Tag Archives: Evangelism

Evangelism and Disabilities: A Personal Perspective

24 Apr
English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last fall, I received an email that raised an important question about Evangelistic efforts to people with disabilities.  The question was born out of some discussion about Young Life and it’s efforts in this area (Caperneum).

Here’s some of what they wrote:

” I apologize if this is a long e-mail.

Well I came across your blog when I was googling YL stuff. To give you a little bit of background, I recently graduated from a faith based college but I only spent two years there. It was quite a cultural shock since I was raised Catholic. This college didn’t have you sign anything, so there were a fair amount of non-believers at the school. Near the end of my last year, I was really thinking of writing some sort of book that highlights some of the bad stuff that goes behind the scenes and Christian schools/camps.”

“I also wanted to add a little bit of my personal experience in there as well. I also was raised with a disability (cerebral palsy to be specific) but its a very mild case of it. I also came to experience a fair amount of super fake Christians at the college as well. I personally think my disability had a lot to do with it. I’m not sure how much you touched on disabilities and Christianity in your blog, but I personally think it would interesting to explore the dynamic between the two. Since moving back I’ve been hesitant to join a church because of what I had experienced with the people at my college so it’s been a little bit of, well do I still believe in the “God” they were preaching at the college, and are all Christians going to treat me this way?”

First off, thank you for sharing a bit of your story and about your disability.  It’s a topic close to my heart because I have a child with a mental disability.  If you read early on, here at the ChristianAgnostic, then you may remember a series of posts called Staring Into the Abyss.  It was a three part series, chronichling the birth of my youngest and his struggle to come home from the hospital alive.  You can read them here, here, and here if you care to know more about his story.

While all ends well and he recovers to come home with us….it’s not the end of the story.  You see, right before he was discharged, my wife and I were informed that we needed to sit down with his doctor.  We assumed it was just to go over all the relevant details before sending us off unto the sunset for a happily ever after.

Instead, we were given a quick medical lesson on the dangers of Oxygen and the possible side effects of Cerebal Palsy.  For nearly two months, the only reason our son was able to survive was because of the feeding tubes and Oxygen pumps that helped sustain him.  What our doctor explained, is that Oxygen is actually poisonous over it’s normal 22% level and can cause permanent side effects and even brain damage (Cerebal Palsy).

This was quite a shock.  We assumed that we were out of the woods, and now, just as we are about to punch out and head home, we we’re being told that our son may have permanent physical and mental disabilities.  We were crushed.

One of the issues, was pyhiscal.  He was not responding normally to the physical check ups and his legs and arms were unable to extend normally.  We were told by a nurse that she doubted if our son would ever walk.  I couldn’t beleive my ears.  We had come all this way, cheated death three times, and now I was bringing a son home who would be in wheel chair for life?  Not that I wouldn’t have done it, but it was just such unexpected news and it hit us like a cement truck.

But wait, there’s more, said the doctor…not only is it possible that his physical abilities will be limited, but there was a large chance that he would suffer from mental disabilities as well.  We had heard of Cerebral Palsy, but he explained that it was a general term and that it could manifest itself in a wide range.  On the extreme range was a vegetable like mental state, on the mild side, disabilities like dyslexia or ADD might manifest as he grew up.

We were floored and tried to digest the news.  When I got home from the hospital, that day, I dropped into my bed and wept and moaned so loud, that my other children came running started crying too.  I tried to stop, I didn’t want to upset my kids, but I couldn’t help it.  I was in too much shock and overwhelmed by emotion.

As the Years Rolled On

In his first days home, my son had physical therapy sessions and was soon able to extend his arms and legs.   He actually began to walk before he was nine months old.  Yes, to everyone’s amazement, he was developing faster physically than most children that were born without incident.  His brushes with death didn’t slow him down and he soon began to walk, run, and climb.  In fact, he is so adept physically that sometimes we joke about the original prognosis that he wouldn’t even walk.

I am amazed whenever I see him run like a deer and remember back to that day we were told that he probably never walk!!!

But on the other side of it, we did notice that he seemed “off” to us.  He was slow to speak, and then when he did begin, it was almost a compulsive monologue of quotations from various cartoons he had watched.  We had him evaluated and he was diagnosed with Autism.  We’ll never know if the autism was linked to his early struggles for life (as an aside, I do not believe there is any merit to the idea that autism is caused by vaccinations) but the warning that he might have a mental disability was coming to pass.

Autism:What’s It All About?

For the last decade, we have become well acquainted with autism and it’s many forms.  For our son, he is very functional and is able to be in a normal classroom setting for 90% of his school day.  He does have some support, but it is more on the social side of things that he fluctuates.   He can be hyperactive and was a risk for running straight out our door, down the block, and out onto the highway.  It was scary because he was both fast and unaware at the great danger he was putting himself into.  Somehow, we managed to help him learn boundaries and some basic safety.

I could go on and on about his unique struggles and talents as it relates to autism, but I’ll leave that to move on the question of Evangelism to folks (like my son) that have a disabilitiy.

In my son’s case, another effect of his autism is his extreme literal thinking.  He struggles mightily to understand metaphoriocal speech and exxageration.  Forms of speech that you or I might instinctively know were just examples, he might take as literal truth.  The other struggle, is that once he has an idea in his head, very often he can not rid himself of it without flying off the handle emotionally or having a “meltdown” as we call it.  Any parent dealing with an autistic child will know exactly what I mean by this.   It is extremely frustrating and takes great effort and patience to help him move beyond his current thoughts or expectations.

This scares me when I think of how he might try and apply the Bible and some of it’s sayings.  What would happen if someone told him he needed to read the Bible and obey it’s teaching?  How would he react to Jesus when he says to cut off your hand or foot if it causes you to sin?  

To you or I, we may try and reason though such a saying. But to my son, his disability can hamper his reasoning skills and get him stuck on a horrific thought with lasting consequences if he follows through with literal obedience.

I’ve rambled on and have many more thoughts on the subject…but I would seriously like to hear from folks that have disabilities and how the Evangelistic efforts of Christians have affected them or their loved ones with a disability.

Thanks again for the emails and the awesome question!

 

 

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The Curious Case of the Missing Comment

18 Sep
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (Photo credit: givingnot@rocketmail.com)

A couple weeks ago, I cruised over to the Young Life Leader Blog.

While there, I clicked onto this video

 

 

I then left this short comment, which was deleted in less than 12 hours.

AnonymousSeptember 8, 2012 4:00 AM

While I think the video is clever…isn’t it a violation of the High School’s code of ethics for a teacher to be evangelizing the students in her own school?

Secondly, talking about students sleeping over at your home would also seem to be a major breach of standard code of ethics for a High School teacher?

In my experience, groups that are unwilling to dialogue are groups that are willing to break rules when it suits them.   I’m still curious as to why Young Life feel it’s ok for a public school teacher to violate their school’s code of ethics?

Is Young Life a Cult?

4 May

Young Life is a para-church ministry that focuses on running clubs and summer camps for high school students.  They exist to introduce these students to Jesus Christ and the Bible.  I got involved with Young Life during high school, attended numerous camps, and served as a volunteer leader for five years.

Occasionally, I would hear someone accuse Young Life of a being a cult.  At the time, I dismissed it as a misunderstanding, or an angry denial of the truth of Christianity.  But I never considered it a cult….even after having been in a verifiable cult, I still thought warmly of much of my time in Young Life.

Now that I’m many years removed from my time at Young Life, and raising my own teens, I have been brought  back in contact with our local Young Life.  And it has made me wonder if one of the reasons I was ripe for a cult was the fact that many of the same cultic dynamics were present in Young Life?

Love Bombing

One of the tactics identified as cultic is Love Bombing.  Love bombing occurs when a religious group intentionally showers praise, friendship, and attention towards new members of the group.  They do this to try to emotionally connect these new members BEFORE fully disclosing the requirements and/ or theology of the group.

This is certainly a tactic that Young Life is guilty of  –  no doubt.  Most of what Young Life leaders and their campaigners do would fall under the category of Love Bombing.  As a leader, we would discuss our weekly “contact work”.  Contact work was the amount of time we spent hanging around the local high school or area teen hangouts, in hopes of making contact with students outside of Young Life.  Some leaders would organize sports events, or have teens they know intentionally invite other kids to an event, (like watching a football game on TV) so that the Young Life leaders could make contact and build a relationship with these students.  The sole intent of all of this was to then invite the students to attend a Young Life club or camp.  As a leader, I saw my motives as totally pure and godly.  But I was just in my late teens and early 20’s.  As a parent, I realize now, that I was evangelizing other people’s underage children without their consent.  This is another sign that Young Life might be cultic.

Young Life Club

Young Life club was a fun place to be during my high school years.  The skits were fun, we sang a lot of “oldies but goodies” from the Young Life Songbook, and I got to hang out with kids that I didn’t normally relate to at my school.  It also felt really cool to have guys in college taking the time to get to know me and discuss faith, music, politics, etc…I was a lonely teenager and Young Life helped me not feel so lonely.

As I got involved as a student leader, the dynamics changed.  I wasn’t just a kid at club anymore.  I was now involved with inviting my friends, going out of my way to be like Christ to others in my school (student version of Love Bombing), and was also given tips on how to help hype the club by always clapping and singing during songs, which included being told that we needed to scream like crazy when the leaders talked about Young Life camp.  In other words, we became a part of the backstage production crew that helped pull off a successful performance at clubs and camps.  We also spent a lot of personal time doing things like quiet times (anyone remember those Ty Saltzgiver booklets on quiet times?), memorizing scripture (NAV press anyone?), and journaling about our relationship with God and who we were going to reach out to for Christ.  Many times, our time as a campaigner was spent discussing with leaders how we could better improve on these three areas of life.

Young Life Ministry Strategy

One of the strategies that was often discussed at leadership meetings was that of making contact with “the leaders” in the schools.  This meant that as Young Life leaders, we would intentionally try to recruit the most popular and influential kids at a high school.  The thinking was, that if you could get the cool kids to attend, then other students would follow.  In other words, Young Life was gaming the pecking order of the high school cliques in order to try to build a platform to evangelize the school.  In this case, I would call this the “cult of cool”.

In the “cult of cool” thinking, the appearance of Young Life being cool was tantamount.  This meant that the Young Life leaders needed to be good-looking and in-touch with the latest fashions.  Star athletes and cheerleaders were often the focus of attention by Young Life leaders.  The good-looking people were often “randomly” chosen to be in the skits or brought up to help sing a song.  Were these things explicit?….not really.  It’s not that anyone said, don’t go after the ugly kids, or the girls that are overweight, or the punk rock kids with the Misfits t-shirt.  But if you focus on going after “the cool kids” in the high school, then usually these “un-cool kids” are quickly excluded from your ministry strategy.  It didn’t mean that those “other” students couldn’t be involved, they could.  But it was usually the result of them wanting to follow and be part of the “in crowd” that the more popular students represented.

This ministry strategy of Young Life does not make them a cult,  but it does make them appear to be more closely related to an advertising firm than a ministry.

Young Life Camp

Young Life camp was an incredibly fun time for me as a student.  Everyone seemed so open and loving.  The food was great, the outdoor settings were beautiful, and the nightly meetings were full of energy and emotionally charged talks about life, love, and Jesus.

But here’s the rub; so much of what I assumed was a result of  really loving people, was orchestrated.  Love Bombing and emotional manipulation would be an apt description.  Young Life camps are orchestrated to heighten ones emotions and encourage the students to make a highly emotional “decision to follow Christ”.

There were nightly talks about Jesus, including an emotional presentation of  his crucifixion that was followed  by a mandatory 10 minutes of silence to think about what we had just heard.  In my experience, the silence was  followed up by an hour of singing (mostly worship songs) by the volunteer staff.  Campers would then return to their cabins, where their leaders would lead an hour or more discussion about the talks and about where each student stood in regards to their relationship to Jesus.  Every activity was intentional in trying to persuade students to make a decision for Christ.

The final activity at a weekly camp was the “say so” meeting.  The verse about letting the redeemed “say so” was the basis for the name.  Kids would be encouraged to stand up among the hundreds of students and “say so” if they had committed or re-committed their lives to Jesus.  It was an intense display, full of emotional stories, lots of tears and hugs…followed up by more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to the many friends we had made during the week and got on the bus to travel home.

Again, I don’t know that the camps are intentionally cultic.  But they are intentional in their efforts to persuade every camper to make a decision for Christ during that week.  We would often times get complaints from parents whose children came home and were all the sudden “different” or “zealous” about their Christian faith.  Sometimes it was a change for the better; many times it was to a parents dismay.  Their child was now quoting the Bible to them and telling them that they were not real Christians and were hell bound.  Needless to say, some parents regretted having given permission for their child to attend.  They were told about the water tubing and sailing and all the fun their kid would have (which was true) but did not realize the amount of evangelizing that would be occurring (which was not highlighted in the brochures).  The fact it was a Christian camp was mentioned, but again, it was not the main focus of our pitch when convincing  parents to give their kids permission to attend.

So, is Young Life a cult?  I’m not sure, but I think they skirt close to the edge….My kids won’t be attending Young Life meetings any time soon.