Jason Forbes, Disability Advocate @ Jericho Road
When Reverend Jason Forbes first learned about Christianity during his studies, he found himself impressed with the idea that Jesus is the only name through which we have Salvation. He knew that if this was true, then it must be applicable to each individual situation, including when it comes to people with disabilities.
In Australia, around 4.4 million people have some sort of disability and around 34,000 of them have cerebral palsy; a disability caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain in the womb or during birth, resulting in motor disability. Jason is one of these people and describes his symptoms as his “brain not talking to his body properly”.
Jason has done a lot of big thinking asking the question, ‘How does the Gospel apply to those with disabilities?’. “I wanted to think and speak about what the answer to that question might be,” he said.
Enter Jericho Road. A ministry within the Presbyterian Church in NSW that aims “to demonstrate the character of God by providing fresh hope and care for those who are in need, in a way that seeks justice, shows mercy, and makes Jesus known”.
Jericho Road had the resources and understood what needed to happen to assist Jason in answering his question. They created a position for him as the Disability Advocate and he has been working in this role for nine years. The position involves a lot of speaking and advising on how to reach people with disabilities within the Presbyterian denomination. Jason was given the freedom to make the role what it needs to be.
The Importance of Disability Ministry
Jason recognises that the Jesus of the Bible always engaged with people personally and listened to people’s stories. This is an important model for us to follow by listening to people’s stories and not to place assumptions on them about what they can or can’t do.
“God is pouring out His blessings in abundance to the church”, says Jason, and “the church is the place that brings people together for the sake of the Gospel”. Jason himself is a powerful witness of God’s love and care for all people as he seeks to care and love people also.
Jason reflects on people with disabilities with the parable in the Bible of the Shepherd and the lost sheep in Luke 15. The shepherd left his 99 sheep to find the 1 lost sheep, the lost one in this case is the person with the disability. They need to be sought out and saved just like everyone else. If we don’t find that one and point them to God, someone else will find them and direct them away from the Gospel. This is important to remember as we think about all the work that a church is doing, but particularly as it relates to children and young people.
Supporting People with Disabilities
We want to ensure that people with disabilities are included and cared for, the following are some tips on how to support them in your ministry:
- Taking the time to understand each individual’s disability and their specific needs
- Be respectful of the person and understand their boundaries
- Make instructions and directions clear and simple to understand
- Engage with them directly and include them in decisions that directly affect them
- Show grace and have patience for all people in your ministry
- Remember that Jesus loves people with disabilities too
“How much more does He [Jesus] love and bless those who our culture may not consider worthy,” Jason says.