However, when I had the opportunity to chime in, I spoke of how in my experience, persons with disabilities change those around them, and changes them often for the better. In Jean Vanier's "Becoming Human" he states,
That is why it is dangerous to enter into a relationship with the Lazeruses of our world. If we do, we risk our lives being changed (p. 71).Persons with challenging disabilities surely do change those who aren't currently experiencing disability. Take this youth group for example. At the moment the person has changed the group by causing much concern on the part of the leadership. The person has caused the leadership to look at the person and make the determination of whether the person is worth their efforts or not. It has caused the members of the group to wonder whether they want to continue to be a part of the group. The person has caused the leadership to make a judgement of whether the content or the person is more important. The person has caused the leadership to wonder how far they are willing to go. All this just because of the person's presence there.
But I think a significant part of the problem that people have in these types of situations is that they see the person who doesn't fit in easily as a detriment rather than as a potential value added. As a man of 50, I can tell you that I remember very little of the content of the Bible studies I have participated in (even those I've led!) but I remember a few of the people in the groups. The leadership is very hung up on the content of the Bible study/youth group, but I will guarantee you that what the members of that group will remember for the rest of their lives is the person with mental illness in their group. Potentially they will also remember how a group of people in leadership treated that person, made that person feel like a part of the group rather than as a crazy person who needed to be tolerated. Perhaps they will learn how to interact with such people in the future because of the experiences they gained while in the youth group.
Perhaps the leadership might see the presence of this person as an opportunity to grow themselves and change the group members. You see, this perspective sees people who present challenges to the status quo as a value added rather than a detriment. I have the opportunity through the enfolding of an atypical person to promote real changes in the lives of those who want youth group to be only what they want it to be. I have the opportunity to challenge others with the trials and blessings of ministry. I have the opportunity to help others to understand service. These are the value added in addition to the obvious benefit of loving and supporting a person who is disenfranchised from all of the culture including the Christian subculture.
As is typical, however, rather than taking the opportunity to really change lives for a lifetime in a way that people will remember for a life time, I choose to lead a Bible study or youth group in the manner in which it has always been led. Oh we will have video games and lights and great music and great teaching. But instead of really demonstrating and thereby teaching others the benefits of truly loving others, those who are difficult to love, who won't get better and who will always be social skill deficient, who will always be mentally ill, I choose to make sure I get through Biblical passages about love and caring and acceptance.
One of my friends said that whenever someone tries to help the person with mental illness in the group, the person grabs a hold of him or her like a "freaking vise" (my translation). Well, duh? If I have been rejected because I am difficult to understand and someone finally shows me a little compassion, how would you think I would respond?
Please don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that ministry to people with mental illness is in any way easy, because probably most often it is not. What I am saying is that the church must not reject those people, particularly when their behaviors are not dangerous, just annoying. I, we must model acceptance and see people who challenge us as those who most likely have been rejected by everyone (including us), those who need to be loved, and those who have much to offer to us, if only opportunities for growth.