Joni and Friends Blog

Let the Children Come: Disability and Baptism

Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16

Sarah just got baptized. She is 15 years old, loves music, loves to dance, and loves Jesus. Spend a little time with Sarah and you will know without the shadow of a doubt that Jesus has called her to himself.

Sarah has Down syndrome. And while people rarely question another’s readiness when it comes to the sacrament of baptism, a few folks have wondered if Sarah was really ready – if she understands and has truly given her heart to Christ. When those questions arise, I just let Sarah’s actions speak for themselves.

When Sarah enters a place of worship, she whispers, “God is here.”

When she sees something exceptionally beautiful in nature like a breathtaking sunrise, majestic mountains, or a roaring sea she says, “I see God.”

If you ask her to tell you about the Lord she will gladly state with great confidence and conviction, “God was a baby. Jesus is mighty. Jesus is alive. Jesus is God.”

Her vocabulary is limited but her spirit is strong. She understands.

Sarah loves to pray. Sometimes Jesus is the only one who can understand her prayer, but I’ve come to realize that he’s the only one who really needs to. (On the morning of her baptism Sarah prayed, “Dear God. Big day! Amen.”)

Sarah loves to worship, loves her Bible and was super excited to be baptized. She’s a sinner, just like you and me. She experiences a full range of emotions, just like you and me. And she has a desperate need for a Savior. Just like you. Just like me.

Romans 10:13 tells us that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I praise God that in this case “Everyone” means, well, “Everyone.” Regardless of how many chromosomes a person has or how many IQ points someone thinks he might have.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and Sarah calls on the name of the Lord several times a day.

On the morning of her baptism, I was 100% certain that she knew what she was doing. Not only was she ready on that beautiful Sunday morning. She had been ready for quite some time.

And when she came out of the water after that glorious depiction of rebirth in Christ she declared, “That was fun! I love God!”

My heart rejoices in hearing Sarah’s enthusiastic love for the Lord, and I also rejoice in the fact that God has brought us to a church that embraces the value and beauty of all people. Those who have Down syndrome and those who do not.

We’ve been blessed by a loving church community that embraces Sarah, as well as every member of our family. Her spiritual gifts are encouraged, and she is seen as a true equal in the body of Christ. An image-bearer of God with her own powerful ministry that could not be accomplished without that third chromosome that makes her so unique.    

Sarah, like us all, has journeyed through unimaginable suffering. The kind that comes from countless hospital stays, unreasonable academic evaluations, and the relentless rejection of children and adults who don’t have eyes to see all that Sarah has to offer. To experience such physical and emotional suffering and still be willing to embrace each new day with gladness and every new person that comes into Sarah’s life with joyful expectation…. Well, in my opinion, that takes an incredible amount of strength. Strength of character; strength in the Lord. Sarah has both.

God made Sarah for the same reason He made you and me; so that the work, the power, and the glory of the Lord might be put on display.

Today, let’s ask Jesus to help us recognize that glory – in ourselves and in others. And the next time God brings a person with Down syndrome into your church and your life, take the time to say hello, and smile wide.  It’s ok if you’re wearing a mask. I’m pretty sure your smile will shine right through your eyes.

You never know… God might just use you to bring a little child to Jesus.

And on World Down Syndrome Day, that global awareness day officially observed each March 21st, let’s remember to celebrate the vital contributions our brothers and sisters with Down syndrome make in every community. In their families, neighborhoods, schools, churches and workplaces. It’s a great day to start learning more about people with Down syndrome, and a wonderful opportunity to uphold the intrinsic value of their lives.

I know I’ll be giving three cheers for Sarah, and three cheers for our church family that so eagerly celebrates Sarah for exactly who she is as God’s image-bearer.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

From Fear to Hope

In this booklet, Shauna describes the journey God took her on after finding out that her daughter would be born with Down syndrome. In whatever difficult circumstances you are facing today, you will be inspired to move from fear to hope.