For millions of Americans with disabilities, faith and church play big roles. For years, 61-year-old Dan’l Markham of Moorpark, California, has been helping thousands of churches become aware of what he believes their faith calls them to do.
“My mom and dad had a heart for people that others didn’t have time for,” said Markham of growing up in Washington state. In particular, his mother was a hospital nurse and often volunteered as a public health nurse providing basic care to rural communities. From ages 6 to 12, Dan’l often went along with his volunteer mom.
He said, “Now I realize this was the genesis of my focus on people I broadly call ‘marginalized’ by society, such as the poor, people affected by disability, and outcasts.”
Over the years, he has been a pastor, church planter, executive director of a community nonprofit helping people experiencing crisis or poverty, a county commissioner concerned about social services, a Food for the Poor executive, managing director of field services for disability ministry Joni and Friends (JAF), and later, consultant for other groups.
Markham recently had a book published, “The Lost Mandate: A Christ Command Revealed,” in which he establishes a biblical foundation for churches to help people with disabilities and challenges people in churches to live out what they should already be living out.
“The book was born out of a conviction at JAF that the parable of the Great Banquet feast in Luke 14 was a mandate from Christ to the church to care for, include, and even exalt people who are affected by disability and/or poor,” he said.
Although a rapidly growing number of churches have learned how to include people with disabilities in church life, said Markham, others have actually ignored or shunned people with disabilities or asked people with disabilities to leave. Markham said this rejection of people with disabilities in some churches often spawns from a fear of the unknown, ignorance of disability itself, architectural barriers and/or a stubborn resistance to change.
Said Markham, “The solution is for churches to examine how Jesus approached people with disabilities, how he treated them, and what he has to say about disability. That can give people faith and courage to break through the barriers and obstacles. When people in churches confront their own fears and reach out, they usually are delighted with the blessings that come of it.”