How would you minister to someone who has impaired hearing? Communication could be difficult, especially if the person you’re ministering to uses sign language and you do not. The presence of a translator could help, but this interferes with confidentiality and may inhibit the person from sharing concerns that are intimate or embarrassing. Lip-reading, face-to-face contact, and visual communication may be more important than they are in other approaches to ministry — but could this hinder your style of helping? People who are hearing impaired often have problems with depression, loneliness, or relationships, but these are difficult to discuss if communication is blocked by faulty hearing. Some people encounter prejudice or misunderstanding, even from sensitive Christian helpers who mean well.
Hearing impairment is one example of a disability. The word refers to any mental, physical, or emotional condition or impairment that can hinder a person’s ability to function normally. People whose disabilities interfere with optimal life adjustment usually are described as disabled. These disabilities may range from minor issues that are almost unnoticed to disabilities that are severely inhibiting. The handicaps may be physical, mental, or both. They can result from congenital impairment, injury at birth or during childhood, or loss of some capacity later in life.
It is rare to find completely disabled people. While there are things that the disabled person cannot do, there also are many things that he or she can do. Medical treatment is designed to assist the disabled person as much as possible in the physical area, and the rehabilitation task is to help the individual live with the disability and reach maximum effectiveness.
How can the Church Assist Families?
It is extremely difficult for parents to discover that their child is disabled or impaired. Parental guilt, rejection of the disabled person, overprotection, criticism of physicians or schools, impatience with other family members, unrealistic expectations, feelings of embarrassment, and anger with God are all common. Many parents of a child with a disability show increased levels of anxiety and depression, lowered self-concepts and self-esteem, feelings of frustration, and decreased marital and personal satisfaction.
Children who are born with disabilities learn to accept these as they adjust to life. If the disability comes later, however, the adjustment usually is much more difficult. When we lose a limb, go blind, or lose control over some part of the body, we suffer grief reactions. Often there is shock, denial, anger, sometimes unrealistic hope, and often depression. People wonder why, and sometimes expect that God will heal. When healing doesn’t come, there may be despair, thoughts of suicide, sadness about being a burden to others, and a sense of hopelessness about the future.
The Church can assist people with disabilities to escape from this emotional trap. The process will take time, but often it comes as the disabled person is helped to express feelings and to consider possibilities for living as fulfilling a life as possible. Sometimes this involves learning to live with physical limitations, overcoming transportation barriers, learning to cope with society’s stereotypes, building a positive self-concept, finding a suitable vocation, and developing a willingness to accept help with those things that can no longer be done without assistance.
In helping people cope and adjust to their losses, the church member/leader is unlikely to work alone in traditional one-to-one interaction. Helping often involves cooperative work with physical therapists, educators, physicians, and other specialists. It may involve cooperation with the friends and family of the person living with the disability.
Also, as a helper, it may involve looking at your own attitudes. If you jump to invalid conclusions about the physically disabled, are uncomfortable assisting people with disabilities, or have biases about their supposed moods or attitudes, then you are not likely to be effective in your help. Regardless of your attitudes, learn from people with disabilities, and your whole approach to ministry is likely to change.
Jesus was much concerned about people with disabilities. He accepted them completely and met their needs. The Church must do likewise. This important ministry may require creative approaches, forsaking some favorite techniques, and creating a network of helpers. This can be rewarding work, however, especially if one sees EVERY person growing in skills, psychological stability, and spiritual maturity.
is President of the Southern Union Conference
Southern Union | December 2016