Imagine you are disabled, and you go to a new church for the first time. Surprisingly you get a look of bewilderment. Why? Is not the church a place to come if you are sick, feel helpless, and alone? Think again. This new reality cut deep because there is often nowhere to go if the church turns its back.
Makeda Ansah — Personal Testimony
So, the first thing I learned as a disabled black woman is:
1. No one believes you.
When people see a disabled black woman from the islands, it is instantaneously taboo. One is not supposed to have a weak moment or fall from grace in hopes of being supported and understood. For some misconceived notion, people expect black women to be the Rock of Gibraltar’s for their community. Where did this perspective come from? Some say it is from slavery. Who knows? But what does this matter when a person feels abandoned, neglected and worse, typecast among their community?
Most notably is a counseling session years prior; while escaping a tumultuous relationship, my pastor looks at me with judgmental eyes and makes no suggestions or offers support through a season of trials. It is church business as usual. I think, did he even listen to me at all? I feel sicker than I arrived. Is this a church of Christ? It is a baptist church, and divorce is frowned upon. When the offer comes weeks later to be baptized, I think, how will baptism help me when I do not know why I am doing it? I am screaming inside because no one believes me or even wants to hear my real story. So, the second thing I learned as a disabled black woman is:
2. No one receives you.
When I am asked to be baptized, I immediately say yes because, If no one believes me or receives me, I know Jesus will. I do not know how, but I know Jesus will help me get my life together and make me feel better. Shortly after my deaf foster brother and mother died, I got baptized, and I think I am a part of a new family. In theory, this is the goal, right? But why do I not feel this way? I did not get a follow-up call, and the counseling sessions stopped. Suddenly, my pastor’s schedule is packed. I hear that we are getting a new church, as in a new church building. Fast forward, at the end of the renovations and or new build, the new church has cypress ceilings with a skylight, new pews, and stage, but noticeably the congregation is less and less every Sunday.
The deaf community, of which my brother was a part, is no longer attending. The potlucks stop, and the New Year’s social is non-existent. What happened to our church? Where are the people? I think the building is here, but the people are invisible, and for the most part, lost. People are busier than ever and often miss the signs of a neglected member, namely the sick or shut-in brother or sister, the deaf community, the elderly, and least of all, the disabled black single mother who needs help. Subsequently, I do what I must do to make ends meet and keep my faith, but I think, do people think I have it together? The third thing I learned as a disabled black woman is:
3. No one applauds you for getting back up.
As a black woman in a community with other black people living on an island, people do not make it their business to cheer you on. Sadly, you feel obligated to always have it together, so you do. No one applauds you for getting up and walking despite your pain. Interestingly, people take notes and ask about my personal life when I am down, which is not good intentions. I feel judged. I feel helpless because I am not able to work like I used to. When I must go to ask for help or receive public assistance, I feel ashamed.
Thankfully, I received a strong foundation of faith from my foster mother, whose love, compassion, and strength taught me to be resilient. Her home was the first church I came into, and I guess that is why I expect nothing less from any other establishment. I learn to ask for help because I know that I am not lazy, worthless, or abusing others. I begin to research and seek ways to supplement my income and begin the process to rehabilitate.
Reluctantly, I become recused and go into seclusion from society. I homeschool my children and create a church home. Here we feel safe. Now, the healing begins, and our perspective changes about the church. Instead of harboring resentment and cradling the pain, the choice is made to develop strategies to cope and share them with other marginalized people of any race and any age.
For God does not show favoritism, all who sin apart from the law will perish apart from the law, and the law will judge all who sin under the law. For it is those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (Rom. 2:11–16).
3 Coping Strategies and Solutions for the Marginalized in Any Race and at Any Age
1. Use Your Pain to Fuel Purpose and Perseverance
My story began with these words, “Mrs. Francis, you want a baby?” Her answer was yes. My life in foster care with my new mother and my deaf brother became the foundation for my new church home and church leadership, stewardship, and worship lessons. The alternative thoughts of hate, resentment, envy, jealousy and grandiose ideas fueled by greed only lead to destruction and eventually an untimely demise. God had given an assignment to his church for his mission (Matt. 28:18–20), so regardless of how one may feel, the church is still the medium for change. However, change must take place in every member of the church. Using your pain to fuel your purpose helps you remember the why and will be the kinetic agent to keep you on the path to the finish line, all the way to the promised land.
2. Forgive quickly, and Always Remember Your Commitment Change
It is always a painful reminder that sin exists when people offend you, but it does not have to be this way. Those redeemed can choose to live as Christ would and forgive those who sin against them (Matt. 6:12). When one looks at fellow church members or even church leaders, the same applies, forgive quickly because church leaders are human and need prayer and forgiveness. By being a light bearer, others will be reminded of Christ’s love and mercy (John 12:32). It is also important to remember that love bears all things and that the promises of God are sure no matter how long-suffering endures (Ps. 30:5).
3. Offer Your life as a Ransom for Change, Surrender it to the Church
Why complain about the church? Be the church. It is so easy to live in a place of resentment, but what can come of this form of existence? The church needs more willing vessels who are genuinely redeemed, have no mommy or daddy issues, who do not use politics to weaponize and manipulate, those who have no malice in their hearts for others. Therefore, Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me (Matt. 16:24–26). No matter one’s race, gender, or age, Christ has called all people to repentance, spiritual growth, and the willingness to live a transformed life with his help. The commitment to live as a church is carried out with the leading of the Holy Spirit, followed by committed church leaders and the congregation (Acts 2).
4. A Message for Church Leaders
The Church must change their stance on disability. The church is called to heal.The goal of the church redemption program is for church leaders to remember that they too are men and women of God saved, called, and taught by Christ to lead with love, empathy, and perseverance, holding fast to all Christ has taught them in his earthly ministry. Thus, there should be no one person feeling marginalized and subsequently neglected. God has a strong rebuke and warning for church leaders who live like they were never called to represent Him in spirit and truth (Jeremiah. 23). Hence, church leaders are to remember the deaf, disabled, elderly, women, and marginalized communities in their prayers and focused efforts to seek, evangelize and support their families in their healing and spiritual transformation.
Church leaders can help by listening better, showing empathy, and leading with compassion, thus making the needs of the deaf, disabled, and marginalized communities a priority. Most people desire leaders who feel and are transparent, so make it a point to tell your story. What made you become a pastor? Disabled men, women, and children should feel safe in the presence of church leaders, be embraced, understood, and received. The church should rejoice for every soul who is saved and receive the healing they so desperately seek regardless of ability, race, gender, or age.
Make no mistake: the intentional planting and development of local churches that reflect God’s love for all people — the unity and diversity of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven — is not optional in the New Testament; it is mandated.