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That is NOT a job I'd see myself doing, but I do forward your posts to people in my congregation whom I think might be interested because I know that their child or other relative has a disability. Yesterday we had a one-day retreat in which we discussed the future of our congregation and classis, and where we felt our church was in the life-cycle of a congregation, and at the check-out stage I presented my desire to set up a support group for people with mental health issues and their close relatives, while someone else said we should also set up a Friendship group. I do NOT feel qualified or interested in doing both, but I would be interested in getting further training to become a peer counselor; we already have a social worker in our congregation and the pastor is sensitive to the problem of mental illnesses because one of his daughters also suffers from schizophrenia.
It's a beautiful vision, Mark. Keep up the good work!
Hi Michele, thanks for the comment. Yeah, it should be a given nowadays that some people need medications for their mental health issues just as some people need medication for high blood pressure. Sadly, some Christians still believe that mental illnesses are spiritual issues that should be handled by strictly spiritual means. Thanks for speaking up against this attitude which is not only out of touch with the realities of mental illnesses but also not loving.
I'm not sure if I commented on this post already or not, but to me point 3 falls in the duh! category. The medications exist because they were found to meet a need, and while I can see that some depressions could be managed without medication, nobody could do that with major mental illnesses like schizophrenia unless they're anti-psychiatry but that's another horse. And even depressions nowadays are not what they used to be. In a program I saw on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin during Mental Health Week a few years ago, three psychiatrists were saying that depression in many cases had become a chronic illness, so even there it might be unrealistic to expect people to get over it on their own strength, so what's the big problem with church members taking meds for mental illnesses? Is it yet another preconceived idea based on an assumption that mental illnesses are moral failures on the part of those who suffer from these illnesses? Welcome to the 21st Century.
Man, I'm tired of seeing those old prejudices having to be re-addressed time and time again. Can we move on to the next level in helping people with mental illnesses than repeating the same arguments? In Hebrews, when the author wrote to the congregation about their maturity level, he said that although by that time they should have been teaching others they still needed to be taught the basics, and you know why? Because people who don't grow in the faith don't do their homework, and it's the same about ministering to people in the church that have special needs. Some Christians should know better than to still be stuck at the level of changing their attitude toward other Christians with mental illnesses, but we're going around in circles because those who still need posts like the one above are not growing. This should be a non-issue for followers of Christ Who never bothered to consider if people who were sick and needed His help were deserving of it. Who in the Church of Christ is deluded enough to think they have the right to judge other believers because they're mentally ill?
Amen to that. The church would be a long ways toward true community if everyone treated each other as people first!
Oh, I didn't mean stupidity in that sense, but to avoid talking to people because they have a visible handicap, or to talk down to them as though being blind or walking with a stick or having a mental illness equals being intellectually handicapped, that's what I find stupid. Whether we have a visible handicap or not, we are people first and foremost.
HI Michele, I appreciate what you are saying, but I think we who do not have disabilities do need a little coaching. People tend to feel anxious around someone who is different from them (for whatever reason), and getting a little instruction about what to do and not do can help. For example, I just heard a blind mind say that recently he was walking down the street, using his cane, and came to a post which he detected with his cane. Just as he was about to go around the post, a man grabbed him by the shoulders and said "Stop." Obviously, the blind man was surprised and upset and said, "Don't grab me." The other man thought he was trying to help, but only startled the blind man who knew what he was doing. So a little guidance like knowing to ask, "Can I help you in any way?" is really good. Or another, if you are going to talk with a person in a wheelchair for longer than a few seconds, pull up a chair so that she doesn't have to strain her neck. Maybe not knowing to do these things is stupidity on the part of us nondisabled people, but I would prefer to call it lack of knowledge. And that's easy to correct with a simple tool like this document if only people would be willing to read and apply it.
I don't see why communicating with us is such a big deal. Most of us are normal people who happen to have a handicap, so the problem is really in their heads; they're the ones tagging us with the word "disabled", so they just need to stop thinking of people with handicaps as disabled and the hurdle will be gone. Another thing that might help them would be to keep in mind that we're all limited in some way or other because of the effects of sin in our lives, and for some people it's more obvious than for others. Nobody has the word disabled written on their forehead, and you're not abnormal because you walk with a stick or get around in a wheelchair. Some people are really stupid and maybe that's their handicap.
Michele, I pray that God will surprise you with an opportunity you never expected.
Shannon, yes, they are alarming statistics. I would guess that in most societies, disability is part of the lives of many if not most of that society's members who live in poverty. In addition, many people with disabilities are put to death against their will, either through abortion, or infant exposure, or neglect, or euthanasia.
These statistics are alarming, but I appreciate your sharing them. Thank you for all of the work you do advocating on behalf of those whose voices many of us in the church ignore.
These statistics would likely be the same in Canada. I know that I live on a disability income well below the poverty level. I am now well enough to start looking for work but I'm almost 56, so I wonder who will hire me.
This article on paralympic athletes in Ghana demonstrates that stigma doesn't have the last word!
Thanks to all of you for the kudos.
Kevin McDermott, yes, it's particularly sad and painful when people feel the need to hide their loved ones out of shame created by community stigma. Although this shame may be more prominent in countries outside of North America, stigma is alive and well here too. For example, I had a conversation recently with a man I've known since childhood. He told me that his mother was in psychiatric hospitals much of his youth, and I never knew.
Awesome Mark! And so timely. My wife & I served in S.E.Asia for awhile & the families there kept any children that had special needs out of sight. There was a stigma there that was cultural & so sad to see. Great to see that back here in the States, denominations like the CRC are engaged in reaching out to this population rather than shunning them.
This is a great story. Thanks for sharing!
Beautifully written, Mark! Thank you, and congratulations!
Wow Mark! What a wonderful honor to receive this award! It is certainly well deserved - congratulations!!
Thank you for shedding light on a dark but pressing issue for God's people. Wherever the light shines, the darkness will not overcome - God bless your ministry in His light.
Two resources specifically for pastors:Christian Reformed Disability Concerns has been a member of Pathways to Promise* since its beginning. One of the pillars of this organization, Rev. Bob Dell wrote a response to Williams suicide specifically as a resource for pastors with some ideas for responding in a way that is helpful for congregations. Dell reminds pastors that the very public nature of Williams' suicide will touch many people in painful ways including people dealing with depression and people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Also, the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness produced a series of short videos, posted on the Caring Clergy Project website, that were written "specifically for clergy and staff of faith communities. Learn how to recognize risk factors and warning signs of suicide, how to tell if a person is considering suicide and how to respond if you discover they are. You'll also learn how to respond to families after a suicide and how to plan a memorial service for someone who has died by suicide.”
*Pathways to Promise is an interfaith cooperative of many faith groups. We provide assistance and are a resource center which offers liturgical and education materials, program models, caring ministry with people experiencing a mental illness and their families. The resources are used by people at all levels of faith group structures from local congregations to regional and national staff.
Michele, I appreciate your point that no one is immune to challenges and struggles. The difference between each of us is that the struggles we have are different. I hope that others will respond similarly by starting support groups in their own churches.
Thanks too for sharing a bit of your own journey. Your comment reminds me that readers may be interested in hearing from others who also have been affected by mental illness. Disability Concerns created Stories of Grace and Truth (www.crcna.org/graceandtruth) so that people could share prose, poetry, and visual art that arises out of their own journeys with mental illness.
I saw a picture of Robin Williams on a people's magazine today in the grocery store where I often shop and the sadness in his eyes was obvious. He really made me think about the saying that the clowns that make us laugh are crying when nobody's looking. "Un clown triste," is how we sum it up in French. It isn't weak to feel depressed, anymore than it's weak to have diabetes or arthritis. If it were, then we'd all be weak, and truth be told, we all are because nobody's immune to illness in this world, and there is nowhere in the Bible where you can find the words, : "The brain of Christians is immune to disease." So then why do some people who claim to be Christians condemn those who suffer from brain diseases? Count yourself fortunate if that is not your particular cross, but don't add to the burden of those for whom it is.
I am a suicide survivor. I thought about it. I even walked to the edge of a river with the intent of throwing myself in it to end the pain. Mental illness was pretty much a taboo back then. Even worse than now. The reason I'm still alive is that God convinced me not to give up on life just yet, so I didn't and walked back home. And never went back to that particular spot, though I have walked again along a river's bank but not with suicide in mind. I have found relief, and I know I'm fortunate in this, so I've made it my life's goal to help other people who suffer from mental illnesses. One way I'm planning to do this is to set up a Friends for Mental Health support group in the church I attend, and the pastor is supporting me in this. Maybe it's something you could do too if the cause is close to your heart.
Thanks so much for this blog entry Mark. I especially appreciate the link to Anne Lamott's FB posting - powerful words.
What an awful disease ALS must be! Mind you, schizophrenia is not exactly a picnic at the beach but things could be worse. For example I'm well enough to be looking for work part-time now. I would have been well enough sooner, but I wasn't ready for it psychologically then. I was hoping I'd earn enough money from the sale of my paintings to manage that way, but it didn't materialize so I decided to get back into the workforce, and the director of the day center on whose board I sit has offered to help me out with my job search, but he and the staff person who will be helping me out have gone on vacation for three weeks, so I figured I may as well enjoy some more time off as well. This isn't a very good time to look for work anyway. My mom often says we can always find people who are in worse shape than us, and it's true. Look around and you'll see them.
I imagine the disease factored in a lot. But mostly he talked about how his son, Kent, had gone to Israel to study Hebrew and Ed was inspired by his son's passion. Dr. Williams gave Ed an opportunity to address our class about how much he felt he had missed by not paying more attention to the original languages. It was quite inspiring and contributed a lot to my passion for the Bible languages. Anyway, how inspiring to see his "Yogi Berra" Christianity still being lived out a decade later!
Scott, interesting. So soon after his diagnosis, he began retooling for the next chapter in his life. I assume the Hebrew class was prep for his year of living biblically book. Not a lot of people use the diagnosis of a degenerative disease as a prompt for setting new life goals!
Thanks for sharing this Mark. Ed took (re-took, really) Hebrew with me and others at CTS in 2004 - not so long after he had been diagnosed with ALS.
Well, I can't complain of having experienced that sort of rejection in my congregation, but then the Montreal CRC is the only one in Québec, so maybe they couldn't be too picky. Especially now that our numbers have dwindled siginificantly. Still, I think that some congregations are more hospitable than others, because a lot of people who walk into our church for the first time come back for more, and we have a microcosm of the United Nations attending our services, not just ethnically but all sorts of handicaps as well. We have an elevator for those who can't climb stairs ; we have people with intellectual deficiencies and varying forms of mental illness, yet others with food allergies or Native background and to my knowledge no one has complained of being ostracized in our community.
Michelle, thanks for your note. Most Friendship groups minister not only with members of the congregation but also with people in the community. That's why Friendship is such a wonderful outreach ministry. In fact, I know of a church plant that started with a Friendship group, then expanded from there.
How wonderful that your feel welcome at your church! I know many people living with mental illnesses who do not. What is your church doing that helps you and others integrate into the life of the congregation?
To my knowledge we have only one person with an intellectual handicap--hardly enough to start a group--but we have more people with mental illnesses, and as far as I know we are as integrated in the life of the congregation as anyone could wish to be. For my part, I can't complain of being left out, but maybe you should ask the others.
A resource you might be interested in is Key Ministry's blog, Church4EveryChild, written by Dr. Steve Grcevich. He regularly writes about how the church can include families and individuals impacted by mental illness.
Thanks for shedding light on this import topic!
Shirley, thanks for your comment. Having served on church councils for nearly 20 years, I understand that they have a lot on their plate, and most of them are volunteers. What I have found in the past is that it's really helpful if someone invests the time and energy to investigate the needs and come to them with a well-thought-out plan. That puts most of the responsibility on you, but I think that's the best answer to your question - how does one interest the council? Get a couple of interested people from your church, find out what in your mind would be best for your church, then come to the council with a good plan that the can comment on and, one hopes, approve. Blessings!
These principles I would like to see enacted at my church, with consideration to help the largish senior population with preparedness. There is a lot of information from the provincial gov't for 72 hr, preparedness, and from the Salvation Army on how to be ready to participate in a community emergency. And to be ready to handle a medical emergency when there are a lot of people in the building--worship service, etc., incl. evacuation of the sanctuary etc. How does one interest the Council in the importance of this. Disabilites vary among the folk, of course, yo br included in the planning.
"If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem"
This is true, but the end result often creates a stronger, richer church community. We've found people are surprised at how simple steps toward inclusion can make a significant difference. I hope you find those resources helpful!
Thank you for your response and suggestions. I will check out the resources you mentioned. New situations like this require people to step out of their comfort zone. This includes existing members as well as the new people attending.
You have asked some excellent questions. I checked in with some of my colleagues in the Church Services division here at CLC Network on their advice for you; below are some of their suggestions for you and your church as you strive to be an example of God’s Body.
For worship—If someone is nonverbal, or likes to move around, a great way for them to worship is to have wrist ribbons. These ribbons can be put around the wrist and moved around during singing. Flags can also be available for people who are able to use their hands and grip objects. Instruments can be another option, such as a maraca or finger symbols. Instruments can even be as easy as putting rice inside of a container to shake! Lastly, when thinking about song selections, you may want to incorporate songs that have been previously sung in Friendship class.
In terms of learning more about Jesus and the Bible, specifically during sermons, the pastor could use a few pictures or symbols to portray the main points. It could be projected or put at the front of the sanctuary for everyone to see. It could also be printed in the bulletin. Since you have Friendship class before church, the mentors and mentees could work through the meaning of the symbols together, preparing them for the sermon.
My colleague Barbara Newman wrote a blog about “Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down Syndrome”, which you may find helpful. Also, Barbara has published several materials about including those with disabilities in churches, and there are two in particular that might be useful. The first is the G.L.U.E. Training DVD and Manual, which helps churches implement a planning process to better include individuals with disabilities in the church (you can even apply to get it for free for your church!). The second, Inclusion Tool Box: 52 Practical Ideas to Include Individuals with Disabilities is a DVD that gives churches practical strategies to better include those with disabilities in the church. These resources can be found here.
Please let me know if you have any other questions. Blessings to you as you continue to model God’s body in your church!
Thanks for placing these on the network.
National Public Radio reported on this subject today. An interesting piece, and equally interesting comments that follow, which for the most part are reasonable and respectful of the different sides of this issue.
Yes, Dale is a board member of CBM, and a fantastic advocate for good things! We've just completed our latest Luke14 video - tells some great stories of change that have come about in churches - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbLDMtEJw4o7aCbYq531ho8-j75nl3KPB . Also, FYI, the new 2 minute clip of CBM - the parent company is very inspiring! CBM is a Christian NGO seeking to end the cycle of poverty and disabiltiy in the poorest countries of the world - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kF16HRlU5U
Lindsey, thanks for your note and encouraging words. I had not heard of the Luke14 project, but I have seen the Wierd Glasses People skit before. I love the line when the non-glasses-wearer says to the glasses wearer, "God bless you for your courage. You're an inspiration." This whole skit captures well the absurdity of many things non-disabled people say to people with disabilities. Looks like you are doing good work with the Luke 14 project. BTW, you have the / in the wrong place in your URL. If others want to check it out, they should go to cbm.org.au/luke14. The video on that page makes a powerful case for the church becoming the kind of community that God calls us to be. I really love Dale Sheppard's comment as a man with a disability, "If I'm not welcome at church, then where the heck am I welcome?" Blessings!
Just want to say, from Australia, that I love reading your posts - find them thought-provoking, challenging and relevant. Not sure if you know of the Luke14 project of CBM Australia - luke14/cbm.org.au It has a range of helpful resources for churches. An example is this short clip, that uses an excellent piece of writing by Jeff McNair - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuDiRvgYMU
I believe that violence is violence whether it is directed at people before they are born or after. In addition, abortions directed against particular populations, whether babies with genetic differences or baby girls (common in some countries) or whatever, does violence toward that entire segment of humans who have been created in God's image.
What does legal abortions have to do with assaults against people?
that was a very cool promo.. thanks for sharing...
Six-and-a-half plus two years on ...
Shakespeare, who lost a son at the age of eleven, wrote in Macbeth:
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak, whispers the o'erfraught heart, and bids it break."
Six-and-a-half plus two years later on this journey we reflect on lessons learnt, decisions made, insights and sorrow that forged and changed - forever.
In the last few days before 2 March 2012, after years of relentless, around-the-clock turning, suctioning, feeding, medicating, we realised that the finish-line was in sight. Catastrophic epilepy was taking its final toll.
My beloved little girl's body was shutting down. She was so tired, and in pain, too much pain. I had to administer morphine.
On the evening of 1 March, Willie realised that it would be the last time that we would have our daily devotional as a family of four. He read Psalm 121. There were tears and pleas for grace, dignity and peace.
In the early afternoon of 2 March, as Ingrid lay in my arms, she was free from pain, convulsions and deterioration at last - a fight she fought valiantly and finished with grace. Our beloved daughter crossed her finish-line and was Home at last.
In Zechariah 8 the New Jerusalem is described - verse 4 & 5: "The LORD of Hosts says this: Old men and women will again sit along the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of advanced age. The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in them."
My father-in-law passed away a few years before Ingrid was born. He was a school-teacher and qualified as a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church. He was involved in mission work in the rural communities of the Western Cape - especially after his retirement as teacher. He was a God-fearing man who dearly loved his children and grandchildren.
I know that when Ingrid completed her race, she met him for the first time and that she knew that he is her grandfather, George. And he knew that she is his grand-daughter, Ingrid. The stories they must share!
We put the last verse (8) of Psalm 121 on Ingrid's grave stone: "Die HERE sal jou uitgang en ingang bewaar, van nou af tot in ewigheid" ("The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever")
I know that Ingrid is safe, in heaven. That she finished her race. That she is in a better place, much better than this world could ever provide. This is not said lightly, nor meant as shallow consolation. On some days, this knowledge keeps me going forward.
When Ingrid was diagnosed, we searched for therapies and cures. We soon realised that sometimes the world of medicine is more of an art and not always an exact science. Some offered alleviation, some failed. We did not allow these successes and failures to define Ingrid. To us she will always be our beloved daughter and sister.
In a world that demands payback, obsessed with external clues of prosperity we came to know and live the opposite. We know what self-less service is. We learnt just to give - not being concerned with any kind of reward or validation from the world. This meant many sleep-less nights, cutting finances to the minimum, finding pleasure in the small things in life, many times switching to auto-pilot - getting up and going on, because the LORD asked us to. And we are the better for it.
We share a bond with other families we have met on this journey. We first hand understand and live experiences, insights, tears, joys, sorrows. And they have our highest admiration. And sometimes someone who has not walked a while on this exceptional road, offers misplaced advice - but still, we understand. Before embarking on our path, it could have been me.
We know now what Job meant when he said "I had heard rumours about You, but now my eyes have seen You" (Job 42:5). Because in this moment, when the LORD says "This is My will", you submit.
At times, we stood in awe, witnessing the plans of the LORD unfold before us. At other times, it was unbearable, helplessly watching our daughter in the grip of catastrophic epilepsy. This remains a mystery for now "... now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror ...". That part of the race, which we as parents, could not complete for Ingrid. We hold onto the hope of one day seeing "... face to face ..." (1 Cor. 13:12).
Still, we fought the good fight, we took up the full armour of God, "... having prepared everything, to take your stand" (Eph. 6:13). We finished this race, "... pusue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness." (1 Tim. 6:11). Most of all, we kept the faith - "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ... For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor, 12:9-10).
Soli Deo Gloria, Willie & Anje
Terry, thanks for sharing this fine article. In the past, a lot of people involved in justice work have ignored people with disabilities, even though they, as a group, are the poorest of the poor and the most oppressed of the oppressed in any society. When counting people with intellectual, sensory, and physical disabilities as well as people with mental illnesses, one is talking about 20 percent of the human population. It's so good to see that little by little, this vast portion of humankind (at least 1.3 billion people) are getting ignored less than they used to.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. More good advice for neurotypical people to help our churches to become the communities Christ intends us to be.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. It's the same basic idea as McNair's applied specifically to autism.
Jeanne, I praise God for the loving community at your church. From your description, it sounds like your church, this family, and this young man made decisions about his involvement in church based on his needs and his spiritual growth rather than on what people are most comfortable with. An expression of what a healthy body of Christ looks like!