Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#encouragement’

When God speaks to you in a language you understand…

When we work with adults who have learning disabilities (the key word is “with” because working together is what we do), often the people who don’t have learning disabilities say how much the way we communicate makes more sense to them as well.  When we have shorter talks, the Accessible Bible text, visuals, Makaton and BSL signing, a visual timetable, drama, sensory stories and interaction – then we find that all the carers, team and visitors learn just as much about the Bible as those who have learning disabilities.   We are communicating in ways that help people understand the Gospel and the truths about Jesus in the Bible.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, a key feature was that the disciples started to speak to the crowds in languages that they understood.  I think the same applies to how we use signing, visuals and other forms of communication in our groups today.  We are speaking in languages that people in our group understand.  And it is the Holy Spirit who helps us do this.

God knows I am a visual learner.  Visuals give my brain a better understanding than if someone tries to explain things to me in words.  When I met with a financial adviser about setting up a new pension, he drew a diagram to explain all the complex financial information about setting it up for me.  The normally complex information that would have gone way over my head, made sense in the way he communicated it.  I felt confident that I understand my pension and the new laws surrounding it.

God knows my brain better than anyone.  He made it and he knows just how to communicate to me so that I understand his word and his will.  Over the years I’ve been a Christian, God has often given me pictures to show me what he wants me to do, or explain something I don’t understand.  Those pictures have been in dreams, in art,  and lots of them have been in nature… because that’s often where I go to pray and ask him what he wants me to do.

For over a year I have had 5 big ideas going around my head.  All of them were in response to the needs of others that I have seen around me.  All of them were valid, valuable services but to do all of them would be impossible.  When I was in Keswick this year I sat looking at this view.

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I counted 5 mountains to represent each of the projects that were in my mind and asked God to show me which ones I should be working on.  The projects seem like mountains to climb.  There will be a lot of work and new things to learn as I navigate getting to the summit.  I thought the analogy of mountains suited my query to the Lord quite well.

One evening I again asked God to answer my prayers and show me which mountains to climb and which not to.  I looked up to the view and suddenly two of the mountains were covered in cloud, where none of them had been a few minutes ago.  The clouds stayed over these mountains for long enough for me to ask God if that really was my answer and for me to receive a deep sense of peace that it was.

God again was speaking to me in a language that I understand.  Pictures make sense to me.  I can ‘see’ the message and the Holy Spirit confirms it.  On that same evening I was listening to the message at the Keswick Convention on my computer.  The message was about mission.   The answer to my prayers was about mission.   I’m taking that as confirmation and going for it.  I’m praying for protection, resources and guidance.  And in my next post…I’ll tell you what those mission plans are…

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A Team of all Abilities.

Here are some of the team as we played a new game I took along with me called “Linkee”.

I was thinking today about the amazing team that I was part of at Keswick.  Thirteen of us were in the team of all backgrounds and abilities.  We were from Glasgow in the North to Worthing in the South, and came together for just one week.    Straight away, on the Sunday afternoon when we all got together for the first time there was a lovely feeling of being in a family.  People who knew each other made sure that people they didn’t know were made to feel welcome.  It was a great start.

For the rest of the week, each person took up their role.  Whether it was welcoming, playing music, leading, signing, computer or serving tea –  I there was no fuss, no power struggles, no moaning.   We shared, laughed and encouraged one another.  Wearing the same T-shirts, who could know what our backgrounds were?  We were a doctor, care workers, unemployed, volunteers, retired, business people, teachers.  It didn’t make any difference.   Nine of us shared the accommodation and cooked, ate and cleaned up together.

I want to use my blog this week to say thank you to this wonderful team.  Thank you for making me feel so welcome and part of things from the start.  Thank you for making me laugh, asking about my life and sharing our needs for prayer.  Thank you for your prayers for the week, for the guests who came and their families and challenges.  Thank you for serving faithfully and joyfully.  Thank you for giving this week of your life to serve and enable people with learning disabilities to access great Bible teaching.  I know we learned from the Bible together.  I saw how all of you sat with, listened and prayed for the guests who came.  I know you will go home with them still on your heart and in your prayers.  I loved how you threw yourself into the week, never minded looking silly or doing something different.  You encouraged and supported, laughed and enabled all to join in.  Thank you.

As you go back to your lives I pray you are blessed.  I pray God touched your lives too and will be with you as you face your own challenges at home.

I’m praying we all get the chance to be part of a team like this again.  A team of all abilities and a team loving Jesus our Lord together.

Lynn x

 

Being included in the mainstream @Keswick Convention

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Our week at Keswick is separate from the main meetings of morning Bible Study.  There is a very good reason for this – many people with learning disabilities that come to our meetings find the main meetings inaccessible.  The language is too complex, it’s talk based and it is a long time to sit still and listen.  There are Bible passages to read and follow – not easy if you can’t read well or at all.  And so our meetings do provide access to the teaching in a way that is visual, explains complex or ‘religious’ words and concepts and allows the congregation to interact, join in and have their Bible teaching in more manageable chunks.  We have used the NIrV Accessible Bible all week and the easy access language in this version has been easy to use and well received.

Keswick Convention are very supportive of the work we do.  Providing these sessions allows families with adults with learning disabilities to access the Convention as a family.  Some can come to our meetings on their own while their parents and carers are able to go to the main meeting.  Others need the continuing support from their parents and carers but they are able to join in something together…rather than feeling that they are having to ‘entertain’ their son or daughter in a meeting that is too complex for them to access.  (It’s not surprising they get bored in a long meeting they cannot understand so well – I do!)  What it does is allow families to feel that all their needs are met in one place, that they can holiday together at the Keswick Convention and feel that all are spiritually refreshed.  I think there may be more we can do to develop this in the future.  More support for the often elderly parents still caring for adult children might be helpful.  We do a lot of praying for and with the guests themselves and a lot of encouraging them to use their gifts in the sessions.  We come alongside them and talk with them, and often find we have a lot in common.  Our love of Jesus is the most amazing thing we share and the Holy Spirit moves amongst us in this week.  You can feel His presence even in the simplest conversations and things that we share together.  But after Keswick, many are going back to complex or difficult situations and it would be good to spend more time praying with and supporting them more individually.

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Another thing we do at the Keswick Convention is go up on main stage on the Wednesday evening meeting.  These seven minutes are a wonderful time for the group and a chance for the other visitors to the Convention to see what we do.  We usually interview one of our guests, giving their testimony.  This year a young woman called Lisa, who is from Glasgow talked about her faith in the wake of having 17 major operations in her life and another one soon to come.  She talked about how she loves working with the children in her church and we could see what a delight she is to her church and they to her.  We then led the congregation in singing one of the songs we had been learning all week “What can I do to be like Jesus?”.  Singing and signing so that everyone could join in.  I took Molly, my puppet up on stage and one of our guests also brought her puppet (Molly’s twin we reckon!) and her confidence as we sang and danced with our puppets together was wonderful.  Instead of being at the back of the group, hiding her face, she was at the front, sharing the limelight with her puppet!

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Being part of the mainstream, even for those seven minutes is important.  I thank the Keswick Convention because they see it as something very important to include in their programme.  Its not to ‘show us off’ or say ‘Arn’t we good to have this here?’ – but they see the Livability/Prospects sessions as an important part of the programme and a way to make the convention accessible for families with adult children with learning disabilities.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about their accessibility for children with additional needs as one of my daughter’s friends was a ‘buddy’ for a child with additional needs all week.  So I will report on that when I find out.  If you were there and want to tell me about your experiences, I’d be really grateful.

Also the Keswick Convention give us a slot to do a seminar on the Thursday morning. Andrew and I delivered a talk on making a sermon/talk accessible through using different forms of communication and visuals etc (based on one of my previous blog posts).  There were only a few people who turned up so I do think there is a lot we can do to advertise and organise this better.  I’d love to offer a whole week of seminars – we in the additional needs stream have a lot to say! From theology to practical tips – every church has something to learn about accessibility.

Why we use drama with adults with learning disabilities.

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The best acting award…

All week at Keswick we have used drama in our meetings.  The Bible passages that we were learning from were from Luke and were excerpts from Jesus’s life and interactions with people he met.

All you need is a simple script (but be willing for participants ad-libbing),  a few bits of costume and the odd prop or two.  We also used the Accessible NIrV Bible all week.

On Monday we did two drama’s looking at Jesus and the sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee and the parable of the two debtors – Luke 7:36-53

On Tuesday we looked at The 10 lepers who were healed – Luke 17:11-17

On Wednesday we looked at Zacchaeus  – Luke 19:1-10

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Zaccheaus and Jesus.

On Thursday we looked at Jesus calls Peter – Luke 5:1-11

On Friday we looked at  The Disciples on the Emmaus Road – Luke 24:13-35

Drama has many advantages.  First it slows down the story so that those who take longer to process information can do so.  It breaks down the story into chunks and adds action to the dialogue.   We show that the events happened to real people and that Jesus came to meet with and help people who had needs just as we do.

Sitting in an hour and a half long session could be really difficult and very boring if all we did was talk.  Concentration and attention may be difficult for some of our guests (and the team!) and breaking up the session with drama, songs and puppets helps keep everyone’s attention and interest.

Participation can be a really good way to make people with learning disabilities feel valued.  We believe passionately that we are all church together and giving the guests the chance to share the story telling with us is important too.  Even those who don’t want to participate enjoy watching others who do.  We were so blessed by all those who acted and brought their own expression and interpretation of the drama to our story.  Three memorable moments for me were on Monday when a shy guest did a fabulous job of wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair (it was a wig!) and the joy as she joined in the drama nearly every day.  Then the deaf/ partically-sighted lady who brought humour into the telling of our ‘parable of the debtors’ story.  And the visitor from the Carlisle group on Thursday whose expression of shock, delight and excitement when Peter caught the whole net of fish in our makeshift boat.  Here are some of the best photos.

So much happened this week that I have another couple of posts to do but I’ll get to them next week.  I’m at home now and feel like I’m still there.  I thank God with all my heart for a week of such blessings.

Can we all be a bit more like Angela please?

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Psalm 131 (NIRV)

A song for those who go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. A psalm of David.

Lord, my heart isn’t proud.
My eyes aren’t proud either.
I don’t concern myself with important matters.
I don’t concern myself with things that are too wonderful for me.
I have made myself calm and content
like a young child in its mother’s arms.
Deep down inside me, I am as content as a young child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever.

I’ve just come home after attending the funeral of one of our Good News Group members.  Angela had Down’s Syndrome and lived to be 61.  She lived with her family and was part of a church that loved and accepted her as she was.  She’d been at the GNG for many years but hadn’t been attending for almost a year due to being ill….but she is and always will be part of our family.  We will miss her very much.

You see Angela didn’t have very many words but those she did have she used to great effect.  She introduced herself to everyone – literally everyone – by going up to them with a huge smile on her face and greeting them with “Hello, my name is Angela” in a beautiful sing song voice.

Angela loved handbags, football and colouring in.  She loved music and singing worship songs and got so excited when we had puppets that we used to just get them out of the box and sit one next to her, just to share in her delight.  She had a twinkle in her eye that told us when she was joking or pulling our leg and Jesus shone in her and from her every pore. And Angela could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because that came from one of her favourite films.

Angela was never judgemental.  She had no regard for status or rank.  She treated everyone the same whether she liked you or you had done something that annoyed her (although she was never mad for long).   Angela lived each day just for that day and didn’t seem to worry about the future.  She did love and engage with everyone around her, no matter who you were.   The Queen would have had the same greeting as a pauper.

A bit like the Jesus I know.

I’m tired of people being excluded from church families because they are different, don’t fit the mould or are the wrong kind of person.  “Are you disabled? Well, you can’t do this or that.   Are you a woman…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you LGBT?…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you a foreigner?…well you can’t do this or that.  Can’t you keep you disabled child quiet?…then you can’t do this or that.  Are you mentally ill?…then you can’t do this or that.  We can’t have our churches run by these kinds of people.”  

 Did Jesus make up these categories…I don’t think so…

But these are the messages I hear from all kinds of Christians and church people.  We’re all shouting at each other and no-one seems to be listening.  (Except maybe the outside world who think what are they on about?!)

So, in my grief today I was reminded that Jesus came for all of mankind.  That no-one is excluded unless they think they don’t need him.   I want to be more like Angela and accept everyone, just as they are.  I am working it out as He teaches me what that looks like in practice.  I’m willing to be shown where I’ve got it wrong –  by the Spirit working in and through the people and situations I meet.   At the moment I don’t even know if I want to part of ‘the church’ in this country that’s doing a lot of shouting – but not about the gospel, only at each other.  But I expect God will sort my thoughts out about that eventually.

So will you join me in being more like Angela?  Angela’s name means “MESSENGER OF GOD” and here’s her message. It’s simple really.  Open up your arms and greet people in the name of Jesus.   No matter who they are.

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People, Puppets and Praise – Day 3

Today I am going to let the photos show you what a fun day we had.  In the morning we had a group from Kendal join us.  They brought a drum and a guitar and lots of enthusiasm too. We continued to learn about Elisha and Naaman, through drama and had a great telling of the ten lepers story from Janet (who is a person who tells stories really well!)

In the afternoon I ran the puppet workshop and around 36 people turned up! We learned some basic principles of puppetry such as keeping your puppet looking at it’s audience, how to do different movements and emotions.  Then we put on some praise songs and put it all into practice.  I’m going to let the photos tell the story…Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (11)

The two types of puppet we used.

‘Talking Puppets’ and ‘Dancing Puppets’ Me and Karen the signer.

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Two girls holding puppets.

Sio and Frazz my two assistants and our performance to the group.

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The guests having a go.

The guests having a go.

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More guests having a go with the puppets

More guests having a go

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All the room was full of people using puppets

What a great workshop we had. Everyone engrossed in activity.

Hope you enjoyed our pictures.

I’d love to recommend a couple of websites / resources for learning how to use puppets. This book by Amy Robinson with accompanying DVD is brilliant to teach anyone about puppeteering and One Way UK do courses and sell puppets (although puppets can be bought anywhere of course.)

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

 

Consider the history of people with learning disabilities in discipling them

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Did you watch “Call the Midwife” over the Christmas break?  For those of you who didn’t, it’s a drama set in the 1950s and 60s about midwives in the East End of London.  This Christmas episode focussed on a group of unmarried mothers in a mother and baby ‘home’.  It was a bit (well, a lot) sanitised in the programme but reminded me of the way unmarried and pregnant girls used to be treated.  Their babies were often taken from them (whether they wanted it or not) and we can only imagine the effect on a whole hidden layer of our society – the mothers and the children, still alive and whose lives were forever changed by the decisions that were made.

My own grandmother was an unmarried mother in the 1930s. She had a terrible time as the family outcast, but the kindness of her sister and later reconciliation with her parents enabled her to bring up my dad as a single mum.  No wonder she was always such a fiercely determined woman!  Yes, things changed in society in the 1960s and 1970s but there are centuries of ill treatment and children being abandoned to overcome.  History is full of the illegitimate children of kings, but so many ordinary people must have been in the same situation, outcasts from the start.

The same attitudes went for those who were born with disabilities.  So many were outcasts and later in history shut away in large institutions. Some families bravely kept them at home, but education and employment were hardly options for these children.  Education and inclusion for people with learning disabilities, is a rather new concept.  In history we read about the ‘village idiot’ and the Victorian ‘asylums’, of homeless and neglected people with little opportunity in life but to rely on the charity of others.  Life expectancy was low for many people with learning and other disabilities.

Are you glad that you live in these times.  We have an imperfect but much improved education system.  It is enshrined in law that a broad and balanced education is a right for all.  We have social and national health services and community living.  There are some opportunities for employment.   Oh yes…there is far to go and much to complain about…but what if we start from a place of gratitude.  What we do have is a blessing and we can build upon the work of others and make it better in the future.

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In our churches, communities and towns are people with disabilities in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older who were born and raised when times were very different. In our group we have at least one person who grew up in a large institution… a large ‘metal’ hospital.  (As it was known). Now living in the community and well integrated into ordinary life, it is easy to forget how this early experience might have shaped his life.  Do we take the time to ask sensitively about the early lives of the people with learning and other disabilities in our churches?  it is easy to assume that they had schooling and support when they were younger…and maybe they did…but asking them about it might reveal some very interesting insights into the way they have been treated and brought up.  And be careful…we need to be very sensitive to safeguarding and respecting privacy.  Did you know that if an adult with disabilities reveals abuse or accusation to you, then it is their right to report it OR NOT?  This is the difference between adults and children, even if they are vulnerable.  I can cover this issue in another post if people are interested.

If we are to minister to the whole person and disciple them, then we do need to be aware of where they have come from.  I know from my own experience how Jesus ministers to the deepest and most vulnerable parts and heals what has hurt me or made me think wrongly.   People who have learning disabilities and maybe don’t have the words to say or work out what they need healing for, may be able to tell you about their childhood or early experiences.  A parent or carer may know some things that can help.  Then we must pray.  Only Jesus can tell us where to be sensitive and where to challenge.  Only Jesus knows each of us and all we have been through.  He knows what has shaped us for good or ill, and can heal….oh…he can heal…and make us whole in spirit.   It is how we are disciple and how we grow.  Praise God that none of us are different or excluded from this.

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has great mercy, and because of his mercy he gave us a new life. This new life brings us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death. Now we wait to receive the blessings God has for his children. These blessings are kept for you in heaven. They cannot be ruined or be destroyed or lose their beauty.

God’s power protects you through your faith, and it keeps you safe until your salvation comes. That salvation is ready to be given to you at the end of time. I know the thought of that is exciting, even if you must suffer through different kinds of troubles for a short time now. These troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.

You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You can’t see him now, but you believe in him. You are filled with a wonderful and heavenly joy that cannot be explained. Your faith has a goal, and you are reaching that goal—your salvation.

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