Graceful Siege Ramps. What an oxymoron. Grace, a term associated with God. Siege, a word used in battle. Ramps, a tool for those with disabilities. I am not a person who relates to war stories or enjoys learning about conquests. I am, however, a person of faith whose heart is deeply entrenched in the world of disability. That is why when battle language and disability terms come together my attention is piqued.
This was the case when I read Jeremiah 32:24 (NLT) “See how the siege ramps have been built against the city walls!” Ramps were being constructed for an army to overtake the city. I felt compelled to consider this a little more.

In biblical times, there was typically one way to enter or leave a city. The lone city gate often led to a maze of other gates or hallways.  This allowed the city guards to assess and deal with anyone who may not be entering for peaceful reasons. The gate was built into massive fortifications so thick, people lived in the walls.

If an army wanted to overtake a city they would not have success going through the gate or walls. They would build siege ramps, similar to a rocky hillside, that went from ground level to the top of the walls. This was not a quick process, sometimes taking months or years. But it was the best way to overtake a city.

For many years, my heart has been grieved about the way most churches approach disability ministry. Typical responses include, “We don’t have anyone with a disability here, so we don’t need to have disability ministry.”  Hmm, do you suppose no one with a disability comes because they can’t gain access or feel welcome?

Others say they don’t have anyone specially trained to work with people with disabilities. Have they asked?  Are some willing to learn?  Being a friend to someone with a disability requires no special training.

Advocacy, especially for one who cannot speak for themselves, is a good thing. Sometimes advocates must be tough as nails in meetings with schools and service agencies.

Then there was that one pastor, whose church had a Sunday School class for people with intellectual disabilities, who said, “Well you know, the disability Sunday School class runs us in the red. It costs more to offer that class than they tithe.”  It took all I had in me that day to take a breath and respond in grace.

Now I cringe when a parent tells me how they approached their church ready to battle to force inclusion of their child with special needs. One even felt she was very generous to give a church one week to get a program together, citing “that is more time than I’d give the public school”.

Advocacy, especially for one who cannot speak for themselves, is a good thing. Sometimes advocates must be tough as nails in meetings with schools and service agencies. If that is the approach taken with the Church, bridges may be burned by charging full steam ahead. The advocate may win one battle, but lose the war, even be asked to seek another church. As my wise husband is prone to say, “We have no influence if we are not in the room.”

Instead, I encourage the building of siege ramps; not to launch a coup against the church, but to build a pathway of grace-based advocacy. A good ramp rises gradually. It is wide and has guard rails on either side. So it is, with encouraging a church to embrace people with disabilities.

Ministry is built with an appropriate amount of honesty mixed with kindness.

How wonderful it would be for the Church to understand that the love of Jesus compels us to engage with people affected by disability. Truth be told, the love of Jesus calls each of us to graciously and compassionately interact with every other person we meet. Grace is needed because we are human and don’t always get it right.

Ministry is built with an appropriate amount of honesty mixed with kindness. We as family members have been building awareness and services for many years. It is such a part of our way of life that we forget most in the church do not understand our world. We may need to be the one to help them ramp up their understanding, compassion and outreach. The best way to make it over the fortified walls of a church is to show up, engage with others, invite them into your world, and pray.

I understand the outrage and fury that families experience in almost every area of life with disability.  The weariness and challenge this creates may cause one to approach church, the one place they perceive to be embracing, with their weapons blazing. We are in a battle. But it is not a battle for disability ministry or against a pastor or group of people. It is a battle for the souls of men, women and children. In Ephesians 6 Paul teaches about the armor of God. He explains why we need that protection daily –- “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places.” (verse 12 NLT)

These unseen powers are at work to dissuade as many as possible from following Christ, including those with disabilities.

These unseen powers are at work to dissuade as many as possible from following Christ, including those with disabilities. Our task in the Lord’s Army is to take back the ground from the enemy and bring people into God’s Kingdom.

What would it look like if we built “siege ramps” at our churches, praying the whole time we are constructing?  How might it look different if we approached the Church that way rather than with a battering ram?

If you are a pastor, church leader or member who has no experience with disability, that’s okay. We welcome you to help us build the siege ramp. Here are a few ideas to get you or your church started:

  • Build a literal ramp into the building
  • Engage a sign language interpreter for one service
  • Produce large print materials
  • Create a buddy system to befriend someone with physical, emotional or mental needs
  • Offer alternative service styles for those with sensory issues
  • Consider building a family style restroom for those who may need assistance

The mantra, “we don’t need that because we don’t have anyone with disabilities or special needs at our church” is not surprising. If people cannot get in or feel welcomed, they won’t come. It is time to take a cue from a favorite baseball movie, The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

The time has come for those of us inside the Church to head out the doors and embrace people affected by disabilities, engage in life together, and develop mutual friendships. Programs are helpful, but what people affected by disabilities really need from the Church is relationship.

Here’s to a movement of siege ramp builders!

About the Author
Joan Borton lives in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia. She and her husband of 22 years, Jerry, are anticipating a move to central Florida this summer. Joan and Jerry live a life affected by disability and are passionate about building strong families, and churches that embrace disability ministry. You can follow Joan at www.joanborton.com