BOOK REVIEW | Disability in Mission: The Church’s Hidden Treasure
Edited by David C Deuel and Nathan G John, 2019
Disability in Mission is a book that all followers of Jesus should read, but especially people considering ministry, local or cross-cultural. It strikes at the heart of the Christian’s identity and purpose by letting the reader ‘listen in’ as missionaries share with raw honesty and brokenness their first-hand experience with disability.
Disability in Mission says, “that disability-inclusive missions provide major opportunities for ministry in the twenty-first century.” One of the most significant opportunities outlined in the book is best summarised in Paul’s words:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
Through disability and weakness, Christians have the opportunity to display God’s power and glory most clearly. Yet, this book identifies a significant problem within the mission movement. Namely, that it appears to adopt a secular perspective of success rather than a biblical one. There is a tendency to look to those who seem to have it all together, are intelligent, physically fit, gifted communicators, winsome – the people who make Christians look good in every way – to be pastors and missionaries. The truth is, however, God is most interested in the humble and in those who are willing to admit their need for him. It is those he uses most powerfully.
John points out that the goal of Christian witness is both to present Christ as Saviour and to invite people into a relationship with him. This relationship is one whereby the believer recognises both their dependence on Christ and need for others in the body of Christ. People with a disability have had to learn to depend on God and others by necessity, and John argues that this is great preparation for mission.
In chapters 1 and 2, Deuel outlines the intersection of disability and biblical weakness by giving examples of characters like Moses, Paul and Isaiah. God uses weakness to display his glory and power. Deuel points out that we are merely stewards of the gifts, abilities and disabilities we have, called by God to use them for his glory alone. God is creating and growing His kingdom through the weakness of the messenger because His power can fill them.
Chapters 3–10 contain stories of God’s people serving on the mission field. They bring God glory, not in spite of their disability but through it. The gospel truth that God uses the weak and vulnerable things of the world to shame the wise, and that brokenness is a prerequisite for serving God, is clearly portrayed. In chapter 3, Bonnie Armistead writes:
“My first steps in this direction required that God expose and dismantle the radical internal commitment to self-sufficiency and pride that lay beneath the surface of my theological training. Four years in seminary had done nothing to dismantle this. It would take a special child to do that.” (p 46)
Bonnie says that as a result of her daughter’s disability, barriers that existed before (rich vs poor, white vs dark) were removed. We see that the parents and families of children with a disability have had the opportunity to model Christ’s love and acceptance to other families. Not only that, but they have been used by God to bring about transformation of attitudes. Many cultures view disability as something to be ashamed of and think of it as a sign of a curse. But in so many situations, God has used His people who experience disability to bring about change. God used Anna, Bonnie’s daughter who has Down syndrome, to point Indonesians to the source of all hope, who provides lavishly for His children.
In Adam’s case, there were many hearts in India which were softened to the gospel and eventually believed because of the love and value his family gave him. It is clear that God is weaving his powerful story of redemption and grace in the lives of missionaries with a lived experience of disability. And, because of the upside-down Kingdom, God is using this weakness to point others to himself.
Disability in Mission has a simple yet profound message, that God looks at the heart, not the external things that we humans so often value. He takes all of our frailty and makes it into something beautiful in order that his glory might shine forth. This is a book I highly recommend.