Disability in Mission: The Church’s Hidden Treasure

Written by David C. Deuel and Nathan G. John, eds Reviewed By Melissa Stone

I am the daughter of an indigenous missionary to the First Nations or Native American people of the North and South Americas. We spent many summers traveling all over the United States engaging in evangelism and discipleship with different native communities. My first memories of engaging someone with a disability was from visiting a community in Florida. One young man left a big impression. He had an intellectual disability. His passion for God was filled with such a refreshing innocence! Each time we were with this community of Christians, he unashamedly gave a big hug to each familiar face. As I have gotten older, I’ve learned this not so young man now was an integral part of his church community. Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him. He brought a spark of joy to his community!

Disability in Mission shares these stories, these windows into the beauty of God’s good and varying design to present a paradigm shift to the church regarding global mission. Deuel and John lay the foundation by arguing that God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. He uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise. They challenge the church to re-evaluate their role in global missions. Those who seem weak truly are indispensable (1 Cor 12:22). The book shines a light on global stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ by striving to “(1) inspire those with disabilities and vulnerabilities to seek to be involved in ministry; (2) inspire churches and communities around them to facilitate their ministry; and (3) embolden the church to think beyond God working in spite of our disability, towards acknowledging that God intends to work powerfully through our disability” (p. 7). Joni Eareckson Tada, who wrote the forward to the book, has said for decades that disability ministry is not complete until ministry is with those who are disabled. She encourages the church to “enlist, and even exploit, people’s limitations for the glory of God on the mission field” (p. xxi).

Our family includes a child with multiple medical issues. This book was a refreshing, healing and empowering read that gave glimpses of our own story. The various biographical sketches of God, who enables his witness to flow through different individuals, expanded our view of his bigness, his power, his glory. This book magnificently shows how weakness is a key component to seeing God’s power displayed to the nations. Among the book’s many incredible testimonies, none stood out to me like that of Paul Kasonga from Zambia, whom God used to bring revival to almost 80% of Zambia! It is an empowering read that reminds us that God’s power comes is not partial to those with more ability. When we read, “Resource abundance or resource lack is ultimately dispensed by our good and loving God. Jesus is the ultimate resource manager. Jesus is the ultimate advocate” (p. 124), God reminds us that the doors are still open to pursue him wherever he may lead. His mission does not depend on the availability of “good resources.” Those with disability need not miss out on the experience of being used by God in missions. Such ministry, however, will require the support, engagement, and creativity of other brothers and sisters.

While Disability in Mission does not directly address why people affected by disability have been excluded from this arena of ministry, it builds on this fact. Time after time, each story has an element of exclusion or struggle to engage on the mission field. So, the question arises from these experiences, “What is the local church doing to either support or impede this work of mission?” The book does not engage the church’s history of exclusion or its historical perspective on disability. It is a big topic that has a hard history. Michael Beates’s Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) is a valuable tool in understanding the long-standing history between the disabled community and the church. John Knight of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota recently challenged pastors to engage beyond inclusion and move to equip the intellectually disabled. He asks, “Church, have we been putting God’s Marines on the sidelines because we live by worldly standards?” (“Gospel Hope for All Who Come: Your Church and Those Living with Disability” [Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders, 3 February 2020, https://tinyurl.com/y8psxvbp]).

Those in Christ should not be hidden in the back of a sanctuary, displaced to a restricted classroom, prevented from being on the mission field or, worse forgotten because of a lack of presence. As 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, those parts of the body that seem less presentable should receive greater honor. Organizations such as Joni and Friends and Key Ministry are a few ministries that can be starting points for churches to begin this work. Benjamin T. Cooper’s Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018] is also a valuable companion for understanding inclusion in mission.

I wonder how many people will be inspired to pursue global missions after reading the stories in this book. Church, in humility and eagerness, be ready for those families who are stepping by faith, trusting that God will use their struggles, their frailty, their diversity, and their brokenness for his glory. Disability in Mission will ready us to join them in this good work of re-envisioning missions.

Melissa Stone

Melissa Stone
Redemption Church Tempe
Tempe, Arizona, USA

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