One in seven people globally have a disability. They are the world’s largest minority group. Among them are some of the poorest, least educated, and most health deprived. Much of their suffering is due to the fact that they are also the least employed. Until recently, we have assumed that only about 30 percent of persons with disabilities globally were employed. Current studies demonstrate that the number is closer to 15 percent. That means that around 85 percent of persons with disabilities are underemployed and must resort to other methods of support including prostitution, begging, theft, or whatever means they can find to survive. Christians want to change the world strategically by changing the workplace. What does that mean for persons with disabilities?
A workplace story
‘Get out you worthless beggar!’ In the days of King David, Mephi, was an outcast. With no one to help him, he begged just to stay alive. Struggling just to survive, Mephi was a pauper, a street person of his day. How could this happen?
Mephi suffered isolation and social rejection because he had a disabling condition. In the eyes of all Israel, Mephi’s disability made him an unwelcome outsider. No wonder Mephi lived in isolation. He was forced to beg for alms to simply survive. Thoughts of living a long and enjoyable life had long since passed as Mephi struggled for survival to escape from illness prevalent among persons with disabilities. His life would be shortened considerably. But what did Mephi need most to reverse his rejection, isolation, and health threat?
Around 85 percent of persons with disabilities are underemployed and must resort to other methods of support including prostitution, begging, theft, or whatever means they can find to survive.
Mephi’s only hope was the king’s compassion. But in Mephi’s world the king’s compassion was usually just a propaganda ploy to win support from the people by making him look caring. In fact, the virtuous king was allegedly known for hearing the case of the widow, the orphan, and the poor, the weakest members of society. These became political opportunities to fake compassion and thereby win the support of the masses. But the more virtuous King David knew what Mephi really needed. Jonathan’s son needed a way to support himself.
Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba and said, ‘I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for your master’s household. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will eat here at my table’ (2 Sam 9:9-10).
David designed an accessible workplace for Mephi. This way, Mephi could earn wealth, provide for himself, and live with dignity among his people. Strategically, David helped Mephi by giving him Saul’s territory that David rightfully owned. David did not overwhelm Mephi with charity or care, although he could have given him limitless and endless wealth from the coffers of Israel. Instead, the king justly provided a work opportunity. But he went beyond justice.
David invited Mephi to eat at the royal table. This is an amazing story of the fullest inclusion. David treated Mephi like family! This relational connection gave Mephi dignity before his broader community of Israel. David not only gave Mephi workspace, he gave him home space. We all need both to live and to thrive.
Several questions about David’s workplace for Mephi
Question: What was Mephi’s new workplace?
Answer: You could argue quite convincingly that King David created a workspace in the agricultural sector of Israel.
Question: What did David actually do for Mephi?
Answer: David returned Mephi’s property taken legitimately from Saul. But David also provided the skilled labor to assist Mephi in doing his work on the land.
Question: What are the implications of David’s covenant with Jonathan, Mephi’s father?
Answer: David kept his covenant between Jonathan and himself by sparing Mephi with the rest of Saul’s supporters. But David went far beyond what might have been required or even expected of him as a contract partner. David brought Mephi into his home to eat at his family table.
Question: What was the best thing David did for Mephi?
Answer: David gave Mephi an opportunity to succeed in the workplace. Part of the enablement was a leadership role. Mephi may have lost his right to kingship because of his grandfather Saul’s sin. But David, in his position, gave some of it back.
David’s provision is a missing piece in the world of disability in the local church.
David’s provision is a missing piece in the world of disability in the local church. Called and gifted people with disabilities are forbidden many leadership roles because their calling and giftedness are questioned or flatly denied. This is unbiblical. King David gave Mephi a business leadership role. Mephi may not have become the king of Israel as his grandfather, but he became the Founder and CEO of Mephi Industries Inc.
What can we learn from Mephi’s story?
What points of application can we draw from the account of Mephi in David’s royal story?
1) David recognized Mephi’s need to work, not just to receive charity. Are we as workforce leaders watching to see how we can employ people with disabilities in roles appropriate to their calling and giftedness?
2) The king used his position to create space for Mephi within Israel’s workforce. Are we creating roles for people with disabilities in the workplace?
3) David ensured Mephi a legal status through sustainable work. Do we give people with disabilities a role independent of charity so that they can be active citizens with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities?
4) Israel’s greatest king treated Mephi like a son. He invited him at his family table. Every person with a disability needs a house, a home, and a family: A house offers physical protection and private space; a home provides legal status for rights, privileges, and responsibilities; and a family functions as a group of people who love, respect, and receive love through nurture and care. Family counselor, Christopher Latch has said, ‘Family is a haven in a heartless world.’ Physical protection is critical considering that more than one in five people with disabilities will be abused.
What can we learn from Jesus’ parable?
Jesus told a parable about disability and dinner tables in Luke 14. Although we cannot be sure, Jesus may be alluding to David’s practice of inviting Mephi to his royal table when he said, ‘when you give a luncheon or dinner. . . . invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,’ (Luke 14:12). What was Jesus’ message? Jesus argued that if you are going to invite anyone to a banquet, make sure it is someone who can appreciate the invitation and who meets the expectations of Jesus Christ. This passage may also echo Luke 4 in which Jesus proclaims in royal protocol his earthly objectives as Israel’s king. Helping the blind to receive their sight sounds much like bringing the lame to the king’s table.
What can we learn from current workplace experiences?
People with disabilities do not need charity in every case. What they desire is a job. Often, bridging this gap in culture may require a champion of justice, someone like David who knew better than to put himself into a heroically charitable role. David reached out to Mephi because it was the right thing to do in Israel’s just society. He knew how to treat the specific needs of accommodation.
People with disabilities do not need charity in every case. What they desire is a job.
I have a daughter who is 30 years old and has Down syndrome. She works at our local pizza shop putting together pizza boxes for the Calderone family business, Pizza Supreme. This chance to use creative expression, hand-to-eye exercise, and social interaction is a highlight of her week! But that is not even half the story. Frank and Tony Calderone tell me how much it means to them to have Joanna there with them. They demonstrate this by awarding Joanna benefits—a delicious slice of the best pizza in town! Frank has even been known to come out from behind the counter and do the chicken dance with Joanna!
Many successful businesses have discovered a secret for creating work culture. At the 2018 World Down Syndrome Day in the United Nations, the focus was on employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Participants heard one testimony after another from the workplace about how people with Down syndrome changed the work culture of large and successful New York companies. What worked for them will work anywhere in the world with contextual adaptation. We can recognize that persons with disabilities in leadership roles can have the same impact on churches and Christian organizations.
How then should we live?
God provides for and protects people with disabilities. Mephi feels alone and abandoned like many people with disabilities separated from their families. Not only has he lost his entire family, he is unable to provide for himself in a world that relies on physical labor for survival. God faithfully uses King David to provide for Mephi. But not with a handout! Mephi is not an object of pity, a charity case. The king will also protect him from enemies that want to kill him for misdeeds that his grandfather Saul committed. Not only does God provide for and protect Jonathan’s son, Mephi will sit at the royal table with the king’s family. David even assigns managers to care for Mephi’s fields so that he can enjoy the dignity of human labor and success. God meets the needs of people with disabling conditions through others. Fittingly, God chooses a king to care for an orphan with a disabling condition. Has God chosen you to do the same?
- Z. Ben Barak, ‘Meribaal and the System of Land Grants in Ancient Israel’, Biblica 62 (1981): 73-91. ↑
- 2 Samuel 9:1-13. ↑
- Darrell Bock, A Biblical Theology of Luke-Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012). ↑
- www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6466675493348392960/. ↑
- Editor’s note: See article by Dave Deuel, entitled ‘Developing Young Leaders with Disabilities’, in January 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-01/developing-young-leaders-disabilities. ↑
- Editor’s note: See article by William Messenger, entitled ‘Mission in the Workplace’, in June 2013 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2013-06/mission-in-the-workplace-encouraging-access-and-transformation-through-workplace-ministry. ↑
Photo by Nicolás Perondi on Unsplash