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Special needs can create numerous challenges throughout a child’s life. Some needs may call for extra help in school. Some needs may mean that walking, standing, or even talking will be difficult or impossible. Some needs may demand round-the-clock care. Others may require serious surgery and could be life-threatening.

But as people who are working to restore the dignity of every person, we know that different challenges do not equal different value. Because every human being is made in the image of God with extraordinary dignity – which no medical condition can take away.

Unfortunately, this truth isn’t largely accepted by our culture.

As we discussed in another recent blog post, in roughly 67% of pregnancies in America where a preborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome, the pregnancy ends in abortion. But this isn’t just an issue for children with Down syndrome – the discrimination of preborn children with disabilities is widespread among many medical conditions.

If being pro-life means standing up for all human life at all stages of life, that means we have a responsibility to protect preborn children with special needs and advocate for them after they are born. One of the best examples I know of a couple who lives out this principle in their daily lives is Sean and Jill Martin.

Sean was one of the first employees at Human Coalition and led our church outreach efforts in the early years of the organization. While Sean has since left Human Coalition, his impact is still felt to this day. His family’s story is inspiring others to embrace the challenges of having children with special needs and find incredible joy.

“Who in the world is going to adopt them?”

Sean and Jill knew from the time they got married that they wanted to adopt children. While they had two biological children soon after marriage, they could still feel the pull from God that adoption would be in their future.

So, they started acting in faith. They took classes, researched different adoption agencies, and learned everything they could about the adoption process.

But it wasn’t until they took a class where a caseworker held up a big three-ring binder full of children in their area who needed a home that their path became clear. They were told to look through the binder and see what stood out to them.

For Sean and Jill, they were immediately taken aback by all the kids with special needs who were looking for a home. They thought to themselves, “Who in the world is going to adopt them?”

That’s when they knew that they were the ones who needed to adopt them.

“If You bring them, we’ll take them.”

Soon after taking the class, Sean and Jill received a call about twins who needed a home.

But there was a problem: one of the twins had Down syndrome and would need open-heart surgery soon. And the adoption agency didn’t even know if the child would survive to have the surgery.

What would have seemed like too much to handle for most parents was the exact opportunity Sean and Jill were waiting for. They quickly agreed to adopt the children.

In the weeks that followed, the Martins had to make the difficult decision to proceed with the risky surgery to save the life of their new child. With the odds stacked against him, their child survived the surgery and was released from the hospital after only four days.

The day after they brought their son home from the hospital, another child with Down syndrome ended up in the same bed in the same hospital. He had been born addicted to drugs, and his mom had abandoned him.

Sean recalled the day they found out about the child: “We called the agency and told them that we’ll take him.”

At first, the agency pushed back. They told the Martins that one adoption had to be finalized before they pursued another.

But that didn’t stop them from fighting for the child!

They started networking and calling other families who were interested in adoption. To their surprise, not one family was able or willing to take the child.

Weeks went by, and the child still didn’t have a home. Again, the Martins called the adoption agency and pleaded with them to allow them to take the child. Finally, the agency agreed and the Martins adopted their third child.

“That was the point when the dam broke,” Sean said. “We believed that if nobody is fighting [for these children], then what hope do they have? So, Lord, if You bring them, we’ll take them. That was our prayer.”

In the years to come, the Martins continued praying this prayer and would go on to adopt nine children with special needs.

“These kids bring incredible joy.”

Sean will be the first one to tell you – life with that many children isn’t easy. There are frustrations and hard times. But the joy his family brings him overflows.

“We’re not wired to be caregivers. People look at us and say, ‘You’re so special.’ No, it’s 100% the grace of God,” Sean said. “At the end of the day, these kids bring incredible joy.”

Today, his oldest child is 21 and the youngest is 11. But as they have grown up, a new question has surfaced: What comes next?

While many children with special needs are well integrated into schools, integrating adults with special needs into society has proven to be more difficult.

“How many adults [with special needs] do we see in our society? We don’t. They aren’t integrated,” Sean said. “We miss so much because we shove them off to the side and we don’t have relationships with them. We are seriously missing out on some perspective. They see the world in a different way.”

Sean and Jill’s impact goes far beyond just the children they have adopted.

In the summer of 2020, Human Coalition’s Director of Media, Jason Law, was told that his baby girl would likely be born with Down syndrome. While this would have been difficult news for most parents to hear, Jason and his wife had a different perspective.

When Jason first started at Human Coalition, he heard the Martins’ story. He heard how they had brought in so many children with special needs. And he heard how joyful their family was even amid the challenges.

Thanks to the Martins’ story, and others that God had placed in their lives, Jason and his wife were excited to bring their daughter into the world and experience the joy that would come from having a child with special needs in their family.

“Knowing that they chose to bring children with special needs into their family and that they are still full of joy and take on so many children showed me that I could handle all the challenges that would be coming my way,” Jason said. “They are a living example of what valuing humanity in all forms and caring for children beyond the womb no matter what should look like.”

The Martins have truly made a lasting impact in the lives of so many children and families. And their impact is sure to be felt for years to come.  

Will you embrace the challenges?

After hearing a story like this, the question you may be asking is, “What can I do?”

My encouragement to you is to do exactly what the Martin family has done: embrace the challenges.

For some, this may mean following the Martins’ example and adopting a child. More than 100,000 children and youth are waiting to be adopted in the United States’ foster care system. Some of these children have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Some have experienced tremendous loss. Some have medical conditions that require extra care, like the children the Martins have adopted.

While adoption isn’t for everyone, you can still find ways to serve! For example, you could serve children with special needs at your church or local school district. You could find a family like the Martins to walk with through their journey.

You could also work to raise awareness for the number of children waiting for permanent families in the foster care system. Or, you could simply spend time with adults who have special needs.

But in whatever way you can embrace the challenges and find ways to value “humanity in all forms,” I pray that’s what you will do. And I pray you find incredible joy.

Sean Martin is the former Senior Director of Church Outreach for Human Coalition and currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Pleasant View Missionary Church in Greenville, Ohio.

Watch Sean’s Story here.

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