What does a handicap mean? It is indeed probably not the first thing you think of. The Britanica World
Language Dictionary gives as its first definition, "A condition imposed to equalize the chances of competitors in a
race or athletic contest, as the carrying of extra weight, or the requirement of a greater distance or a later start than
is assigned to an inferior competitor."
Perhaps God saw special spiritual and mental capabilities in some people, and felt they needed a handicap in
this race of life to keep them fairly equal to the rest of the human race. If this is true, we had better take a better
look at the "handicapped" people we know!
The apostle Paul had a handicap. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 he explained, And lest I should be exalted above
measure, through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of
Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (KJV). He also spoke of people's reaction to him in
person, for his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful: but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech
contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10, KJV).
Who were some of the other handicapped people found in the Bible? Surprisingly, many of them were spiritual
leaders of their day.
There were blind people. Isaac, the promised son of Abraham and father of Israel (Genesis 48:10) was one.
Eli, high priest and judge of the Israelites,and teacher of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 4:15) was another. Ahijah,
a prophet of God (1 Kings 14:4) was yet another. And of course the apostle Paul was temporarily blind (Acts
What can we do for the blind today? Our society is pretty much accepting of the blind. Our egos do not feel
threatened when we are around them. And there are various programs set up to help them get along in their own
Can they read braille? If they cannot, ask if they would like to, and contact your local library for information on
where to go to learn. Once they do know how to read braille, help them get a braille Bible as well as other books
and magazines in braille. Records and tapes of the Bible and other materials are also available from the library. If
you and some friends could go together to present a blind person with a Bible they can use, that would be a
Do they need transportation? Some blind people are comfortable walking around town with their white cane
and/or seeing-eye dog; and they should not be discouraged from doing this. Who doesn't enjoy their
independence? But there will be times that they need a ride to some place too far to walk or too inconvenient:
Doctor's office, grocery store, church, library, etc. They go to pretty much the same type places you do.
Include them in social functions. They enjoy music, so if you go to a concert, invite them along. There might be
a play they are interested in. Include them in parties of sighted people their age. Ask them to come early so you
can show them where everything will be and they can become familiar and comfortable.
If they like to correspond with people, help them learn to type. They can write letters and stay in touch with
friends this way. There are computer programs out for the blind now which use voice synthesizing. There is some
public domain software along this line that costs only about $10. Look through the ads of a computer magazine for
one of the public-domain software catalogs. They can write letters and stay in touch with friends this way. Or they
may be talented writers, and should be encouraged to write articles and books. The world will never have too many
Make sure their telephone is usable and practical for them. Call them every day to see how they're doing.
Encourage them to use the telephone for their own good works. There are people in the community who need
someone to call them every day to see how they are doing; primarily the elderly and handicapped. They could also
use the telephone to call people who are sick or have other problems so they can encourage them, and even pray
for them while they're on the line. Yes, there are some special good works that people who are blind can do. After
all, it didn't stop people in Bible times, and it needn't stop blind people today either.
In addition to the blind, there are people who are deaf. The Bible does not mention any deaf people by name,
but it does mention their needs. Leviticus 19:14 says: Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the
blind, but fear your God. And we have a beautiful account of Jesus helping someone who was deaf in Mark
There some people brought a man to him who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his
hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he
spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which
means, "Be opened!". At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak
plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.
People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf
hear and the dumb speak."
What can you do for the deaf? Keep in mind that since they cannot hear, they cannot hear their own speech
and therefore it is often unclear. The first thing you can do for them is learn to communicate with them. It is fun
making up your own sign language, just as you would with someone who speaks another spoken language. But
eventually, if you are with them very much, you need to learn their language. They will help you, if you like, and in
the process you will become good friends.
Without hearing, they often cannot get a driver's license. Those need transportation places. This is a great
service to them. You can also act as an interpreter for business transactions such as at the bank, in stores, etc.
Do they belong to groups who have other deaf people in them? Help them locate such groups or organize
one. People with similar problems like to get together to encourage each other, exchange ideas, and just have fun
while using their own methods of communicating.
Are they able to worship? If they go to a service for only the hearing, they are missing the singing and praying
and sermon. But this does not have to be. You could start out with just one, and sit next to that person, perhaps in
a side aisle so you can see the worship leaders and your friend both. Then you could "sign" the service for them.
Advertise this in the newspaper and with organizations in town who work with the deaf, offering to provide
transportation. Then as the group gets a little larger, you will have to stand in front of them to "sign" so they will all
be able to see you. What a marvelous Christian service this would be to them! The rewards would be many.
What can the deaf do to serve others? Let me speak directly to these special people. You who are deaf can
help prepare Bible school materials for teachers. You can help with Bible correspondence courses. Although you
probably could not teach in person, you could help write special Bible lessons for various classes. You could visit
nursing homes and senior boarding homes, giving a note to each person you visit saying, "I cannot hear you, but I
wanted to let you know I love you." Then you could give them a big hug and a big smile. You could help with little
children's classes since the younger children need shown more than told how to do things anyway. There is much
the deaf can do just by looking around for opportunities.
Then there are those who cannot walk and must rely on wheelchairs. (There is a special chapter for these who
must remain in bed, the chapter on prayer.) Jonathan, son of King Saul, and King David's closest friend, had a son
who was lame, named Mephibosheth. He was dropped by his nurse as a baby and both feet were injured.
Apparently he had continual pain and problems with his feet throughout life, for many years later when David had
grown children, it is said that Mephibosheth went through a period of mourning and not taking care of his feet (2
Samuel 4:4; 19:24).
In Jesus' day, people who would today be confined to wheelchairs were carried around on mats by their friends
and relatives. We have accounts of Jesus, Philip, and Peter healing such people who were called "palsied." One
such occasion is related in Matthew 8:5,6,13:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant
lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you
believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.
Let's talk about those who are confined to wheelchairs. There are many types of people like this. If their legs
are not used at all, eventually they atrophy. Such people usually keep their legs covered in public in order to avoid
embarrassing anyone who finds this awkward. In some instances they were born without proper use of legs or arms
either. Perhaps they have a form of palsy in which movement is made impossible or uncontrolled.
Of those in wheelchairs, probably the hardest for us to feel comfortable around are those who cannot control
the movement of most of their body, nor of their facial muscles. It is difficult for us to see them as intelligent human
beings; but in many cases, this is the fact. Since they do not fit our stereotype of the "intelligent" person, we need
to get to know them better in order to get past that notion.
At first you may feel many emotions: Fright, anger, embarrassment, pity. So prepare yourself ahead of time.
You can learn about others who have been able to accomplish good things in this world despite their handicap.
There are those who "run" in marathon races; they may come in last, but they run. At this writing, the most
intelligent person in the world since Einstein is such a person, a physicist in England. These are the types of things
you need to learn so you can quit pitying them and begin admiring them. Contact your local Easter Seals chapter, a
veterans hospital, a rehabilitation center, or any other organization that works with the crippled. You will hear
stories of courageous conquerors.
There may be someone in particular that you would like to help, perhaps someone you have seen attend
worship with your congregation, or someone down the street, or the relative of a friend. If this person cannot talk
clearly, you need to learn about that person through their relatives. Tell them you'd like to start spending some time
with them, and it will help you if you know what their interests are, what their aspirations are, what their past
accomplishments have been. Then you are ready to approach that person.
When you first meet, tell them you'd like to become friends. (Don't say, "I want to become your friend." That
sounds condescending.) Tell them you'd like to spend time together sometimes.
If you cannot understand them when they speak, tell them you'd like to learn to understand them using
whatever method they have found most successful. This means you will have to take time to learn their method.
Just be as patient with yourself as they will be with you. And while you are learning to communicate by word, you
can also communicate with touch, a smile, reading to them, taking them for "strolls" outside, and so on.
If they have an electric typewriter or computer, perhaps that could be a source of communication. If they do not
have one, ask if they'd like to learn to type (even if it is with a stick between two fingers or their teeth). Then try to
locate a typewriter or computer for them.
If the person's speech is not affected, of course you will begin communicating by word immediately. Tell them
you heard they wanted to start doing such and such, and have already started doing such and such. Ask them to
tell you about these activities. They will be most happy to. It is sometimes difficult for them to find anyone who will
take them serious enough to have an intelligent conversation. Since they can do little else, the use of their intellect
often becomes quite refined and they bypass their peers intellectually.
Ask to see samples of what they have done. Then ask them what you can do to help them do even more. It
may be they want to learn to play the piano, or go to college, or become a teacher, or any number of things.
Whatever it is, assure them that they can accomplish it, and together you will reach that goal. Someday, some how,
it will be done.
Do they have the physical capabilities to drive but don't have their license? Go to the Department of Motor
Vehicles and ask what the requirements are. Then help this person make adjustments in a car or van and learn to
drive so they can get their license and become more independent.
If they cannot get a license, offer transportation for them. If you have a van, that is one good way to handle it. If
you cannot fill this need personally, check around until you can find appropriate transportation for them. They may
need transportation to physical therapy, the store, a friend's house. And of course they would like the opportunity
to attend worship somewhere. Take them with you if at all possible.
If the person is able to live in their own home, try to arrange for physical adjustments such as wider doors, a
roll-in shower, lower cabinets, outside ramps, etc. if they are still without them.
This person may wish to develop a vocation. Help them get in touch with any training institutions in the area
that offer what they need. It may mean learning to work on an assembly line, repairing things, becoming a
secretary, becoming a college professor. Whatever it is, you could help them accomplish this.
Do they have friends in a similar situation? Introduce some of them by phone if they do not. Then try to get
them together for occasional visits. As they get to know a few others, plan a party with them. They need each
other's company for mutual support.
And in the midst of helping them, if there is anything they can do for you, let them know. They will be
developing a friendship with you, and as the old saying goes, "What are friends for?". So let them be a friend to you
Yes, you can help these people with physical handicaps. They are intelligent and courageous human beings
and want opportunities to have a fulfilling life and happy eternity, just like everyone else does. Helping them be
independent and accomplish as many of their life goals as possible is the greatest thing in the world you could do
Now we will discuss a different kind of handicapped person. This person may be an adult and have a strong,
healthy body. But their intellect perhaps has been handicapped so that they still reason like children.
Jesus said many years ago, Believe me, unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children
you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in
the kingdom of Heaven. Anyone who welcomes one child like this for my sake is welcoming me (Matthew 18:2-5,
God makes a distinction between the thinking processes of children and adults. Paul encouraged, My brothers,
don't be like excitable children but use your intelligence! By all means be innocent as babes as far as evil is
concerned, but where your minds are concerned be full-grown men (1 Corinthians 14:20, Phillips Version).
It just may well be that God felt adults needed reminders of child-like attitudes from more than just children. It
just could be that God gives us what we call "mentally handicapped" adults so we could see child-like innocence,
wonder, and acceptance in a grown body. Let us, therefore, re-examine our feelings toward these special people.
When in their COMPASSION they cry upon learning of someone else's misfortune, do we think they're going too
far? When their GRACE allows them to be friends with someone others dislike, do we wonder where their sense of
pride is? When someone makes a cutting remark to them and being so SLOW TO ANGER, they just smile in
innocent response, do we wonder why they can't take a hint? When their LOVE FLOWS out so freely and
unashamedly that they think nothing of giving others a hug right in public, do you think they ought to be more
modest? When someone tells them to go away, yet later they return because of loyalty and FAITHFULNESS, do
you wonder what keeps them coming back? And when people make fun of them or mistakenly call them idiots or
morons, and they FORGIVE them time and again, do you wonder if they're missing the point? You do not have to
wonder about these things, for these special people are just REFLECTING THE GLORY OF GOD.
Just what is God's glory? Moses asked this same question when he asked to see God. And when God passed
in front of Moses, he revealed that his glory was COMPASSION, GRACE, SLOWNESS TO ANGER, ABOUNDING
LOVE, FAITHFULNESS, AND FORGIVENESS (Exodus 33:18-34:7).
Indeed, these special people whom we call mentally handicapped are God's special gift to show us more clearly
his glory. The person whose intellect has been slowed down is free to concentrate on the emotions and thus more
easily reflect godly attitudes, just as a little child does.
An unknown author wrote an article entitled, A CHILD SHALL LEAD, and in part it states: You can lead us along
the pathway to the more abundant life. We blundering grown-ups need in our lives the virtues that you have in
yours: The joy and enthusiasm of looking forward to each new day with glorious expectations of wonderful things to
come....The vision that sees the world as a splendid place....The radiant curiosity that finds adventure in simple
things....The tolerance that forgets differences as quickly as your childish quarrels are spent - that holds no
grudges, that hates never, that loves people for what they are....the genuineness of being oneself; to be finished
with sham, pretense, and empty show; to be simple, natural, and sincere....the courage that rises from defeat and
tries again....The believing heart that trusts others, knows no fear and has faith in a divine Father who watches over
His children from the sky....the contented trusting mind....we would become like you that we may find again the
kingdom of heaven within our hearts.
When you first come in contact with the mentally handicapped person, you may experience strong emotions
about the situation. You may feel embarrassment, anger, sadness. These emotions are there because of your
strong desire for these people not to be this way. But keep in mind that they have learned to accept it and therefore
you too should try to be accepting of it. Not only accepting, but grateful.
Yes, they realize there are things they do not comprehend and things they cannot figure out. Little children are
the same way. Children do not sit around worried or angry because they do not understand or think in the deep
ways their parents do; they just run off and play and enjoy doing what they can do. Whenever they need an answer
to something they cannot figure out, they ask someone who knows. It does not bother them to ask. Indeed, this
spirit of innocent inquiry is what Jesus wants us to have with him. We should realize that we do not have all the
answers and be willing to go to God's Word for them. Then, we are to smile, be happy and contented with what we
are told, and go on our way.
There is much we can learn from the mentally handicapped in the way of child-like acceptance of things.
However, these people cannot share this with us unless we make friends with them. Some people do not know what
to say. Say the same things you would to anyone you first meet. Exchange names, ask where they live, ask about
their families. Then get a conversation going about the weather, hobbies, an interesting TV program, favorite types
of food, favorite types of music, etc.
When you first make friends, you may find that they follow you around after that whenever they see you. Rise
to the challenge. Obviously they do not have many friends - or perhaps you are their only friend. Take them by the
hand and introduce them to other people. Tell the other people about something interesting in that person's life
that would make a good topic of conversation. This will help the new people see that a normal type of conversation
can be held with them and they can indeed be friends. If sometimes you cannot understand what they are trying to
tell you, or they do not understand what you are trying to tell them, just smile and say so. "I don't believe I'm doing a
very good job of understanding what you're trying to explain right now. Why don't you try telling me another time
and I bet I will then. That's such a pretty color you are wearing today...."
What else can you do for them besides have friendly conversation with them? You could call them on the
telephone sometimes. You could send them a note in the mail (letters thrill us all, no matter how young or old). You
could stop by and take them with you for a ride to get them out of the house. They miss doing things other people
do - going to a restaurant, going to a concert or play, going to a ball game, going to a movie, going to the zoo.
Take them to some of these places sometimes.
To make sure they act properly for each occasion, do as you would a child. Explain how to act, what to say,
whether people are usually quiet or noisy, etc. They will understand, and they will try to be accepted just as much
as anyone else. They will try very hard to follow your guidance and example. If a problem arises in public, do as
you would a child and quietly re-explain the proper actions. It is not likely that very many people will notice that the
person you are with is mentally handicapped. But if they do and seem to be embarrassed for you, just smile broadly
at the person you are with, smile broadly at the stranger, and let them know everything is just fine.
Also, try to introduce them to others who are in like circumstances as they. They need a few friends with the
same background, just as we all do. They will encourage one another and give advice to one another, and provide
a closeness among each other that we cannot. You may wish to take them on outings, such as those mentioned
above. Or they may wish to have a picnic together, or birthday parties, or have a hay ride, or go bicycling or any
number of group activities that young people like to do. Encourage them, and help them find ways to do these
things in settings where they are free to be themselves without possible ridicule from people who do not understand
them and have not learned to love them yet as you have.
Some people may be afraid they might "get the notion" to get married. This is true. They do feel love as
strongly as anyone else. More and more are marrying each other in today's society as we are learning to let them
out of the closet and join us. They know their limitations and do not mind asking advice when needed. Having
children, they realize, would be difficult for them to handle, and we need to trust them to work this out acceptably.
They need the closeness of family, and as their parents get older, they will still have each other.
Have devotional times with them. Again, as little children, they have a special relationship with God that we
need to look upon as an example to us. They may not understand the Bible well enough to distinguish a lot of sins;
however, as a child they will follow whatever you explain to them the Bible says to do or not do. They will read
simple parts of the Bible, and memorize verses. They accept simply and deeply that there is an invisible God who is
with them wherever they go, sees them whatever they do, hears their prayers, and loves them. They will readily
sing praises to God in their own faltering but enthusiastic way. They will pray to God in innocent and unwavering
They will love you for showing them the Jesus who loves them. They want to live with him in heaven some day.
You could even have a Bible class for them in a home and at your church building. This would be a wonderful
community outreach, and the grateful parents would want to come themselves to find out more about people who
would love their children as they are.
In addition to helping the mentally handicapped, keep on the watch for things they can do to help others. They
can do the same things for others that most teenagers can do. They can help clean up a house or yard of an
elderly person. They can walk down the street and take a flower to someone who is sick. They can put together a
simple recipe and send it to a family with illness. They can sew for the needy. They can make wooden toys. They
can repair bicycles for children and furniture for grownups.
Look for special talents they have. You understand how an arm can be amputated and the remaining arm
become extremely strong to compensate. The mind of a mentally handicapped person can be the same way.
Sometimes they can perform musically and create artistically in a brilliant manner. They may have a fantastic
memory for rote facts, often with numbers. They can remember statistics from the Bible, or people's ages, or years
of significant Bible events. They may have memorized entire chapters or books of the Bible. These are marvelous
things to share with others. Why not ask them to recite before a Bible class or special group? This could be a
"good work" for them to do for others as a form of teaching about God and his marvels.
Their desire to help others is unsurpassable. They want to be servants of their heavenly Father, and help
make God's children happy. Their loyalty to a task will be undying. Oh what examples they can be to us!
And so, my dear friends, you see that you can make the handicapped the center of your good works. There
are many types of handicaps. You probably find within yourself at this point in your life the capacity and ability to
help one of these types better than any of the others. And so that is who you should help. You could not possibly
get around to all of them and do justice, so concentrate on what you feel you have a gift for. Encourage your
friends to reach out to those that they feel they can communicate with the best. Each of you has your own ability.
Use it. Reach out with it. Clasp a special life with special life-time needs, and soar to God with them!