Why I Love Reaching Families with People with Special Needs and Disabilities - Radical

Join Us for Secret Church on April 19.

Why I Love Reaching Families with People with Special Needs and Disabilities

“Thank you for taking care of one such as this.” I squirmed inside, kissed my daughter on her head, smiled, and replied, “Thank you, also. She’s our treasure from God.” 

This is a typical response from people gawking at us wrangling Gracie’s wheelchair into the church, calming her hangry tantrums when the service extends into lunchtime, or patiently coaching her to greet appropriately. My thoughts swirl, “Why thank us for treasuring and caring for an image bearer of the most Holy God? Why thank us for caring for our daughter when others with disabilities here are discarded, ostracized, neglected, or worse?” 

Showing the Need for a Savior

In Uganda, we see communities and churches actively and passively reject families “cursed” by a disability. Untended gulleys, steep stairs, massive tree roots, and narrow doors often present insurmountable challenges for those with mobility or vision difficulties. Lack of sign language fluency excludes those with hearing impairment. 

Proper church behavior expectations marginalize individuals who struggle to conform. Churches steeped in false teachings require the afflicted to hide their imperfection. The church is deceived into a show of outward perfection so that the world cannot see our desperate need for a savior. 

Missions must flow out of the local church, lived out by Christians loving the afflicted, the rejected, and the hard-to-reach.

My mind is drawn back to the present as Gracie fervently insists on being taken out of her wheelchair when the music starts. She too wants to stand, sing, and dance. After adjusting to the initial shock of Gracie’s enthusiastic “joyful noise to the Lord,” onlookers can’t help but smile at the sight of her gorgeous hair flying around while she is fully consumed by the joy of worshipping her Creator through music. Their shoulders relax and the clapping gets louder to match her intensity. 

New friends start thinking about their ostracized, “lame” cousin, wondering if they should have treated him differently. The sight of Gracie’s siblings pushing her wheelchair, playing with her, and making her laugh prompts memories of the neighbor’s ignored little girl who never walked, never went to school, and eventually faded into the grave. 

Experiencing our family’s delight in our non-verbal, totally dependent daughter puts the gospel into flesh. Gracie’s special needs have deepened our understanding of imago Dei and the restorative work of salvation through Jesus Christ. We have seen many eyes opened to these truths when people get to know Gracie as a person. Brilliant five-year plans and projects have been dwarfed by the impact of one person delighting in Gracie’s high-fives and magnetic smiles. 

God has used Gracie to reveal himself as great and glorious through weakness like Scripture says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Living out what we see so clearly in the Bible is a powerful way to demonstrate to the world that God is worth surrendering all. 

A Church Who Serves One Another

Over the years, we have seen hundreds of short-term outreaches distributing goods, education, and the gospel. But we have become convinced that lasting impact is consistently realized through the open doors of our home. 

As a special needs family, we need people to help us and live life together with us. Through this daily life, we receive invitations to engage in intentional one-on-one discipleship. This takes place within the raw real life of our home and in the context of our local church. 

After all, the local church is to be a place to experience a foretaste of God’s grace for His people and for His world (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). The world bears witness to God’s glory by seeing the transformation of the church. 

Missions must flow out of the local church, lived out by Christians loving the afflicted, the rejected, and the hard-to-reach. As the world sees the church eagerly welcoming and intentionally pursuing people with disabilities, there will be gospel transformation.

Perhaps your church is considering sending you into global missions. In addition to becoming excellent in your field of study, dig deep into the Word and seek to be discipled into spiritual maturity. Submit to the authority of your local church and be an engaged and faithful member. 

Recognize and embrace your reliance on others. Intentionally love the less lovely. When you reach the mission field, prioritize submitting to and becoming a member of your local church. Engage fully in community life with authenticity, transparency, and accountability. And love “the least of these” with a love that is undeniably from God (Matthew 25:40–45).

Abigail Rattin has been serving in Uganda with her husband Joshua since 2011. They joined RTIM to equip the local church in Uganda in 2021. They were sent by Faith Baptist Church of Hollis in Hollis, New Hampshire. Abby is a Family Medicine physician who loves reaching families through the care of individuals with special needs and disabilities. The Rattins have 6 delightful children: Gracie, Moses, Ana, Noah, Otim, and Josiah.

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!