The Adventist Church can become a welcoming refuge for those with various disabilities.
When their son was born, Anita and her husband decided his name would be Joshua, as a reminder of Joshua 24:15 in the Bible, in which the leader of Israel states, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Anita, who had been raised in an orphanage, asked God for help in offering her children a sense of belonging and purpose.
She received shocking news on her son’s third birthday, however. Anita heard from a doctor that Joshua was an autistic child. The revelation made her think she would have a long and difficult road ahead.
“My son is not verbal. He uses gestures to communicate his needs and has intellectual challenges. It made socialization very difficult, to the point that it is impossible to attend church,” she said.
But Anita felt impacted by the kind welcome given by church members. She was an Indian immigrant living in London, England, and was invited to visit London New Life, a Seventh-day Adventist congregation. After living in the area for a while, she decided to accept the invitation and visited the church with her family. She was impressed. “That Saturday morning, I suddenly felt so connected to people, because they accepted and celebrated the uniqueness of our son. I didn’t have to explain or take my son to a separate room, because I felt that he belonged to that place. I felt Jesus in that church.”
Anita even gave a testimony about Joshua to church members. “As I took the stage to give my testimony as the mother of an autistic son, I felt proud of Joshua, knowing that he was created for a purpose the way he is. All of God’s creation can testify of His Love.”
A Life-transforming Welcome
The welcoming of the church changed Anita’s life. She began a spiritual journey to include more children with disorders in religious activities. She contacted Adventist Possibility Ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe and became a volunteer.1
Anita’s story may be similar to the experience of many other women and men, mothers and fathers. Those families should receive the same kind of care. It starts by having leaders who are aware and are willing to know more and practice forms of welcoming that will make their churches compassionate spaces.
Autism spectrum disorder affects roughly 1 percent of the world’s population, according to data from the UN’s World Health Organization.2 People with disabilities — including difficulties to see, hear, walk, or climb steps — are another major group that needs church support.
Inclusive Leaders, Welcoming Churches
The Adventist Church understands that these people must be included in fellowship and mission services. Adventist Possibility Ministries seeks to create community awareness about the need for accessibility and inclusion.
Based on the belief that the gospel transforms the way we see ourselves, others, and even God, this ministry believes that this gospel makes us aware that, because of sin, there is no church, school, family, or perfect person. Accordingly, the ministry states that the dignity of each person, given by God, deserves respect and the type of assistance that enables the discovery of undeveloped skills, despite the stigmas associated with a disability, loss, or disorder.
It is important to raise awareness about this ministry. Church leaders need to learn more about inclusive and accessibility approaches and actions in church space and collective activities.
Adventists believe that we can all be whole in Christ and called to service, regardless of the deficiencies we may have. Engaging leaders of children and adolescents in this ministry will contribute to an expansion of the reach and mission of the church on this earth.
1. Anita Samuel, “God’s Clues,” Adventist Possibility Ministries blog, https://www.possibilityministries.org/gods-clues/.
2. World Health Organization, “Autism,” March 30, 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/autism-spectrum-disorders.
The original version of this story was posted on the South American Division Portuguese-language news site.