THE PROPHETIC VOICE OF PARENTS WITH DISABLED CHILDREN
Searching for a Pearl of Great Price

December 1992By Brett Webb-Mitchell

The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell, a Presbyterian minis­ter, is Director of Religious Life at Devereux Hospital and Children’s Center in Melbourne, Florida, and Ad­junct Professor of Special Education at the University of South Florida. His article in our June 1992 issue, “’God Plays Piano, Too,’” is the title essay of his book of essays, “God Plays Piano, Too”: Spiritual Narratives of Children with Disabilities, forthcoming from Cross­road in the spring.

To be a prophet is to be misunderstood and resisted. A prophet does not ask for the job, but is chosen by God to do His will. God puts a finger on someone, and the rest is history.

In listening to parents who have children with disabilities, I believe I’ve heard the prophetic voice emerge as these people tell their stories of churches that would not accept them and their disabled children. Like the Hebrew prophets, these families did not choose to have a child with a disability, and they are misunderstood and resisted. Like the prophets, parents with disabled children must often stand up in our congregations and par­ishes, calling us to consider what it truly means to be God’s people.

I recently heard the prophetic voice of a parent with a disabled child after a workshop I gave on the church and persons with disabilities. Patty has, in her neck of the woods in the Pacific Northwest, “moved mountains.” Patty’s faith in Jesus’ love for her daughter (12-year-old Annie, who is autistic) has finally succeed­ed in getting the state and her local church to work with her and her family in making this a more hospitable world for Annie.

Patty is in her 30s and lives with her hus­band and their six children in a small house set on a dirt road in eastern Washington State. I discovered the house to be quite battle worn. It could use a coat or two of paint outside. Inside, the carpet is water damaged and, in some spots, makes a squishing noise — it is often wet because of Annie’s fascination with shampoo and water. Annie has kicked holes in the walls and stripped off bits of Sheetrock and thrown them, along with many household items, around the house. Many of the inside doors now have elaborate electronic locks, and even the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets are locked.


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