For the most part, our culture and society tell us that those with "special needs" or "disabilities" are not capable of contributing to society. Individuals with special needs are not always able to live independently. It seems rather selfish to me really. When you serve someone who has a disability, from the get go you know it isn't going to be reciprocal. Or is it? For those with cognitive disabilities, we wonder how this person could teach us anything being that our ability to understand is better than theirs. Or are there other ways of understanding?
In our society we place a high value on verbal communication and cognitive understanding. But are these the only ways in which we learn and communicate? And to take it to the next level so to speak, are these the only ways in which God communicates to and ministers to people? If someone cannot cognitively understand that Jesus is God's Son does that mean they don't understand that at all?
There is another friend of mine who has a son who has high-functioning autism. He once told me a story about how he asked his son a question about God. I don't remember the question my friend asked and I don't remember the answer his son gave, but I do remember that it brought my friend to tears. God spoke through my friend's son that day.
Another thing that is a significant part of this conversation is the question of who is ministering to whom? In one of Henri Nouwen's books ( I cannot recall which one at the moment) he speaks about how often we go to the hospital to sit at someone's bedside and minister to those who are sick and dying. Nouwen proposes that it is in fact the other way around. After all, someone who is dying is probably a lot closer to God in those moments than we are. They are not relying on God day by day, but rather minute by minute. So it seems to me that there is a shift that needs to be made from ministering to individuals with special needs to ministering with individuals with special needs as well as allowing ourselves to be ministered to by individuals with special needs.
There is much more I would like to write about this but there are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head at the moment that are preventing me from doing so. I would invite your comments and would specifically be interested in those of you who have been a part of a church (or churches) in the past that have been welcoming of those with special needs in such a way that these individuals became integral parts of the life of the church. In closing, I must say that I am only recently entering this conversation so please let me know if anything I have said is offensive or wrong headed.