My husband Paul and I are both teachers, and we tried to teach all six of our kids the Bible. Kim is the fourth of our six kids. She has multiple disabilities, which kept her from going to Christian school along with the others.
It was difficult for Kim to learn, even at church. She was able to keep up in Sunday School up to first grade, and then got frustrated with all the scissors, play groups, and interaction with the other kids and teachers. For about twenty years, I stayed with Kim during the Sunday School hour. It was just not Sunday school that was tough. Even while Kim and I walked the church halls down to Sunday school, people were afraid of Kim. I got frustrated because “this little light” was being hidden under a bushel.
I believe all of us can learn. We are made in the image of God, and God is limitless. I don’t believe in ceilings where people stop learning. I try to adapt Bible study materials so that people affected by disability can go beyond where they ever have before in studying the Bible. I didn’t set out to be a writer. I set out to make sure all of “the gang” (as I lovingly call the kids and adults I teach who are affected by disabilities) could learn the Bible.
I didn’t set out to be a writer. I set out to make sure all of "the gang" could learn the Bible.
You may see “the gang” in a similar situation in your home, your church, or your school. Wherever you are, don’t get overwhelmed. In more than 25 years of teaching “the gang” about Jesus, I’ve discovered a few simple strategies that work in almost any setting.
1. Act It Out.
It’s amazing how wrapping a scarf around a child’s shoulders can instantly transport him or her right into the scene of the Bible story you are teaching. Simple props will enlarge your gang’s imagination—and maybe yours! You can even take it one step further and do a little role play. Keep it quick and easy (this isn’t Broadway!). This is a great way to get your gang familiar with the characters and the plot.
2. Question Your Questions.
Questions can be difficult, especially for young kids or people with disability. Consider turning your question into a statement; it makes it simpler to understand. So “Who did Jesus touch in this story?” becomes “Tell me who Jesus touched in this story.” Or turn your questions into multiple-choice. Others may have trouble expressing themselves even when they know the answer. (The answer is “stuck”; how frustrating is that?) So your question becomes: Tell me who Jesus touched in the coffin. Was it his mother? Was it a person from the community? Or was it the woman’s son? Sometimes a simple rephrasing can make a big difference in understanding.
3. Tell Your Own Stories.
If you read my little devotional, Finding Jesus on Upside Down Days, you will discover that it is chock-full of pretty ordinary stories about life in a barnyard. You might think that the stories about what happens in your everyday life aren’t interesting. But all of creation points up to an amazing creator God! So tell your stories anyway. As you look for God’s hand in your daily life, you will find it. And when you find it, you can’t help but talk about it!
4. Review, Review, Review.
You and your gang benefit from review. I love to keep a prop box on hand, to store those scarf-dresses and oven mitt-shields. At times, pull out props not just from the previous lesson, but many lessons back. Review times are great to see how everyone in the study is applying the lessons in their daily life. Review also gives focus to what we have learned and inspires us to change through the power of Jesus in our lives.
This is so important for all of teaching. “With-it-ness” is being aware of your students, in tune with them as a group. Read from your book or your curriculum when you must, but remember that your eyes are your primary aid to “with-it-ness.” When you look at your gang as you teach them, they will tell you if they are understanding. As soon as you see someone who is not engaged in the lesson, just begin praying quietly, asking God to show you how to engage them.
No matter how young or old we are, all of us can continue to learn! I love Psalm 119:130, “As your words are taught, they give light; even the simple can understand them.”