely contain himself as he told me that God had answered his prayer. He felt convicted that God wanted him to plan a mission trip.
A mission trip planned by and for people with disabilities was exactly what we were hoping for as we were making our philosophical switch. Note that it was not something anyone from my leadership team came up with. It was an idea that was birthed by God through our friend Nick.
Mission trips are incredible experiences that have the ability to accelerate spiritual growth. Persons with disabilities rarely go on mission trips - a typical experience that should be made available to “all people.”
We wanted to see inclusion work here too, so 9 months of planning started after that conversation with Nick. Trust me - along the way I had all the reasons why it couldn’t work bouncing around in my mind. Who gets to go? What are we going to do? What about medications? Am I going to be able to get consent from families or guardians? What about traveling out of state? What if we had an emergency? How are our friends going to be able to raise the money necessary? And the questions kept coming.
During our planning stages we were blessed to find Dutton Farm, The House of Providence, and Woodside Bible Church. All three ministries are located close together in Michigan. All three ministries also shared our same philosophical approach to Disability Ministry and were excited to play a part in our trip.
Along the way God answered all of our questions. On August 25-28 we went on our first-ever Disability Ministry Mission Trip. God was faithful to Nick. God spoke to Nick. Nick listened and acted in obedience to God. Because of his obedience, God blessed our little adventure.
So inclusion is even possible on mission trips!
If you’d like to see some of the highlights from our trip check out our video...
In addition to his work for Key Ministry, Ryan Wolfe serves full-time in the position he has held since 2010 as Developmental Disabilities Pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. At First Christian, Ryan has developed a faith-based day program & employment program for adults with developmental disabilities. First Christian Church also hosts respite events, an annual prom, Sunday morning ministries for both children & adults, a volunteer guardianship program, and more to support persons with disabilities.
Know a family impacted by disability in need of help finding a local church? Encourage them to register for Key for Families. We can help connect families with local churches prepared to offer faith, friendship and support, while providing them with encouragement though our Facebook communities. Refer a friend today!