The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
James’ favourite song for me to sing with him is “Jesus loves me, this I know”.
The Bible is full of stories about children and young people; some of these stories are among the most well-known of all (Mary, Joseph, David, Samuel, Esther…), some are lesser known, more obscure, but none the less important stories (the widows son and Elijah, the slave girl of Naaman, Jairus’ daughter…). In thinking about some of these stories, it got me wondering if I could see any parallels in any of their stories with my son, James.
James is 15-years-old, is Autistic, has learning disability and epilepsy. There is no mention of any of these in the Bible, although some argue that some people healed by Jesus may have previously experienced epileptic seizures for example. So, where is James in the Bible? Where can we read a story of a Bible character and think “Yes, that’s a lot like James”?
Well, I think James can be found in several of the young people of the Bible, and as you have a look at the journey I’ve been on to find him there, you might be able to find a child or young person you work with, or are parent/carer to, as well… Some of these comparisons are positive and affirming, some less so, a bit like the life of a young person with additional needs. We start with a hard one…
Joseph was bullied, his brothers treated him badly and even thought about killing him before selling him to traders and making him one of the first recorded victims of people trafficking. Children with additional needs are statistically much more likely to be bullied, with 60% being recorded as having been bullied, although the real numbers could be much higher. There have been occasions when, at school, James has been bitten, been scratched, had his hair pulled, has his communication iPad thrown into the school swimming pool. James has been bullied, and whether this is anything to do with his current refusal to go to school only time will tell.
But God did not leave Joseph like that, he had plans for Joseph, wonderful plans that would be a blessing to many; and so while I see James in the hard things that happened to Joseph, I see James in the amazing way that God used Joseph in the future too… What God has done through James already is only the start, there is so much more to come!
When Samuel came to town looking for the one that God had told him to anoint, he found Jesse and his sons. Seven of these sons were examined by Samuel but none chosen, until Samuel asked Jesse; “Are these the only sons you have?” “No”, Jesse answered, “My youngest son is taking care of the sheep”. Samuel said “Send for him…” 1 Samuel 16:11
David was sent for and when he arrived Samuel declared that he was the one God had chosen, and anointed him immediately. David, the least, the youngest, the one sent out to look after the sheep, unworthy, the one initially forgotten when Samuel was looking at Jesse’s sons. So often children and young people with additional needs can be considered the least, unimportant, unworthy, not one likely to be chosen for anything. But that’s not how God works…
Recently, a friend of mine asked me this question; “I was listening to what you were saying about your son today and found myself wondering does he have any sense of how in hearing about him, how much his life ministers to others?” That moved me deeply, and helped me to think about how James, like David, is considered the least by many, unimportant, the last choice to be anointed by God, but yet through James and the work he has inspired, many are ministered to… God uses the least likely, those rejected by others, to reveal his message, reaching many through them.
Paul refers to Timothy’s youthfulness, although it unclear exactly how old Timothy was when he met Paul. The reason I see something of James in him, though, is because of this verse; “You have known the Holy Scriptures ever since you were a little child. They are able to teach you how to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 3:15
James has been to church ever since he was a baby. He has grown up in the church and has experienced the word of God throughout that time. Recently, due to being unable to leave the house, James has not been to church, but it is in our times at home when we pray and sing together that I truly feel that James knows that he is loved by Jesus. James’ favourite song for me to sing with him is “Jesus loves me, this I know”, the words of the first verse are below, with the words that James joins in with highlighted in bold:
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
(James joins in with a loud “Amen!” at the end. I truly believe that James means ever word he joins in with.)
Jesus loved Timothy, and he loves James; and just as Timothy knew and recognised that love, so does James. The light that shines from his eyes and the joy that spreads all over his face tells me that!
So how do I see James in Mary, the mother of Jesus? Well first of all, when she gave birth to Jesus she was widely believed to be in her mid-teens, perhaps 15-16 years old, exactly the same age as James. But it is in Mary’s song that I see James, as this young girl, like David before her one of the least, was chosen by God to do great things and responded in faith; “My soul gives glory to the Lord. My spirit delights in God my Saviour. He has taken note of me even though I am not considered important. From now on all people will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me.” Luke 1:46-49
Yes, I can see James in the Bible, and I hope you can too… I hope you can see your child, or a child you support and work with, in these stories or others as well. They are all there if we look, all “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image; and if we seek God’s wisdom to find them, we can see there the hope that we all have for their future, and in the plans God has for each and every one of them.
As James would say; “Amen!”
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.