How would you feel if the community labeled you with your weakest trait? Suppose you were in the grocery store and a familiar voice called out: “Hey, it’s Mr. Can’t-Dance” or “Mrs. Bad-at-Math!” How would you feel?
As a teacher in Uruguay I found myself wondering how to inspire fourth grade boys to reach out to people with disabilities in the community. My plan? I invited a group of blind soccer players to demonstrate their skills for the school. These boys were F-L-A-B-B-E-R-G-A-S-T-E-D at how talented these players were. Being able to use your strengths to overcome a challenge is essential for growing in life. These boys admired other people they might have ignored due to a lack of knowledge regarding how to relate to each another. They realized that not only did they have common ground they could use to form friendships, but most significantly, they realized the importance of getting to know people and appreciating their strengths. Since we were faced with social stigmas against people with different abilities (a.k.a. someone labeled as being disabled), the program Ability Awareness was initiated.
Human nature tends to dictate that we focus on the negative instead of the positive attributes of people. The Puzzle Piece Perspective, which Doug Bowman introduced through the Christian Learning Center (CLC) Network, offers an outlook we can intentionally adopt. The concept in this case is that the puzzle piece, or individual, is composed of both green and pink areas. Green represents a person’s gifts and strengths; pink represents areas we consider weaknesses or that need more development. I agree with CLC consultant Barbra Newman’s supposition that we humans were knit together with green and pink yarn. “For you have created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The purpose of this concept is to celebrate the reality that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, many people see individuals with disabilities as “all pink.” They may use a disability as a label instead of focusing on the person and that individual’s abilities.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He made us. He does not make mistakes, and He does not make puzzle pieces that are all pink. Each of us has been given a gift—a different perspective than the world offers—to bring to the Body of believers. God has hand-knit each of us and given us each a specific spot to fill in His Kingdom.
God also does not make all-green puzzle pieces. We each are a beautiful blend of strengths and weaknesses. As members of a family, community, and church, our strengths can be used to encourage or help others where they need development—their “pink” areas. We fit together like a puzzle in the Body of Christ, crafted and placed in a community God planned, as described in 1 Corinthians 12: 21–27.
We can apply this perspective to our church ministries. The questions that initially arise when discussing ministry among people with disabilities may be:
- Do you want to minister TO a child with disabilities?
- Do we have ministries FOR children with special needs?
But these questions are sending the subliminal message to those with disabilities that “you need me to thrive.” This makes it sound like people who are disabled are fully pink puzzle pieces and the rest of us are all green. This is not the case.
We need a philosophical shift away from “leaders and followers” in how we do ministry among people with disabilities. Our goal must be to create genuine relationships. This shift can begin with healthier questions such as:
- How can we minister WITH people that have disabilities?
- How can we empower people to use their strengths to engage them in meaningful ministry?
In Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace, Nancy Eiesland reminds us that: We are “…temporarily able-bodied and our seeming wholeness and wellness is fragile . . . and fleeting in this broken world.”
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:13–14).
It is wise to remember we are dust and therefore cannot trust in our own abilities. As a church, how can we foster an “ability awareness” mentality? We must be good stewards today of the strengths God gave us before the wind blows.
Interested in learning more? Let us introduce you to Patty , our Special Needs Ministry Consultant.
Beates, Michael. 2012. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Newman, Barbra. 2015. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. Wyoming, Michigan: Christian Learning Center Network.