A while ago, I was talking to the parent of a little boy.
It was a sad conversation, and I will forever be haunted by the look on that parent’s face.
The conversation was a familiar one, where they shared comments from leaders of his youth group; “If your son comes, other’s won’t” and “If your son comes we can't do all the things the other young people like doing” and then “We need to do things that attract the kids from outside, and your son doesn’t like those things”.
There were other comments from other parts of their church (yes - church) where they expressed that they wondered why they should change everything just for one child. (It’s an easy answer - change things for one and you make it more accessible for everyone - It’s a simple and proven equation).
That child’s parent’s face was a mixture of things - pale with tiredness and worry, heartbroken and at the end of their resources as they tried to fight for their son to be included.
I wanted to throw my arms around them and tell them it would be ok.
The one place where their son and the whole family should feel safe was now a place of rejection.
So what was so 'horribly wrong' with this child, that the church couldn’t find a way of including him in anything?
He had Down’s Syndrome.
I must admit that although I gave the nice Christian comments about it and tried to encourage the parent, the feelings in my head where very different.
Inside my heart, my usual calm gentleness was in meltdown.
I wanted to get hold of that youth leader, and give them a good slapping. I wanted to yell at at them “How dare you treat another human being like this?! How dare you!! How do you think Jesus would have reacted to him - do you think Jesus would have rejected him on the grounds of his disability? I think not! At least Jesus would have made an effort!!”
How dare that person emulate the world by seeing this child as worthless - and not worth the effort.
As you can tell - I’m still angry. And yes I agree - I need to work on that! But my heart is for the children who cannot speak for themselves - I speak up for them.
I hear stories like this over and over again. I want a world where these stories don't exist any more - consigned to history. But I fear that's a long way off.
Put this story next to my last blog where I reacted to the “World Without Down’s” programme (Blog post called ‘Where Truth and Justice Meet’), and you will see the heart of what I was trying to say in point three:
If you’re going to react against abortion for children with disability, you have no right to reject those children when they arrive in your church….. The two things are incompatible. End of.
That Parent’s face will haunt me for a long time to come, but it will be a reminder of why I do what I do and an encouragement to keep going.
I train on this sort of stuff, and so do lots of other people.
If you are a leader that cannot see how to include children with additional needs and disabilities - just ask….
And I promise not to shout! I would be honoured to help you.