Reflecting our disability-inclusive God: How can the body of Christ love those with special needs?
Gabrielle Chin // September 14, 2023, 6:12 pm
Whether through participating in the special needs ministry in our church, befriending someone with special needs, or taking the time to listen to a caregiver, the body of Christ can play a significant role in supporting families with special needs, says Bernard Chew, CEO of St Andrew’s Autism Centre. Photo from RDNE Stock project, Pexels, on Canva.
In January 2022, news broke of a pair of 11-year-old twin sons with special needs strangled to death by their father. With their bodies found at the canal near Greenridge Crescent, police were able to quickly trace and arrest their father, Xavier Yap Jung Houn, 50.
A year later, the verdict for his case was reached: Fourteen years in jail for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
“God is disability-inclusive… we too should learn to understand and welcome persons with disabilities.”
The case shook many Singaporeans, shedding light and raising questions on the difficulties faced by caregivers of children with special needs. Where can caregivers turn to for help, and would greater support by the community make a difference?
As the body of Christ, how do we care for those with special needs as the Gospel exhorts us to do? (Luke 14:12-14)
“Parents of special needs children contend with anxieties that many other parents may find hard to identify with,” said Bernard Chew, CEO of St Andrew’s Autism Centre, who not only engages with parents of children on the autism spectrum, but is himself fathering two children with special needs.
“All these challenges we face, when combined can lead to us feeling socially isolated. The Greenridge Crescent deaths are a reminder that more support is needed.”
Speaking from his own experience of having two teenage children with special needs, Bernard urges Christians to take time to understand and welcome those with special needs. This includes learning to listen to and love caregivers who could be facing a great deal of mental stress.
“God is disability-inclusive. In the same way that Jesus spent much of his three-year ministry with the blind, the lame, and the sick, we too should not avoid persons with disabilities, but instead learn to understand and welcome them.”
Parents tend to withdraw from social life or even church communities if they sense that their children are not welcome.
It becomes even harder when they feel that others around them are unable to understand their circumstances. This deters them from finding outlets for their struggles.
To reach out to persons with disabilities and their families with the love of Christ, Bernard highlights several DO’s and DON’Ts to guide the church community:
1. Take time to listen
Parents of children with special needs often find opening up about their struggles and emotions difficult.
Ask how you can pray for them. Do not assume their needs.
Within the body of Christ, it is important to listen and make space for them to share, and to help them feel seen and supported.
Oftentimes, even well-meaning Christians can be quick to summarise or jump in during conversations. Such responses could undermine the intensity and uniqueness of the struggles faced by parents of children with special needs.
Instead, it is genuinely fine to take conversations slowly or acknowledge being unable to fully identify with the difficulties. Most importantly, stay curious to hear what they have to share, be it their stories of sorrow and heartbreak, or even hope, faith and love.
2. Ask how you can pray for them
Do not assume the family’s needs. Instead, ask how they would like to be prayed for.
Respect their wishes even if they prefer not to be prayed for. Prayer is meant to be lovingly given, not to be forced upon another.
3. Lend tangible help and support if asked
Philippians 2:4 urges us to “look not only to [our] own interests but also to the interests of others”.
In the same way, God encourages us to give practical help and care for others. However, it is vital to ask before attempting to help as different parents have different needs and vary in the ways they would like to be supported.
Given that children with special needs have different conditions, asking their caregivers before lending a helping hand allows more useful and specific aid to be rendered.
1. Take care not to express pity
Resist the urge to respond to a parent with “aiyoh”, “jialat”, “so poor thing”, says Bernard.
Our natural response may be to express empathy. However, parents of children with special needs may feel uncomfortable with pity.
Rather, as members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12), we need to remind ourselves that all are equal in the eyes of God. There is no looking down on another brother or sister.
2. Do not misuse faith concepts
Wrong theology can be a stumbling block for parents of children with special needs.
“Things will get better, you must exercise more faith.”
“Have you prayed hard enough?”
Oftentimes, these instances of wrong theology not only give parents false hope but also become a stumbling block to faith. Statements that sound like “Christianese” can be theologically unsound; it is far more common than we think, says Bernard.
Misconceptions are not only poor reflections of Christ’s love and compassion for caregivers, but could also taint their understanding of God and deter them from going to church.
3. Do not ask parents why their children have special needs
In many cases, parents themselves are unable to find answers for their children’s conditions.
Asking “why” questions might fill them with guilt and despair or come across as blame.
Instead, being sensitive to ask “How can we be of help or support?” serves to uplift and encourage caregivers to know that they are not alone in their journey.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (1 John 13:34-35)
Ultimately, love remains the distinguishing factor between the world and the body of Christ. We are to love in the same way that Christ loves each one of us equally.
Whether through participating in the special needs ministry in our church, befriending someone with special needs, or taking the time to listen to a caregiver, the body of Christ can play a significant role in supporting families among us with special needs.
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light