Becky was a girl the same age as me, we grew up in the same church. I never got to know her. Becky was different. She didn’t go to school with the rest of us, and she never attended Sunday school or girls’ club or youth group. I saw her in church sometimes, and I knew her name, but I never got to know her.
A girl like Becky was called mentally retarded when I was growing up. She went to a special school for mentally retarded people. “Normal” kids never met “mentally retarded kids”, even in church, because they weren’t expected to be part of our world. They had their own world, that included their family and their special institutions. How did Becky feel about it? How did their family feel about it?
The label “mentally retarded” is now seen as a negative term; even though it was created in the early 20th century as a positive term to replace negative labels such as “idiot” or “moron”. But now we hear people say “That’s retarded” as a put-down; new terms were needed. People with special needs, people with intellectual disabilities, people who are developmentally delayed. There are all sorts of terms.
Terms are important, but more important are actions. How do we include all kinds of people in our church community? How loving can we be?
Bethesda is a local organization run by the Mennonite Brethren Church that specializes in supporting families that face challenges, whether because they have a member with autism or developmental disabilities. Our service this Sunday will be about hope, and our speaker is Mike Gilmore, the chaplain at Bethesda; he will be bringing a number of guests to our church.
I wonder how my life might have been different if Becky was born into my family, or if I was Becky? God’s love would be the same for me, would the community’s love be the same?