On the surface, Sam behaves like a typical teenager. He loves music, junk food, baseball, and hanging out with friends. He stays up late on the weekends, watches videos on his iPad, and loves to attend his high school sporting events, clubs, and functions. The only difference between Sam and his typical peers is that Sam has Down syndrome.
Tragically, between 60%-90% of women in the United States who learn they are pregnant with a baby with Down syndrome choose abortion as the solution to their “problem.” But Sam’s parents don’t view him as a problem — they consider him an abundant blessing. Eighteen years ago when doctors advocated for abortion as the “best answer” to his genetic condition, Sam’s parents heroically chose life for him.
Furthermore, Sam’s family is not at all rare in their thinking. A family I know from Kansas joyfully pursued the adoption of their two girls living with Down syndrome. Many families I know personally who are raising their children or young adults with Down syndrome, love and cherish their sons and daughters deeply. Seeing them as the true gifts they are, they value and celebrate their differences.
This week we observe World Down Syndrome Day. Let us celebrate the 200,000 people living with this genetic condition in our country as image bearers of God. Tragically, the lives of too many people with Down syndrome have been extinguished through the grievous act of abortion. This occurs even while we have families lined up domestically and internationally hoping to adopt children living with Down Syndrome.
All life is precious, no matter the label or syndrome attached. We must speak up and defend life because all life bears the image of God.
People living with Down syndrome — or people with any special need, for that matter — are created with unique talents, gifts, and abilities, just like everyone else. Sam’s unique ability is that he can remember most people’s names, making his fellow peers feel special and seen — it’s a gift that’s needed in the oftentimes-lonely world of Gen Z.
As image bearers, those living with Down Syndrome or other special needs are uniquely created by God for exceptional works as they glorify our Father in Heaven, just as Matthew 5 implores. We are not the author of life — God is. And therefore, we don’t get to determine another human’s value or whether or not a person is worthy of life.
As a society, we have lost our way when we fail to see the dignity and value of every single human being, no matter what condition, syndrome, or disorder they bear. When we classify others and deem their inherent worth according to their IQ or productivity rather than their God-given intrinsic value, we diminish the humanity of every individual placed on this planet.
It’s fair to say that spiritually each of us has special needs. We are all spiritually disabled and in desperate need of a Savior to redeem us. Physically caring for someone with special needs is a tangible reminder of how Jesus cares for us spiritually.
This is why we can’t just be pro-birth; we must also be life-affirming — and that translates into wrapping ongoing care around people with special needs and their families. As a Church, we are called to serve the broken, the poor, and yes, those with special needs. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25 that we are serving Him when we do so.
Growing up in Uganda, Angela was deaf and unable to speak. Her mother, believing she was worthless due to her deafness, was determined to sell Angela to the highest bidder even as a young child. Through a set of miraculous circumstances, Angela was brought to the Uganda School for the Deaf and Blind, operated by one of Lifeline's strategic partners, King Jesus Church. Once Angela had joined the school, she learned to read and write. Connected to a community of other deaf students, she became a member of a local church. Through discipleship, love, and mentoring from the body of Christ, Angela became a Christ follower and an influential leader in her local church.
Tragically, Angela passed away earlier this year from diabetes, but over 250 people attended her funeral. The impact of Angela’s life was felt far and wide. The body of Christ had become Angela’s family — they cared for her, and, in turn, she blessed them through her life, her gifts, and her love. This is the kind of faith Jesus desires us to walk out.
When the Church steps in and embraces people living with special needs — through adoption, providing respite to families caring for a special needs child, or teaching people with unique needs about Jesus, we are fulfilling Christ’s vision and mission. In return, we are drawn close to the heart of the Father, and we are blessed.
This World Down Syndrome Day, let us remember the value of every person. Let us remember our calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus to all people. Let us open our homes and hearts to people with special needs. Let us come alongside moms and dads currently caring for a loved one with special needs and offer respite, a meal, and our presence.
In serving those deemed vulnerable, we are creating a world where every person is celebrated, honored, and valued — just the way God made them.
Herbie Newell is the President of Lifeline Children’s Services, the largest Evangelical Christian adoption agency in the United States. The organization serves vulnerable children and families through private domestic and international adoption, family restoration, and pregnancy counseling. Herbie is also the author of Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-Birth to Pro-Life.