Gracious Siege Ramps. There’s an oxymoron.
Grace, a term associated with God and favor. Siege, a word used in battle. Ramps, a tool for those with disabilities. I don’t relate to war stories or enjoy learning about conquests. I am, however, a person of faith whose heart is deeply entrenched in the world of disability. When biblical battle language and disability terms come together, it piqued my attention.
Jeremiah 32:24 (NLT) “See how the siege ramps have been built against the city walls!” compelled me to take a deeper look. Ramps were being constructed for an army to overtake the city.
In biblical times, there was typically one way to enter or leave a city. The lone city gate usually led to a maze of other gates or hallways. This allowed the city guards to assess and deal with anyone who may not be entering for not as peaceful reasons. They built the city gate into massive fortifications so thick, people lived in the walls.
If an army wanted to overtake a city, they wouldn’t have success going through the gate or walls. Instead, they built siege ramps, similar to a rocky hillside, that went from ground level to the top of the walls. This wasn’t a quick process, sometimes taking months or years. But it was the best way to overtake a city.
For many years, my heart grieves when I hear stories of families with a disability who get turned away from, ignored, or asked to leave a church. When speaking with church leaders, they typically respond, “We don’t have anyone with a disability here, so we don’t need to be accessible or have disability ministry.” Hmm, do you suppose no one with a disability comes because they can’t gain access or don’t feel welcome?
Others say they don’t have anyone specially trained to work with people with disabilities. Have they asked? Are some willing to learn? Being a friend to someone with a disability requires no special training.
Then there was one pastor, whose church had a Sunday school class for people with intellectual disabilities. He told me, “Well, you know, the disability Sunday school class runs us in the red. It costs more to offer that class than they tithe.” It took all I had to breathe and respond in grace and not with my hands around his throat.
But it is not just the churches who need some education. I cringe when a parent tells me how they approached their church, ready to battle the forced inclusion of their child with special needs. One even felt he was very generous in giving a church a couple of weeks to get a program and volunteers together, citing “That is more time than I’d give the public school.”
Advocacy, especially for one who cannot speak for themselves, is a good thing, see Proverbs 31:8-9. Sometimes advocates must be tough and immovable in meetings with schools and service agencies. Taking the same approach with the church may burn bridges rather than build them. The advocate may win one battle, but lose the war, even being asked to find another church. As my wise husband is prone to say, “We have no influence if we are not in the room.”
Instead, I encourage the building of gracious siege ramps. These ramps will not launch a coup against the church but will build a pathway of grace-based advocacy. Good ramps rise gradually, but steadily. A safe ramp is wide and has guard rails on either side. So it is with encouraging a church to embrace people with disabilities. Pleasantly persistent is how I like to describe grace-based advocacy.
How wonderful it would be for the Church to understand the love of Jesus compels us to engage with people affected by disability (see Luke 14). Truth be told, the love of Jesus calls each of us to graciously and compassionately interact with every other person we meet. We need grace because we are human and don’t always get it right.
We build disability ministry with an appropriate amount of honesty mixed with kindness. We who have a disability or are part of a family affected by disability have been advocating and building awareness for many years. It is so much our way of life that we forget most in the church do not understand our world. We may need to be the ones to help them ramp up their understanding, compassion, and outreach. The best way to hurdle the fortified walls of a church is to show up, engage with others, invite them into your world, and pray.
I understand the challenges and skepticism that wear on families in almost every area of life with a disability. This may cause one to approach a church, the one place they perceive to be embracing, with weapons blazing. We are in a battle. But it is not a battle for disability ministry or against a pastor or group of people. It is a battle for the souls of men, women, and children, regardless of disability.
In Ephesians six, Paul teaches about the armor of God. He explains why we need that protection daily—“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places.” (verse 12 NLT)
These unseen powers are at work to dissuade as many as possible from following Christ, including those with disabilities. Our task in the Lord’s Army is to take back the ground from the enemy and bring people into God’s Kingdom.
What would it look like if we built gracious siege ramps at our churches, praying the whole time we are constructing? How might it be different if we approached the Church that way rather than with a battering ram?
If you’re a pastor, church leader or member who has no experience with disability, that’s okay. We welcome you to help us build the ramp. Here are a few ideas to get you or your church started:
- Build a literal ramp into the building.
- Engage a sign language interpreter for your weekly service.
- Produce large print materials.
- Train a buddy to befriend someone with physical, emotional, or mental needs.
- Offer alternative service styles for those with sensory issues.
- Consider building a family-style restroom for those who may need assistance.
The mantra, “we don’t need that because we don’t have anyone with disabilities or special needs at our church” is not surprising. If people can’t get in or don’t feel welcome, they won’t come. It is time to take a cue from a favorite baseball movie, The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
The time is now for those of us inside the Church to head out the doors and embrace people affected by disabilities, engage in life together, and develop mutual friendships. Programs are helpful, but what people affected by disabilities really want and need from the Church is a relationship.
Here’s to a movement of gracious siege ramp builders!