A high official of the Baptist Convention is currently tasked to safeguard persons with disabilities from sexual abuse.
ChristianLeaders reported that Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Associate Executive Director Tom Stolle is currently assigned to the convention's task force on analyzing and addressing sexual abuse. The role enables Stolle to help churches become equipped to care for persons with disabilities.
Stolle said the new role as the task force's chair is very personal to him since he has a 20-year-old son, Jimmy, born with severe autism. Another reason he wanted to lead the task force was the reality of persons with disabilities being prone to sexual abuse.
The Baptist Convention executive cited the Bureau of Justice Statistics research that showed persons with disabilities were seven times more assaulted than those who do not have disabilities. The data is supported by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape report that showed 90% of people with intellectual disabilities will likely experience sexual abuse at one point in their lives.
"What these statistics mean for someone like my son is that it's not a matter of if, it's almost a matter of when," Stolle said.
"People should experience the love of God and who God is within the Church. They should not experience things that would make them think that God does not love them and that the Church does not care about them. If they are not protected and these things happen to them, these are the things they experience. The Church needs to be better than that, and that's what I want," he added.
Stolle shared the difficult journey he and his wife, Shelley, faced in rearing a child with a disability, particularly severe autism. He said it never occurred to him that having a third child would mean welcoming disability into their family life. He revealed that autism impaired Jimmy's development such that he is unable to talk.
Over the years of rearing Jimmy, Stolle and Shelley have become accustomed to a routine of caring for him. Things took a sharp change when Jimmy entered his teenage years. The onset of hormones made Jimmy prone to violent outbursts where he would physically hurt--scratch and hit--his parents. The outbursts would last for hours but the couple was able to maintain responding to their son peacefully.
According to Stolle, the High Tide Church of Dagsboro, Delaware became their place of solace and relief for Jimmy. The church developed over time a buddy system that enabled the couple to worship together while someone else ministered to Jimmy. The buddies would play games, read Scripture, and spend time with Jimmy while the couple attended worship service. Stolle said this support was a huge help for his family.
"High Tide has figured out that for kids like Jimmy, if he can't get the Gospel the conventional way, we're going to get it to him another way and that means a lot to me. God's not limited to any one language, so I believe even though Jimmy can't talk, that God speaks 'Jimmy.' God communicates to Jimmy in the way he needs to hear from Him. There is no barrier too large for God," Stolle said.
The Baptist Convention task force chair has been recounting his story to the churches he helps equip. His story has already inspired the creation of a non-profit ministry, the Banquet Network, in Freedom Church of Baltimore to minister to persons with disability.
Banquet Network Executive Director Kattie Matthews said the story of the Stolle family deeply affected her on a personal and professional level. Matthews raised that, being a parent of child with a disability herself, she is confident that Stolle would continue to fight for families affected by disability. She said she knows this because this matters to Stolle and to Jesus, too.