I’ve been thinking through what I’m going to say at the new “Neos” conference - a conference designed to "Equip all for family, youth + children's ministry".
Aside from some sessions in the Additional Needs Alliance stream, I’ve been asked to do a 7 minute “Quick Insight” on additional needs.
What can I say in 7 minutes?
What I want to do is to be positive!
Then I felt a blog post ‘coming on’. It wrote itself whilst I was in the bath…..! (I do some of my best thinking whilst in the bath!)
Many talks or blogs on additional needs start either with facts and figures, a bunch of info on how to ‘look after’ these children and young people, or a tirade about how badly we deal with them.
I’m not going to do that - Instead, I’m going to let my young friends speak for themselves. A record of God’s faithfulness and activity in the lives of children and teenagers with additional needs:
Julie is teenager with severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. It took hours to answer her questions about becoming a christian because she communicated through nose spelling and facial expression. Once she had made that choice her faith was obvious and joyful…. very joyful! She can’t sing, stand to worship or raise her arms. Her face said it all - and her out of rhythm tambourine playing (Placed on her foot) was worship at it’s best.
This young lady is the reason I do what I do today.
She was a woman of influence and a worship leader.
Andrew was a teenager with muscular dystrophy who I’d known since he was 8, and my first experience of a child with a disability. His faith was quiet but deep. He died in hospital telling his nurse that Jesus had come to take him to heaven - he described what he could see, and had a profound affect on that Nurse. He was an evangelist.
I met a ten year old boy with Aspergers on a church weekend where we were doing the children’s work. During a time set aside to ‘listen to what God had to say’, he told me that God doesn’t speak. I gently challenged him to ask God to speak. He did and was ‘given’ a Bible verse reference in the form of a car number plate that he then drew - he loved cars! This verse told him that God understood how his mind worked. He started that day cynical about God and faith, and ended up being surprised by God.
Jo was a two year old with microcephaly whose needs were severe and complicated. She was not expected to live long. I looked after her for those two short years and would pray over her and quote scripture, inserting her name into the verses. She showed obvious responses to this, and died in my arms smiling and happy. Hers was a very simple and yet profound faith.
Harry was a 9 year old boy with Down’s Syndrome, seemingly un-engaged with his programme at the festival he was attending with his family. All I seemed to do was run after him, stop him escaping and in between that engage him with songs. On the last day he signed. “Thankyou Jesus You’re My Friend”. He got it!
At another festival we had a 7yr old girl with severe learning disabilities, who was normally non responsive other than the occasional Makaton sign. She wanted to come to the final session of the children’s programme and signed “I want to go to the house where Jesus is”. Her mum was amazed!
She could recognise that God was present. She was even happier when we talked through the fact that God wasn’t just in the programme, but was everywhere - and was going home with her. She is another child who recognised the presence of God around her. The Holy Spirit didn’t find her obvious additional needs to be a barrier.
James is a 7 year old who is on the autistic spectrum, whose understanding of theology is amazing, and whose questions help everyone around him to connect with God - he asks what others want to ask..… but daren’t! He says that sometimes he doesn’t ‘like’ God, because God stops him going into his “Inside world”. He’s a young theologian who recognises God’s hand in his life.
Nick was a 17 year old with muscular dystrophy whose last wish was for his head teacher to tell all his school friends that “the best thing my friends can do is to follow Jesus”. Following his death, his head teacher passed the message on in a full school remembrance assembly.
I have many more stories of children and young people with additional needs being touched by God, and being used by God in their different situations. I know of many more of these children and young people who bless others and teach so much about faith - just by their presence. So why are so many families with youngsters who have additional needs told by their church to find another ‘more appropriate' church? Don’t they know what they’re missing out on?!
But four of these young people didn’t come from families who went to church. Three of them were reached through a specialist evangelistic camp.
Today it is rare for evangelism to be done in the area of additional needs and disability, and yet it is the largest unreached people group in the world.
I am totally and completely passionate about reaching these children and young people, and as you will see from some of my young friends - time is very short for them.
Are you up for joining me in reaching them?