By Cade Moses
Cedarville University students gathered on Thursday, November 9, to listen to six panelists discuss the challenges faced by people with disabilities. Cedarville’s chapter of Phi Alpha, an honors society student organization, hosted the event to bring awareness to the need for more inclusive practices within the church.
“We really want to be aware of the fact that people with disabilities need to be included in the church and here at Cedarville,” said Madalyn Charles, vice president of Phi Alpha.
Throughout the evening, the panelists answered questions about their own experiences with disabilities and what it is like to care for someone with a disability. Among the panelists were Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology Dr. J.R. Gilhooly, Assistant Professor of English Ginger Gilhooly, Chair and Professor of Social Work Dr. Michael Sherr, and facility maintenance worker Jeff Davenport.
Students listened curiously as the panelists described the need for more to be done in the church for the disabled.
“Churches don’t have enough accommodations for people with disabilities,” Davenport said.
Davenport knows firsthand the challenges faced by those affected by disabilities because his daughter is disabled. Davenport’s daughter struggles with severe birth defects that leave her in a wheelchair and completely dependent on others for even the simplest of tasks. In spite of this, Davenport knows that his daughter is valuable not just to him and his family, but valuable to God.
“We want people to know that [my daughter] is an image bearer of Christ,” Davenport said.
During the discussion, the panelists made sure to emphasize to the students that people with disabilities are not defined by the disabilities that they struggle with.
“It is important to look past a person’s disability and to get to know them as a person to build relationships,” said Reagan Woodell, a student who attended the event.
The event served to be an uplifting event for the panelists. Most of the panelists have shared experiences and were able to connect on a personal level. Davenport was pleased to meet the Gilhooly family who have a son with autism.
“[The event] is just encouraging for a family that is affected by disability,” Davenport said. “Both of our families already know what day-to-day life looks like.”
Davenport hopes that students will take what they learned and act on it.
“For the word to get out is dependent on those students,” Davenport said. “Now, those [students] can go to someone who is ignorant about those circumstances and say, ‘check this out.’”
The love of Jesus is what drives Davenport to share his family’s story. He desires that more people will be serious about ministering to people with disabilities.
“Those who were in attendance can see how the word of God is just not silent on the subject,” Davenport said. “Jesus loved healing persons affected by disability. He loved ministering to people affected by disability.”
Davenport is adamant that people should take the opportunities before them and be a light to the disabled.
“We don’t need opportunities for ministry, they’re everywhere,” Davenport said. “We need boldness and selflessness and we need the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to propel us to the opportunities that are there.”
Cade Moses is a sophomore broadcasting, digital media, and journalism student at Cedarville University. He is passionate about sharing the testimonies of others for the encouragement of God’s people.
Photos by Ian Chan