Cindy Dennis

Executive Director


Hope outside the box



According to Greek mythology, there was a box of all the world’s darkness and torment given to a girl Pandora from the gods. She was curious to open it- even though she was warned not to.


Finally she did open it- releasing evil into the world- so the myth goes. But hope was left locked in the box for all time-


This story has been interwoven throughout movies, pop culture, writings and philosophy for thousands of years.


You can’t even turn on the TV without seeing darkness with no hope.


Friedrich Nietzsche comments: "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of men."


This is where our world is left if we believe that nothing is orchestrating the fabric of time- that there is no hope- a very dark world view indeed.


To parallel this story- the Ark of the Covenant- a golden box, was created to house the glory and presence of Yahweh- the creator of all things, in the Bible.


After the exile- we have 400 years of “silence” where no written words were recorded. Creation was holding its breath- waiting in the darkness for hope to come.


The Ark is missing or captured. All hope seems lost.


After 400 years-hope glimmers in a quiet birth of a child- born into poverty.


Yahweh show us hope in the person Jesus- now grown- who for 33 years walked out the perfect picture of hope on earth.


But then Hope was killed and buried in a tomb after leaders were jealous of Jesus’ influence-


Hope was buried- locked up tight in the darkest box of all- a stone cave with a Giant sealed stone.


Now darkness covered the earth. All hope was truly lost- or so it seemed.


3 days later- the never-ending Hope resurrected from its stone housing- exploding to all the corners of the earth- infilling its followers with light- so that they can bring hope to everyone forever.


The same power and hope that brought Jesus to life- lives in us. We become the new vessels of hope- opening daily our never-ending supply to those blinded in darkness.


I am so glad that Yahweh- the One True creator has given us forever hope.


I am so glad that Hope was not shut in His box- never to be opened.


Let us constantly be aware of our inner power to bring the love and light of the Father.


Romans 5:5 says:  “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”



I hope you have followed my Individuals with Disabilities (IWD) Elephant theme in the fabric woven

through parts 1 and 2. Now comes the time to ask the Elephant, “what is inside of the suitcase, even in

the innermost pockets?”


The first pocket is placed inside the top of the suitcase, the thoughts that we carry in the mind. This is

the largest pocket, where you will see carefully placed labels that have been accumulated over the

years. Some are given to us by others and a few we generate on our own, because of how we are

treated. These bear the scars of a church wanderer looking for identity.


Some of these labels might read:
“lost,” “unwanted,” “inconvenience,” “unworthy,” all of which sum up in the mind with the most pain ridden label - “abandoned by God.” These labels are heavy-laden and etched in the stone of our minds.
Why does this happen? I could write a book on the why factor, but in short, there is a palpable
awkwardness from non-IWD’s.

Yes, even Christian brothers and sisters simply do not know how to

engage, connect, or know the latest appropriate buzzword to use. So instead, they look away and avoid

the opportunity altogether. Hoping perhaps the person will go away and fade into the back of the

church, easing our awkwardness along with them.


The two side pockets, smaller in size and depth are the elephant’s deferred hopes and dreams, along

with their love of God and desires to know the bible. They feel deeply and believe strongly just as any

other elephant in the world. But perhaps that is overlooked as the inside of an elephant is neglected due

to the awkwardness the outer disability presents.


Well, good gosh you might now say to yourself, “see

IWD elephant you have it all!” In part this is true, yet, until my elephant can safely bring these heartfelt

items out of the suitcase, they are simply pent-up ideas and dormant emotions longing to be seen and

heard.



The last pocket is the little one under the bottom of the suitcase, the secret compartment. Here is the

true gift that my elephant carries, there is just one word written in big bold font - AWARENESS! The IWD

elephants has insight and perspective to the world that non-IWD’s cannot see. What would happen if we

began to allow what they see to shape our vision for an integrated and inspired church, vibrant with all

peoples? What could happen if we allowed their perspective to train our eyesight to see the world

anew? Let me once again state, no church can meet all needs for all IWD accommodations. Trust me if

your church does try to climb this “Mt. Sinai” it will fail again and again and again. Yet, there is hope

when we take awareness training and begin to practice what we preach. Here are a few steps to

consider:


YOU CAN TAKE ACTION
  • 1. Pray – for a heart posture that is willing to learn; for insight on how to grow, and for an opportunity to take a baby step of faith.

  • 2. Seek wise counsel – learn from those who live, eat, drink, and fully accept being part of the IWD community; no matter what part of the community they align with. Healthy engagement makes all the differences toward understanding.

  • 3. Read, read, and read some more – there are plenty of articles from reliable sources about how the church disenfranchises IWD Christians and ways to become aware of it. Follow up with additional

  • reading as to how to fully integrate IWD’s into the church body, heart, and soul!


4. Consider training opportunities – Sometimes fresh perspective is all you need. Go to where you

can learn how to be a church that engages IWD’s genuinely and practically.

Once these actions take hold in our daily lives, we then begin to see fully inclusive-integration of all

people created by God!



Closing verses:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring the good news to the

poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening

of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor, and the day of

vengeance our God to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion——Isaiah 61: 1-3a

(English Standard Version)




Every seeker searching for a place to call their home carries a “suitcase.”As they sift through each item in their suitcase the question of ,will this be my new church home, is once again the battle cry.


Other thoughts running through my elephants head is can I truly become brother or sister in the family of God?

So how does this relate to those on the “Outside Looking In” – to those Individuals with Disabilities who cannot seem to find a place to unpack their suitcase at any church home that would welcome all?


Now, on to part two of addressing the “elephant” in the room, under the carpet, and perhaps the one sitting next to you in the church pew.



Let me begin with a few unnerving but very true incidents regarding the church and Individuals with Disabilities (IWD).

Several years ago, I regularly attended a church in the Washington D.C. Metro area. To say that the church was uplifting, filled with energetic worship, and full of Christian sister’s and brother’s is factual.


Prior to me joining this church there were discussions as how to best meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. A new building had been constructed for the church, and oh how all shouted with joy at how large and comfortable the sanctuary was, with a new spacious lobby, including all the bells, whistles, and hoopla. “Look, see how the aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair,” they said. “Look, see how there are not one but two accessible areas in the restrooms.”


There was an eager and honorable heart behind their intent to reach the IWD community – and I give them credit for their willingness to serve.


We members of the church always want to have warm greeting for newcomers.

Remember...we welcome all.... until...the IWD elephant subject began to pop up again-and- again.


When I first began attending this church, I was still professionally serving as a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter, having passed all state requirements.


Which meant I was held to the strict code of ethics regardless of whether I was interpreting professionally or voluntarily.


These laws, mind you, are put in place to ensure that every person is treated with care and dignity in any given environment, determined by the government as inalienable rights.


This should not have been a problem for any Christ-following church who understands that everyone is made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and worthy of His love.

While attending a meeting to discuss how to go forward with accommodating IWD’s, things went from bad to worse. During the conversation, the announcement came that an interpreter would be provided to sign the sermon [yay for integration].


However, it quickly came to my attention that the interpreter being reared to take this role was still learning sign language from a book with major room for improvement.

Then it was also mentioned that the interpreter would not be standing next to the pastor-speaker. I brought my candid concerns and expertise to the table, believing that I might gain an ear.


I noted that as eager as this individual was to sign the all of the service, their lack of training would not adequately suffice.


You can’t just learn from a book in a few months to officially sign a sermon, let alone be able to voice what a Deaf individuals is saying, to the pastor and others. Plus – guidelines state that the interpreter must

stand next to the speaker, allowing for full vision of both parties.


All my comments seemed a very reasonable request in my mind, having been in the workforce for years. I urged them to reconsider their actions.

Even though they were genuine in nature they were not up to the ethical standards of practice.



In short, their response was that they would make their own guidelines up “in-house” instead of adhering to national guidelines.


The interpreter would not stand next to the pastor because it was too distracting for him to preach. And there was no need for someone with a disability to come talk to the pastor after the message, so it was not necessary to be able to reverse-interpret.


In fact, the final slamming of the suitcase was when this hospitality team was told if someone attended the service that required an interpreter, the greeters were informed to sit them in the back of the church!!!


They even commented how considerations had been made by laying out a bright orange circle on the floor designating where the interpreter should stand.

Please note that there was no assigned seating for anyone else attending this church, but the notion seemed well received by this team as an acceptable action.


An action that echoes another historical event during the Civil Rights Movement where someone was told to sit in the back seat because they were different.


To state the obvious, this was a clear act of segregation – one that didn’t even make reasonable sense, and it was happening within the church’s hospitality team.


Why would you place those who needed an interpreter (one where a visual line of sight of hands is required) to be ushered to the back row with the furthest visibility?


But wait.... there’s more, instructions were also given in the same meeting that hospitality greeters that should sit someone with a definitive mobility device, such as a wheelchair or scooter, the team should kindly guided to the BACK of the church as well.


“Why?” I asked. Their response, “So, their wheelchairs do not block the aisles or take up space for others attending.” OH, then why have a spacious sanctuary and wide aisles to begin with? These were only two of the many statements made during this meeting that made my heart heavy – heavier than any item my IWD suitcase was already carrying.



As a side note, it is my belief that the primary reason the IWD elephant suitcase is viewed as “unwanted baggage” instead of “welcomed luggage” by the church is that it holds too many uncomfortable and inconvenient items.


Accommodations that no one truly wants to see fit in with their own “home decorum.” They are distractions, obstacles, and expenses that keep ‘others’ from freely moving within the house of God.

So, we leave the individuals with disabilities living out of the suitcase wandering from church to church until the road becomes too rocky. Their journey becomes one replete with broken dreams and promises, lost hopes and craters, discouragements in valleys, and scars deeply etched into their soul. All of which continue to resonate the words, “abandonment from God.” Though this is furthest from the truth.



After much debate, this “IWD elephant” took her suitcase, packed up the hope of being fully integrated into this church, and once again, sadly walked away.


At least there will be more room for other people without a disability to fill the space that is now open by my absence.


My hope in sharing this is not to rant or rave, but to provide a glimpse of what needs to be unpacked from the suitcase and then repacked with true hospitality which will bring forth full IWD integration into the body of Christ.


The first change being a transformed heart posture and perspective toward the IWD suitcase. Like everyone’s suitcase, they have luggage to unpack not baggage to throw out. Only then can we start to help people settle into the church as a home. So,

where do we go from here?


Stayed tuned for part three where I will open the IWD suitcase’s inner pockets to discuss “faith over fear,” and the most inside pocket of “awareness training.”