Children are naturally curious about others who are different. Although their initial reactions can seem rude or embarrassing to parents, children need to know it’s okay to ask questions. In the book God Made Me Unique, author Chonda Ralston shares how one Sunday School teacher helps students learn the value of every person regardless of their appearance or ability.
Chonda and I served together as editors and contributors on numerous Joni and Friends resources over the past decade. This picture book is part of a series from Joni and Friends with New Growth Press. I wrote the adult study, The Gospel in Hard Times. This series gives adults the much-needed tools to impactful conversations about disabilities and special needs.
I recently asked Chonda to share her passion for this colorfully illustrated book, God Made Me Unique: Helping Children See Value in Every Person.
What can children know about God’s plan for disabilities, and how did that guide your writing?
We set three goals: 1) We wanted to address children’s fears and misconceptions about those who have special needs. 2) The Church is the perfect place to teach children about friendship and inclusion, kindness and respect for every person. 3) With this understanding, children see the importance of using their spiritual gifts to serve the whole Body of Christ.
What age group did you target for this book?
It’s written for ages 4-6, in a fun rhyming style. In the story, Ms. Campbell takes the time to welcome a new student, Brie, and explain why she is wearing headphones. She addresses several other children in the room, such as Jamal, who has a wheelchair, and Wyatt, who sometimes needs some help to pay attention. Parents and teachers can read this book to spark meaningful conversations and address issues, such as bullying and name-calling.
Chonda, as a mom who has served in children’s and youth ministries, why do you think some adults find it hard to talk about disabilities and special needs?
These can be difficult concepts for children to grasp. We encourage adults to start by acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers about why things happen to our loved ones or to us. But we can share Bible stories that identify God as our Creator who made each of us with a unique plan. In the story of Moses in Exodus 4:11 or the blind man who was healed in John 9:1-7, we see these men were able to bring God glory and cause others to believe in God’s power. For verses that explain how each church member is important and has gifts to use in service, we reference 1 Corinthians 12:20-23 and Romans 12:4-6.
In the back of “God Made Me Unique”, there is a section for parents and teachers. Can you briefly share what it includes?
It’s titled “Four Ways to Help Your Child Understand Uniqueness and Disability as Part of God’s Plan” and expands on the following concepts:
1. Teach your children that regardless of our abilities, we were each created by God with special value and gifts to share within our churches.
2. Teach your children what the Bible says about God creating disability.
3. Teach your child about how Jesus responded to those with disabilities.
4. Teach your child about how to be a friend to someone with a disability.
This section also includes specific tips on being a friend to those with special needs, and a biblical illustration.
What advice do you have for churches that want to improve their ministry to families with disabilities?
Church leaders’ hearts are most often in the right place. They truly care about these precious families, but they struggle with insufficient training and resources. At Joni and Friends, we encourage churches to start small with a welcoming spirit and to understand how much families with special needs can contribute to the body of Christ. They have much to offer and give. For additional resources, visit the website at www.joniandfriends.org.
You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 31