Peter Gordon is a Commissioned Pastor in the Christian Reformed Church and a member of LaGrave Ave. CRC. This article was taken from Breaking Barriers Fall 2016 issue, which highlights disability and employment.
I am a person with disabilities. I have severe hearing loss, learning disabilities, and processing disorder. I speech read and have hearing aids, but these are only supplemental.
Throughout much of my academic life, from elementary school to seminary, I’ve been in special education classes, remedial classes, and on academic probation.
I was admitted to college on probation. I was required to take academic support classes (no credit), but was charged tuition for them just the same. I was already behind in my freshman year. I graduated a year after the rest of my class.
I needed to find work, normally hard for anyone, despite disabilities. The first job I found after college was part-time janitor and stock boy in a clothing store. My hours were constantly reduced.
I went to seminary, under restrictions and on probation. I received a two-year degree in four years. While working in churches as part of my education, I was sometimes told by well-meaning pastors that the ministry was “no place for a deaf person.” After seminary I worked a series of restaurant jobs ranging from dishwasher, to busboy, to short-order cook. Although there is nothing wrong with any of these jobs, my employment experiences were peppered with managers not understanding my disabilities and responding by reducing my hours, altering my job description in an attempt to help me, or even encouraging me to quit.
In 1993, I began work in group homes and sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. That work lasted for eighteen years until I was “downsized”—my employer citing my disabilities as a major consideration in my termination.
Through prayer and good advice, I went on to do a second stint in seminary and, eventually, to become a commissioned pastor. Now I work as a campus pastor to students with disabilities facing many of the same challenges I did and still face. Jabez Ministries at Grand Rapids Community College (1 Chronicles 4:9-10) focuses on discipling students with disabilities as they realize goals in higher education.