On Nov. 2, Northwestern held a conference entitled “Disability and the Gospel” for leaders in ministry, education, the church and the community. The keynote speaker was Eric Targe, a pastor and adjunct professor of disability studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Targe, as well as numerous breakout speakers from the NW network, explored “what it means to amplify our witness of Christ alongside our friends with disabilities.”
Despite being the largest minority population on earth, individuals with disabilities are not commonly embraced in the church. There are several barriers to individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, finding belonging in the church. Targe spoke extensively on this, provided historical context for how disability has been approached and laid a theological foundation for the church to embrace people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are not only important to our communities but are an integral part of Christ’s kingdom. But sadly, these brothers and sisters in Christ are often viewed through the lens of lesser and are extremely underserved. Therefore, conferences like this are vital to not only raising awareness but also stimulating conversations to bring real change and increased mindfulness of our friends with disabilities.
This conference was put on through the collaboration of NW’s Campus Ministries Team (CMT) and the NEXT Program. Both of these departments have been wrestling with the topic of how to cultivate a community in which people with disabilities truly belong.
Regarding what the next step is for bringing about change, campus pastor Mark DeYounge stated, “We need to continue to cast a vision for humanity that is not accidentally slipping into a ‘cult of normalcy’ that reinforces a human value system derived from ability alone.”
The NEXT Program gives students with disabilities the opportunity to earn a degree, be a part of community and display Christ’s love on this campus in their own beautiful ways. “We are not looking for a program here and there, we are looking for a radical inclusion where all are vital members, all belong and all have a purpose and a part to play and contribute, each in their own way” said Sherry Lang, assistant director of the NEXT program.
Jackson Stroud is one of several students who are a part of this unique program. Stroud was born in Moscow, Russia and adopted when he was two years old. He was raised in Ponca, Nebraska before coming to NW in 2022.
Stroud continues to be a beacon of light here on campus. This year, he was hired as the first NEXT student to work for CMT. He gave the closing prayer at the Disability and the Gospel conference and was mentioned throughout the event as an example of how a community is enriched by the presence and contribution of individuals with disabilities.