When I got my daughter’s diagnosis about four years ago, I was afraid and I felt like a disappointment to myself and to God. I felt that one of the proofs that I was in right standing with God was to have perfectly healthy children, without any problem whatsoever.
I didn’t want to attend my home church where I was known. I didn’t want people there to know about my daughter’s condition. I mean, I couldn’t remember if I ever saw children with any form of disability in church, so it was a rude shock for me to find out that my child belonged to that rare class of ‘imperfect people.’
My husband and I prayed but it seemed to me that God was silent on the matter. A lot of emotions went through my mind like fear, anger, self-pity and bitterness. I became depressed. I took my child from one deliverance church to the other, looking for a solution.
I remember during one of such deliverance services, I was rebuked by the head pastor, because I had braids on my head. I was told that such a carnal act would not make my prayers to be answered. I was given a lot of rules and regulations. I was told to bring my daughter every week for deliverance until she had been fully delivered from what ailed her.
I also remember visiting another church for prayers on the recommendation of a friend. I remember that day clearly. It was a wet day; it had rained the previous night and it was still raining that Sunday morning. My husband had gone to our home church and because I was pregnant at that time, I told him I wanted to stay at home. After he left, I put my daughter in her car seat, along with her nanny and drove from Lekki to Festac town in Lagos State. On our way back home after the church service, everywhere was flooded and I almost drove into a ditch. That experience left me thoroughly shaken.
When I got home from Festac, I sat down and asked myself a crucial question, ‘Oluwabukola, what exactly are you looking for?’ From that day, I decided that I will not take my child from one man of God to another or from one church to another. I decided to be my child’s prophet and speak into her life. I felt the peace of God flood my heart after I took that decision. For he said in His word, ‘Come to me all yea who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’
I learnt to trust God and he gave me peace of mind. He gave me inner strength that I never thought I had.
I began to attend my home church with my child with no intention of hiding her. Yes, there were stares. People did not say anything to me directly but their eyes spoke volumes.
I remember a friend in London who told me to think deeply, repent of my sins and ask for forgiveness and God’s mercy. All these I took calmly because I had made my peace with God about my child.
I had my second baby shortly afterwards and as soon as she turned one, she started attending the junior church. But I kept my first daughter, Nimmy by my side in church for three years. The church I attend has a section for nursing mothers in the auditorium so I would sit with Nimmy during the service. I was too worried to let her join the junior church. I was troubled with many questions. Who will love my child in the junior church? Will they accept her? Will the other children play with her? When she was three years old, a friend encouraged me to let go of my fears and give it a try.
I was so happy when Nimmy was accepted at the junior church. Initially there were a few hiccups but everyone adjusted to her special needs and peculiarities. My initial experience at the junior church made me realise that standing up for Nimmy was going to be a part of my life. The teachers in her class were particularly nice to her and I can only thank them but God will bless them abundantly.
In 2017, the church I attend opened a satellite centre in the Lekki area of Lagos and I started attending it because it was closer to my home. My husband who is a worker in the main church at Ikeja remained there while I attended the satellite centre with the kids and their nanny.
The junior church in the satellite centre was smaller and there were less teachers and volunteers. I stayed with Nimmy in the adult church for close to seven months while her younger sister attended the junior church.
Eventually I got a lady who stayed with her at the junior church. This lady stayed for two months and left when she stopped attending the church. I was determined that my daughter was going to remain at the junior church, so I decided to stay with her there. The days when my nanny was off duty and I could not cope with the kids, I stayed at home.
One Sunday morning, after I had just employed a new nanny, I took Nimmy to the junior church and she did not want the nanny to carry her. I decided to sit with her, but one of the teachers at the junior church offered to take care of Nimmy throughout the service. My heart truly blessed this woman. She was an example of someone who lightened my burden.
Going to church, for a special needs mum, takes a lot of effort and guts. A special needs mum worries about every little detail of the trip to church and imagines all the things that could go wrong. For every junior church teacher that has been a blessing to Nimmy and every other special needs child, I say thank you and may you be blessed in all you do.
Some junior church teachers do not accept special needs children into their classes while others accept them, but relegate them to one side of the room. This may be done not necessarily out of stigmatisation but out of ignorance.
Some churches have separate Sunday school classes for special needs children. As good as this may sound, it also has its shortcomings. I am of the opinion that unless a child is severely disabled or a danger to others, he or she should be included in the regular class with other children. A lot of children with special needs in Nigeria are often locked at home so this may be the only opportunity for them to mix with their peers.
Dear Special Needs Mum,
Seek to know the Lord and you will find Him and He will give you rest. Like he gave me.
Note: Special Needs Mum in this context refers to a woman who has a child with special needs.
Dear Church Leaders,
The Lord says, ‘Let the children (special needs children included) come to me. Do not hinder them. Please create the atmosphere for these precious children to thrive within the walls of the church.