Most everyone knows someone who has a child with a disability, and nearly every church has a family in their midst who fits this description. As the mother of a son with a profound disability, I've networked over the years with many other families like ours. We're a "different breed" in the sense that our daily lives are filled with unusual details that have to be taken care of each day. We left a simple life behind at the moment of diagnosis.
While our lives look different to the typical person, we all have the same basic needs. We need a Savior to redeem us, and we still we need purpose and value.
We need something that everyone in the Body of Christ desires . . . and that something is fellowship.
Romans 12:13 says to "contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." While it is different, it's certainly not impossible for others to learn how to fellowship with special needs families.
Here are a few pointers:
- Reach out to the family; let them know you want to personally minister through fellowship. Find out what works for their situation. If their child exhibits behaviors or obsessions that cause concern, offer to "kid proof" your home, just as you would for a small child. Perhaps physical disability is the issue. If your home isn't wheelchair accessible, find a location that is. Utilize a park pavilion, your church fellowship hall, etc.
- If it's nearly impossible for the family to get out, switch things up and offer to bring the meal to their house.
- Does their loved one have dietary restrictions? Discover what they are and make substitutions so they can socialize without brown bagging all their special food.
- Remember that the best thing you offer this family is the comfort of someone who cares. Because of this, they may need to talk a lot over dinner and you may need to just listen. Don't feel you have to have answers for every dilemma and emotion the family will express. Most families just need someone to respond with friendship and a commitment to pray. Take time to ask what the Lord has done in their family's life as a result of being a special needs family. Listen and learn from their journey; this will help you to not to be overwhelmed with pity because you will see God's supernatural work in their situation.
What about church-wide fellowships?
- Many families with special needs children desperately need an extra hand during church fellowships. Offer to sit with them, help carry plates, and chase down the first kid who runs away from the table.
- Make families feel comfortable with the entire congregation. If their child's disability has them "anchored" to a table, you go to them. Bring other church members over, and introduce the family to them. Make sure to give equal attention to all their children.
- If the special needs child has dietary restrictions, find out how the church can offer simple options to meet this need. Sometimes a food allergy is enough to keep an entire family from attending fellowship dinners.
- Do you see church kids going the extra mile to include the special needs child? Take a moment to praise them! Do you sometimes see children not treating the special needs child in an appropriate way? Consider gracefully talking to the kids or their parents about inclusion. Kids don't always react well until someone teaches them in a loving way.
All of this advice is wonderful for those seeking to reach out and minister. But if you're a family dealing with disability, I also want to encourage you. Don't give up! If something fails, it may not always be this way.
Be quick to forgive when you don't feel understood and remember people are just human. Let others minister to you when they offer. Don't refuse hospitality, because every act of love requires an obedient person on the other end!