Challenges and Opportunities

Once a year I do a  short talk at the carol service of a local special needs school, which is held in our church building. It’s a fun service, if not a little crazy and this was my second time doing it. The children range from primary school age all the way through to 6th form and all suffer from various forms of learning difficulties and physical disabilities. Some children’s conditions are very severe, others wouldn’t look out of place in an ordinary classroom. And it’s that which really makes it such a difficult talk to do.

The teacher in charge said I should aim it at about the level of a 6 year old. This is tough for me anyway. Normally, I work with 11-18’s and so never really do any work with younger children. If I do, I always find it tough, as that age really isn’t my gifting (I certainly don’t have much patience with them). So was already on the back-foot. Couple this with the fact that I don’t have any experience of working with children with learning difficulties or disability and you can probably understand why it was so daunting for me. It also didn’t help that this year the school had told me I would only need to attend but then I found out a few days ago that wires had been crossed somewhere and actually I would be need to do something. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the fact that the kids have problems that bothers me. I’d been briefed beforehand that some kids would just scream and cry throughout, try and make a run for it and such like but that the best thing to do is just let the teachers and carers sort it out and to crack on as if nothing was happening. That was fine. It was the message I struggled with.

I’d planned to show a short video of the nativity that I would narrate and then explain how Jesus had come to rescue us from all the wrong things we had done and why that’s so brilliant. But as the service started I panicked and changed direction. I know this might sound wrong, but I cut out everything to do with us being bad – so the sin effectively. Now I wouldn’t normally do that under any circumstance because our sinfulness and need for rescue is just absolutely central to the gospel message. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell these kids they were sinners because there were children in the room who clearly had no control over the way they behave. Of course, I know they are sinners, we all are and it’s not just our behaviour that can be sinful. But I just couldn’t do it. There were kids in those rooms in wheelchairs, barely conscious and drooling, and that’s who they are, 24/7. There they were with their parents and families and I just felt like I couldn’t get up and basically say they had all gone against God and that’s why they needed Jesus.

So I bottled it and went for something about Jesus being the greatest gift because he never wears out and breaks but will last forever. If we trust in him then we will have eternal life with him in heaven and that basically Jesus loves them. I will quite happily stand up and say that as talks go, it was a low.

But I want to do next year, hopefully with more notice and with more time to think through how to share the gospel with these children. If anything, it made me question my academic, intellectualised, middle class faith. None of those children are ever going to wrestle with Anselm’s theory of atonement, or Luther’s thought on justification by faith alone, but Jesus came to die for them and so in some way, it must be possible for even the most severely disabled to child to put their faith in Jesus. A real childlike faith. Pretty humbling for us middle class educated types talking about whether people have quite “got it” yet.

On the flip side of that today, I had a good chat with my line manager about involvement in our local secondary school. I generally get in a few times a year for a couple of assemblies and am occasionally asked to come and be questioned about the churches view of one topic or another. And I love those classroom sessions. Sure the kids are a bit more rowdy than at church but some of them ask far better questions than my churched kids. It’s a brilliant opportunity to tell the gospel to kids who really haven’t heard it before. Problem is that those sessions are few and far between and I really want to become a heavier presence in the school. So next week I have meeting with the head of R.S. to discuss what I could do. Anyone got any ideas? At the moment I’m pretty much stuck with just asking to get in more regularly. Thoughts would be appreciated.

We also had a good chat about the CU at the school. Basically, there isn’t one. Most of the young people from my youth group go further afield to school and so we have relatively few contacts with youngsters in our local school and those that we do are, well perhaps not the most committed of Christians. They’re mostly still at the stage of not wanting to let their friends know they’re Christian, let alone spend one lunch break a week at a Christian group. How have other people got CU’s off the ground? Is a CU even the way forward? My line manager and I think we need to use the Christian teachers we know there. They will have far more freedom and sway to advertise things and get things done. I’ve got a few on my radar and so I think the next step is to approach them and go from there. The encouraging thing is that as there is currently nothing really happening, I’ve got nothing to lose. I can try various things and see what happens.  Like I said, if anyone with schools work experience is reading this, please chuck some ideas this way as I will happily take them, CU related or not. There’s over 1000 kids in that school and most haven’t heard the gospel so we’ve got to do something.

So it looks like I’ve got a big task ahead but it’s one I’m looking forward to.  I find getting the gospel to un-reached people really exciting and exhilarating and I’ve tended to find that it’s when I step out and take risks for God that I see him do really amazing things. Something to be praying for methinks.