Our Quest for a Church that Loves and Accepts Families with Special Needs
by Sandra Su Chan
As summertime approached, I became very aware of the upcoming Evergreen SGV All-Summer Church Conference and anxiety started to creep in. I read the flyer over and over, and I wondered if this was an event that us, a family with a special needs child, should endeavor to join. We, parents of special needs are very cautious about joining non-special needs communities and events outside our disability community. We are in a constant state of high alert towards our child with disabilities and his ongoing special needs.
We need to take every detail into consideration. We need to be brave to go out of our comfort zone. We want to protect our family from stares, judgment, feelings of inadequacy, fear of being disruptive and disturbing, fear of exposing ourselves and our daily struggles as we raise our son Nathan, a child with Down Syndrome. My mind rushes through all kinds of different scenarios and situations in order to have plans A, B, and C ready, just in case… This process is very stressful and exhausting, to say the least.
Our son Nathan brings us so much joy and he makes us proud with his many accomplishments. We, as parents, advocate for him all the time, so he can have the same opportunities as others to learn, grow and thrive. But reality is that over time, feeling rejected and judged can take its toll on a family. We start to believe that we don’t deserve to be included or to belong to any group other than our disability community.
We start to feel like outcasts. It is hard to feel this way myself, but it is way more painful to see our daughter go through this feeling of rejection as well. Many tears were shed between my daughter Joanne and I, as she too struggles to make friends and connect with the kids at church. Our Church School teachers are very loving, kind, and accepting. We love to hear: It’s okay, you can go. It’s not a problem. We feel Jesus’ love through them. But, how would it be in a different setting like the All Church Summer Conference with unfamiliar faces and caregivers unknown to Nathan? Would my daughter have a roommate? Would we be accepted in our small groups? We had so many fears and concerns but in a leap of faith, we decided to attend the Conference. Throughout the entire Conference we saw God confirming His will for us and for the church family. He had a plan for each one of us! There were a lot of behind the scenes work and God’s intervention to make that happen. We felt His love and care for our family. We had a blessed stay at Biola University. Thoughtful housing arrangements provided us with all the amenities needed for us to feel at home. God also provided a wonderful counselor that was a perfect match for Nathan. Joanne, too, was happy to have friendly roommates. It was a great experience for her to make new friends without feeling isolated and not having to worry about her brother, as he was being well taken care of and having a great time himself. As for me and my husband, we had a peaceful and enjoyable time attending the lectures of Pastor Cory and Pastor Rocky, our small groups were powerful and we felt the Holy Spirit ministering to us.
On the first Sunday after the Conference, we were thrilled that Pastor Cory addressed the subject of Special Needs — advantages and disadvantages in his sermon. We could not believe how God in His perfect timing was putting everything together for us and our church family.
Disability is a part of life. People with disabilities are part of the body of Christ too. We are all connected in this journey, all of us! Perhaps special needs are not your particular battle in life, but the one thing we all share is Christ. We can change for the better. Together in Christ, we can be a better Church. One Church that can love, accept, and embrace all, regardless of color, shape, or abilities.