Why Christians Should Care
One of the major aspects of Jesus' earthly ministry was His interaction with and outreach to people with disabilities. Time and again, He offered invitations for the deaf, lame, diseased and blind to enter the Kingdom of God by the gift of salvation. Jesus also performed many mighty acts in these people's lives by healing them. We who are Christians should follow Christ's example. Ministering to people with disabilities was a big part of His ministry, and so it should be with us!
Statistics also show why Christians should care about disability ministries.
- In 2011, there were 1,119,000 people aged 18 and over, living in the community in the state of Alabama with disabilities. This represents 32% of all those aged 18 and over in the state. (Statistics for other states may be found in the 2012 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium.
- According to resources such as The Alabama Lifespan Respite Resource Network and The Resource Connection, Inc. and Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch — Horses Healing Children, 80% of all marriages end in divorce once a disability enters the family. Other sources put the numbers much lower, usually between 3.6% and 5.97%. It is interesting to note, however, that the 2008 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology states that the divorce rate of parents whose children have ADHD is twice as high as the normal population. So, regardless of the source, the divorce rate — once a disability enters the family — is much higher than in the regular population. Alabama's divorce rate is listed as the 4th highest in the nation! We could make a difference if we ministered to those families and offered support before divorce was seen as their only alternative.
- Depression is 15% to 20% higher among those who are chronically ill or disabled. Current figures show that one out of every six people has depression! Depressed patients are more likely to develop other health problems such as: Type Two Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease. Persons with depression also have a higher rate of suicide. (NOTE: The significance of one's faith has shown to lower the risk of depressive symptoms and aid in better handling a stressful medical event.)
- Various studies report physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides; and more than 50% of these suicidal patients were under 35 years of age.
- One major disability in the USA is Autism. Currently, the nationwide statistic is that 1 in every 50 births will be a child with Autism.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, 8.4% of children aged 3 to 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD.
The CDC states on its website that for every 1000 live births, 1.5 to more than 4 will be diagnosed (the number given for Alabama is 3.3).
- The statistics given on the CDC website for Down syndrome are 8 people with Down per 10,000 people in the United States.
- 53% of people with disabilities do not attend church. Talk about a field to harvest! This is Evangelism — "Bring Them In." In Alabama, this translates to right at half a million people with disabilities who are not in church.
- The number one reason why people with disabilities stay away from church according to A Place Called Acceptance (by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc, published by Bridge Resources (KY), 2001), is they do not feel welcome! It is attitudinal barriers, not architectural barriers, which tend to keep them away! 76.7% of parents surveyed said the number one reason they did not bring their child, with a disability, to church is they did not feel their disabled child was welcome. Our own Book of Discipline tells us that United Methodists are to minister to people with disabilities. It further states that every local church will have an annual Disability Awareness Sunday and complete an annual Accessibility Audit. Is your church doing this? Only a handful of churches in the Conference have sent in their audits and dates of their Disability Awareness Sundays. As Christians, it is our responsibility to help people feel welcome in God's House — to have "Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors."
- Not only is Disability Ministries Evangelism, it is also Racial Justice. According to government figures for 2009, only 14.8% of those with disabilities in Alabama are white. This means that 85.2% of those with disabilities in Alabama are minority races. Examples: 17.8% are African American and 23.7% are Native American.
- Disability Ministries not only involves Evangelism and Racial Justice, but it is also a matter of Economic Justice. According to government figures for 2009, the median annual income of persons between the ages of 21 and 64 in Alabama was 60% less in persons with a disability! The 2009 Alabama employment records show that 74.8% of those without disabilities were employed, while only 30% of those with disabilities were employed. That is a 70% unemployment rate.
Ask yourself these questions: Do my church's Sunday School Teachers know what to do if someone has an epileptic seizure? Can they recognize the signs of hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, or ketoacidosis? Are they able to adapt lessons to meet individual students' needs? Or, is your church like the one who did not understand Autism and told a family not to come back because their child "disturbed" the service? These are hard questions, but we must answer them if we are to follow Christ's example to become disciples and to witness for Him!
SEMAR puts "disability" this way: "To not have a disability is a condition that very few people have for only a short period of time. If you live long enough, you will join the rest of us where your life is either controlled by your disabilities or you choose to emphasize your abilities." Putting it another way: A disability group is the only group that anyone can join at anytime. Is your church ready and welcoming?
Disability Ministries = following Christ's example! Let's all do our part to make it possible for ALL of God's children to worship Him by presenting the welcoming attitude of "Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors."
North Alabama Conference Disability Ministries
May 2012; Updated March 9, 2013