If a child with a difference or weakness in social skills, cognitive ability, emotional self-regulation, and/or physical ability visited your church, would this child be welcomed and accepted? Would they feel like they belong?
Ignored, neglected, and shamed
Recently, these questions were posed to a group of Sunday School teachers from the Johannesburg area who assembled to understand the spiritual development of children with additional needs.
In southern Africa’s shame-honor culture, there is a prevailing thought that individuals must meet the expectations of the collective group. If they do not, they will fail to honor the group. Ignored, neglected, and shamed – even in the faith community – a child with any type of mental, intellectual, physical, or emotional challenge, rarely enters church doors.
Awareness and Understanding
In recognition of this situation, Sunday School church leaders asked OC Africa to develop a workshop to increase the awareness and understanding of families of children with additional needs. Their desire is to welcome these precious children and their families, but they confessed that they just needed to know how.
During the workshop, participants were guided through a number of activities that invited them to experience intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, hearing impaired, and other challenges – first hand. Afterwards, one participant confessed, “I had so much anxiety because I had no idea what I was being asked to do.” Then, she asked, “Is this how these children feel all the time?”
Another participant shared, “My 14-year-old cousin was severely disabled. We thought his mother was handling everything fine. Then, my cousin died last year. His mother died a month later. We realized how much she loved her son, but how much strain she was carrying. We also realized that we never helped her. Like I said, we thought she was fine. I’m here because of my cousin and my aunt. I want to know how I can help children with special needs because the burden the families are carrying is more than I understand.”
Other participants nodded their heads in agreement and compassion.
By workshop’s end, the participants had an increased awareness of how to create a welcoming and inclusive environment and to how to address the spiritual needs of children with additional needs. They felt better equipped to seek out and invite families from their community to church to help them know that their identity and purpose are intimately formed and are intimately found in our loving Creator. They have great worth and value in God; as do their parents. There is love and acceptance in Christ.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made! (Psalm 139:13:14 The Message)
One Challenge is an international agency committed to bringing God’s transforming love and hope to all people. We identify and work to meet the physical, emotional, and social needs of individuals and communities, providing opportunities for deeper level relationships and deeper levels of change. These ministries include education, medical services, agricultural development, community development, and small business mentoring … helping local people to build a healthy community.