Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

It’s been four months since I left the Good News Group and I’ve lamented on how hard I have found it and reflected on what God might me leading me to next. However, one gift God has given me is the opportunity to go back to GNG once a term to lead the teaching. I loved being with them at Christmas and this term the group are looking at mission, along with the rest of St Andrew’s church.

So I’m going back this Wednesday to introduce the topic, which has given me opportunity to pray and look at what place people with intellectual and other disabilities have in the mission of the church.

It is clear when we look at Mephibosheth in the Old Testament and the paralysed man who was brought to Jesus through the roof by his friends, (Luke 5 and Mark 2). as well as the parable of the great banquet (Matthew 22), that people with disabilities are meant to be in the kingdom of God. David brought Mephibosheth to the king’s table, despite him being previously banished and his own assessment of his life being “I’m nothing but a dead dog”. (2 Samuel 9:8) David treated Mephibosheth like a kings son. Jesus showed in his healings and actions, and specifically when healing Bartimaeus (Mark 10), that sin did not cause disability. Jesus showed great respect and inclusion of people with disabilities in his kingdom. Showing us all that we were all in the same state of judgement for sin and in need of rescue by God’s son who came to save us.

So starting with who needs salvation?

…the answer is all of us.

Who can be in God’s kingdom?

….anyone who believes Jesus is God’s son who came to pay for our sin.

My teaching is going to begin by reminding us all about this fact. We cannot be missionaries if we don’t know and believe what the message is!

I’m going to play two songs, and probably have my puppet sing it to the group. First ‘Mighty to Save’ by the Newsboys and then ‘Rescuer (Good News)’ by Rend Collective. I find that music is a great way to help reinforce the teaching and I want to use these two songs to remind us all that the gospel is an exciting thing to share, that it really is the good news.

Then we will look at the Holy Spirit and how before Pentecost, even those who had seen the risen Jesus were scared and hiding away. When God’s power came by the Holy Spirit they were bold, could communicate with people they couldn’t communicate with before, and had courage to go and tell everyone they met the good news about Jesus.

I know the members of the GNG who are passionate and sure of their faith in Jesus. I want to tell them that their communication, intellectual or physical barriers should not prevent them being missionaries. I’m thinking of One young woman who speaks through eye gaze technology forming sentences on a screen. What she has to say about the gospel is just as good as what Billy Graham had to say about the gospel. And the gospel doesn’t always need words. Signing, caring, inner joy are all ways to communicate the gospel about Jesus.

I know words aren’t always necessary. I became a Christian because of some believers actions. I saw Jesus shining out in the way they cared for, accepted and included me. At that time my life was a mess, I had too many wrong things going on and I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. These people did not judge, but showed me Jesus loved me through their actions towards me. They just made sure I knew Jesus was the reason they cared for me so much. A few months later I gave my life to Jesus and started on the best part of my life.

My friends who are seen as ‘less’ by society (and some in the church) because of their disabilities have so much to offer the churches mission. All of them who believe have the same access to the Holy Spirit as all believers. So, ‘what qualification do you need to be a missionary?’ The answer is to know who Jesus is and believe he is the saviour God has sent for all people.

Obviously mission starts where we are. Telling our friends, housemates, carers, families, neighbours, therapists, doctors and people we meet in the community about Jesus is mission. But it would be easy to assume that is all the mission people with disabilities can do.

There may be some difficulties in people with disabilities becoming full time or even short term missionaries on overseas or local mission events. But we need to give them every opportunity to be included. That may mean extra work to make it happen. For example, does your youth group get involved in a short term overseas mission? How could a disabled teenager be given the same opportunity? How can we help and make this happen?

One of the barriers we have found has been logistics. I have always wanted our GNG members to be given the opportunity to speak and share the gospel when we are invited to speak at events. But getting people there has been a real barrier. Time, safety, distance and medical needs have been a challenge. So whilst aiming for getting much better at this what we have done is start with what we can do. So we have tried to stay local, so I can pick people up and get them home in the same day. When I’ve been in Manchester and Liverpool lately, this allowed Cristina, Stefan and John to come and be part of our mission.

Another thing I tried was video. So when I went to London, I interviewed John and Chelsea who then were able to present what they had to say on screen. There’s a few opportunities coming up where we can have more GNG members involved in sharing the gospel, their stories and faith (God willing). We will continue to learn new ways of communicating that message…after all, that’s the ‘gift of tongues’ that we are asking for.

Communication might be in words, signs, pictures, music, actions. The Holy Spirit can use all of these, through any of us to let others know who Jesus is and how much they need him as their saviour.

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