There are many challenges facing families with special needs in the United States. As parents we all to well understand the challenge of schooling for our kids, proper medical treatment, dietary needs, rejection in society, and I’m sure there are a few more I’m missing. Yet, as challenging as those things are I found out there are others facing extreme situations that one would find hard to believe.
On a trip two years ago I went with a humanitarian organization to Africa. This is a great organization that helps sponsor children in Third World Countries and provides food, clothing, schooling and, most important, shares the message of hope in Jesus Christ. It was very impressive and I was truly moved by their heart to reach the disadvantaged.
As we met with the directors of one of the countries we were visiting, one of the first questions I asked was how many special needs children are sponsored. A surprised look came on his face. He said, “Well, we do have a few that are sponsored.” I said, “Oh, ok great! So they get to go to school and attend the church programs like the other kids?” He responded, “No, we just provide food and clothing. We don’t have programs for kids with special needs.” I then asked him what happens to those children. He said, “Well, to be honest we don’t know how many there really are.” I thought for a moment then I said, “Hey we are going out to one of the tribes tomorrow in a remote part of the country, so would it be okay if we ask them how many there are?” He said, “Yes, absolutely, we would like to know as well.”
So the next day we traveled to a remote part of Africa and were warmly greeted by the tribe of elders. As I began to share my story of how God is using my son and other children with special needs in America through development, all of a sudden I saw a tear begin to stream down the chief elders’ face. I asked the interpreter what was the matter? The chief elder begin to explain that he has a son with special needs, but because the children are looked at as a curse they are not allowed to come into the school or church so they basically hide him in the hut. He explained how they don’t know how to teach him so he sits in the corner of the hut because he’s not allowed to go out. The chief elder said, “We love our son and don’t think he’s a curse” Most people would tie a rope and brick around the child’s ankle and drop him/her in a lake to die or in times past would throw them out to be eaten by the wild animals, but we won’t do that. Can you help us?” We began to talk to them about how we could possibly help and then I asked him how many other children there were. He told me there were 1000 total kids in their tribe and over 100 of the 1000 have special needs. This shocked the representatives of the humanitarian organization. So much so, that one of the representatives on the flight home wrote a 10 page memorandum about reaching those with special needs in Third World Countries.
Just recently I was invited to share about special needs in another Third World country. The missionary cautioned me and said, “We are so excited to address this issue but you have to be ready. There is a generational stigma that those with special needs are a curse not a blessing. No one has ever spoken at one of our crusades about this. We don’t know what the response will be.” Now, I got a little scared. These were open air crusades where 100,000 people are pressing against the stage. The night before they were bringing their special needs kids into the prayer tent, because they thought their children were demon possessed. And now I’m going to tell them their child is not a curse but a blessing. Are they going to throw things? Are they going to rush the stage? Will they just leave? We honestly didn’t know. By faith, we just got up on the stage in the churches, and we sat down with pastors and leaders and began to share our story of how with the right support, tools and development, these children can grow and do great things. We told them stories of parents like you who read this blog and how God has helped us overcome and that he can do the same for their families. We told them that these children are not curses but blessings from God and how our children have changed our lives for the better. To our surprise they didn’t rush the stage, they didn’t leave, they listened. It was like someone had given them a revelation. They had never heard anyone talk about their children and special needs families this way. Pastor and leaders responded, churches responded. We are going back this year to train over 5000 pastors and leaders on how to reach and develop those with special needs. What does that hopefully mean? They won’t hide their children anymore, they will be allowed to come to church as a family for the first time and their family can be a part of the community. Hopefully it will also mean schools and more programs in churches.
What I learned from these experiences is this: 1. Whenever I feel like my problem is insurmountable I know there is always someone who is facing bigger challenges than what I am facing. It doesn’t always make it easier but getting a different perspective always helps. If they can keep trying, we can keep trying. 2. The greatest thing one can do when there in a storm is be good to someone else while going through the storm. Think of ways you can help others who might be in a more difficult situation like these kids and watch it lift you. 3. I can always pray for someone else. You may not be able to do anything else but PRAY! That’s huge! Pray that God will shift the stigma & mindsets in the United States and around the world. I believe as we join together God is shifting the tide for those with special needs.
Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous.” The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. He is with us.