profile faces of young people

I am the son of not one but two Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastors. I have been a part of the church my whole life. That has meant helping in worship and in educational programming, helping livestream worship, and being on our online-ministry team. Since 2019, I have been the young adult delegate on our Alaska Synod Council. In 2022, I was the Alaska Synod young adult representative to the national Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Convention. I also currently work as a project officer for Disability and Mental Health Advocacy for the World Council of Churches (WCC).

It is that last thing that I am currently the proudest of because I am a person living with a disability in a disability advocacy role. No conversation about us, without us,” right?

Working in a transversal between disability advocacy and mental health advocacy is also an important thing to celebrate because, as I have repeated recently, You cannot have a conversation about disability without having a conversation about mental health, and you shouldnt have a conversation about mental health without having one about disability.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 1.3 billion people or approximately 16% of the worlds population experience significant disabilities. Additionally, even pre-pandemic, nearly 970 million people (12.5% of the worlds population) struggled with a diagnosable mental health condition, with that number rising significantly in recent years (WHO, 2019 & 2023). Yet still, in many spaces (even church spaces!), both mental health and disability are near-taboo topics for discussion.

Given the reality that mental healthcare is not readily available everywhere, churches have a unique and vital opportunity to become a safe space for those in need. But we cannot simply say we are a safe space; we must put it into action. Too much of the time, churches preach living a God-ly” life and that can get members stuck in thinking that we need to be perfect” when it is really our imperfection that draws us closer to God. You may look around your church and think, I am the only one struggling. Everyone elses lives seem good. I must be doing something wrong.” The reality is, the only thing wrong that youre doing is thinking that you are alone or that God loves you less because you’re struggling.

Jesus’ disciples werent politicians and celebrities. He ate with sinners and brought tax collectors and fishermen to be his closest advisors.

(The leper said,) If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing’ ” (Mark 1:40-41, New International Version).

Though some may choose to interpret it differently, I believe that Jesus was not indignant of this man of physical and societal uncleanness’ coming close to him – but that the man questioned Jesus’ willingness to heal him. If we are to (i)mitate God (...) in everything (we) do,” then why do we so easily shy away from those we too easily categorize as different (i.e. unclean) in comparison to ourselves? (Ephesians 5:1)

If we do not have love for our neighbor who we can see, how can we then say that we have love for our God, who we cannot see? The challenge, then, is this – to see God in our neighbor. Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me,” says the Lord, you failed to do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45, The Message).

May we work harder every day to not just see but seek out God in everyone we meet, trusting that it will enrich not only our own life but those in our communities and our world.

About the author :

John Christensen is a project officer for Disability and Mental Health Advocacy for the World Council of Churches.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.