Family and Friends for Life!

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Cindy Schreutelkamp loves her family. She has four kids and three grandkids. She serves at ClearView Church where she loves “walking with and equipping youth to take their next steps with Jesus Christ." She lives with one of her sons, Zachary, in Oakville where he works at Kings Christian Collegiate. Zachary was born with Down syndrome and “has a gift for loving people no matter what,” Cindy remarks.

Christine is my friend who’s been in my life the longest. We met in kindergarten where we were paired up to share an Educational Assistant. She loves to sing pop music and dance like Michael Jackson. She works at a Dollarama and is an aunt to one, and soon to be two, little ones. Last week she helped me pick out some baby clothes for my first niece, arriving in a few months! I love to bake with her too—her hands work far better than mine. She also lives with Down syndrome.

Parents like Christine’s and Zachary’s are a minority in our world.  Pre-natal testing is available to parents to find out if their baby has an extra chromosome, resulting in Down syndrome. In his book, “Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity,” Amos Yong points to statistics that show 70 to 90 percent of Down Syndrome fetuses have been aborted since 1989[1]. 

Yong writes, “The most blatant stance to take is that advocated by radicals like Peter Singer who argue that since fetuses projected to be severely or profoundly handicapped will never attain to full human status anyway, their infanticide is ethically justified.” In his research, Yong found that most in the medical field do not encourage this extreme position, though a subtle or overt ableism may be communicated to parents expecting disabled children, “so that it is only ‘bad mothers’ who choose to keep their ‘defective children.’”[2]

As Christians we are called to speak out, naming all of God’s children as beloved and as essential to our diverse and united Body of Christ.  Zachary and Christine are not perfect individuals—they have their own joys and struggles and complex lives like we all do—and they do make a difference in the lives of families and friends and in our world. They both seek to be independent and can be frustrated when that seems far away. And, Cindy says, Zachary has unconditional and nonjudgemental love for people, teaching those around him to appreciate life more fully. Cindy says, “Although life can be challenging with Zachary at times, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

My life wouldn’t be as rich without my friend in it.

Cindy, like Yong, believes there needs to be more education and counseling available to parents and more positive stories in the media, church, and society. Yong writes, “The ‘solution’ to Down syndrome is not the technology of selective abortion but early interventions, educational programs, and environmental modification. Yet, even though we have implanted many programs in response to Down syndrome along these lines, science and technology remain omnipresent not only in terms of the possibilities they introduce to better the lives of people with Down syndrome but also in terms of the threats they continue to pose.”[3] 

Our world may not end pre-natal testing, but as people of faith, we can support and be supported by people like Zachary and Christine and their loved ones, following Christ’s way of loving God and loving neighbour. God’s world, we, will be richer for it.

Cindy says her hopes for Zachary are the same hopes as for his siblings: that he be a productive member of community, that he serves in his church through different tasks and a welcoming attitude, and that he leads a happy life. She says, “I want my kid to be given all the same possibilities as his siblings!”

I hope Christine will be my longest friend throughout my entire life, and that we will continue to support each other throughout our struggles and celebrations, loving and dancing in the world!

[1] Yong, Amos.  Theology and Disability: Re-Imagining Disability in Late Modernity.  Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007, 64.

[2] Ibid, 64.

[3] Ibid, 66.

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