Feature: Joni and Friend’s Shauna Amick

Following a fruitful Bible study, Shauna Amick patiently sat waiting for one of her twenty fellow Christians to conclude the session in prayer. Amick had came with Sarah, her now-very-bored, seven-year-old daughter, to lead the group in discerning God’s Word and was only asking for an adequate attempt to close out what had been a constructive meeting.


“There wasn’t one person in that room who was willing [to lead prayer] for whatever reason,” Amick said. “I’m thinking: ‘I can wait, someone’s going to volunteer’.”


With a dull waiting game seeming imminent, Sarah courageously strode up to the front of the room and initiated the congregation’s collective, final invocation with a ‘Dear God’. After delivering a personalized prayer, Sarah ended the gathering with a joyful ‘Amen’ and proceeded to return to her seat in the back of the room.


Every adult in that room started crying and fell into a state of elated bewilderment. Sarah has Down syndrome and is, for all practical purposes, nonverbal. That moment seven years ago would reveal Sarah’s ministry to be centered on public speaking and prayer.


About seven years before this delightful day, however, Amick was experiencing feelings of confusion and anguish.


The results from a four-month ultrasound would convey that Sarah, Amick’s third child, would be born with a severe heart defect, Down syndrome and other genetic irregularities.


“When Sarah was diagnosed with Down syndrome, my pregnancy became a crisis pregnancy. All the fears, all the unknowns, and all the heartache became way too personal,” Amick details in her booklet: My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers. “Why would God do this to me? To my baby? Why couldn’t someone just throw me a life preserver and deliver me from the uncertainty whirling around me?”


Amick speaks candidly about that distressing time in her life to show that anybody can have disquieting thoughts and worries in a time of crisis, even someone with Amick’s Christ-centric faith and inspiring story.


Shauna Amick was raised within a secular household by a single mother in southern New Hampshire. At fourteen-years-old, Amick tagged along with her best friend to a summer camp that served individuals with special-needs.


“I knew at fourteen, after a week at that special-needs camp, that I wanted to be a teacher for kids with disabilities,” Amick said. “My life just got set on a trajectory.”


Amick would continue volunteering at the camp until college, would work with students with Down syndrome and other severe disabilities in the resource room of her high school, and would go on to gain a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in special education and learning disabilities.


After spending her teenaged years and early adulthood inculcating a deep desire to protect and be charitable towards those with special-needs, Amick stumbled upon something that would put that beautiful calling into the proper framework: Christianity.


Coming of age in a home without a faith tradition, Amick, twenty-four-years-old at the time, was invited over to a friend’s house for an Easter Sunday lunch. Before the meal, however, Amick was informed that her friend’s family would be going to church. Figuring that attending the service would be the only way to feast on the Easter ham and sides, Amick joined the family caravan destined for church.


“You have to go to church on Easter to get the food so I guess I’ll go,” Amick remembered thinking. “Well, the long story short is that that was the day that [I received] eyes to see and that Jesus saved me.”


From that day on, Amick started focusing on the Bible as her vehicle for receiving and sharing God’s grace.


“I just wanted to read the Bible for the pure sake of reading it. I had never done that,” Amick explained. “I just fell in love with the Bible. I could not get enough and I got involved with church… and the pro-life movement just solidified everything there.”


A few years after her conversion, Amick started serving at Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Centers in southern New Hampshire.


“In the very beginning, I was the helpline person so if somebody called after the center was closed, the phone would ring at my house… [and I would talk to] a woman who is desperate and is contemplating abortion,” Amick said. “I got to counsel women who were in crisis.”


After several years of this, Amick would be promoted to Director of Abstinence Education. In this role, Amick would go to various high schools and churches to explain the benefits of saving sex for marriage.


“It went really well. It was beautiful just to be able to, over the course of several years, [see] hundreds of young people interested. They have questions [and] it’s just education,” Amick described. “My whole premise in that program was: I don’t want anyone to have to deal with regret. To the best of our ability, we need to be educated so that when we do make a decision, it’s never based on ‘I didn’t know’.”


Amick put that intention into a more tangible example.


“If a woman of any age goes [into an abortion clinic], is in a crisis pregnancy and she goes to get education, [and] she is told that what is going on inside of her body is nothing but a blob of tissue, that makes abortion a whole lot easier. I would never say easy, but it would be an easier decision to make,” Amick said. “Well, what happens then to that woman, whether it’s a year later or ten years later, if she sees a picture of fetal development? She recognizes ‘oh my goodness this baby is this many weeks gestation… That’s how far along I was when I had an abortion. I was told it was a blob of tissue, but I’m looking at this ultrasound image of a baby’. That’s some pretty big-time regret that could have been avoided. It’s one of the most heartbreaking sentences to hear: I didn’t know.”


Amick would be promoted again to the role of a spokesperson for Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Centers. She would speak to pro-life leaders, supporters, and donors at churches, fundraisers, National Day of Prayer events, among other functions.


“I did that for a few years. I’m speaking into a microphone that I’m pro-life without exception. Then I’m laying down on an ultrasound table and I find out that [Sarah], this baby growing inside of me, is going to have Down syndrome, a heart defect, and a whole slew of other genetic abnormalities,” Amick said. “Here is where the rubber meets the road. This is where God is giving me an opportunity to prove what I had said I believed [and] to live out scripture. This is where disability organizations and pro-life organizations come together. This is the apex.”


In this trying time, instead of receiving the proper care and advice from a physician supposedly brought up in the Hippocratic tradition to ‘do no harm’, Amick was told by her doctor that abortion was the recommended route for a Down syndrome diagnosis.


“If I did not know what the Bible says about the equality of all, it would’ve been a completely different scenario I’m looking at. This doctor who clearly is smarter than me, because of all the letters she has on the end of her name… is telling me without blinking an eye this is what [I] need to do,” Amick said. “Now can you imagine if I’m a younger lady who is terrified? I have no support system, I have no idea what the Bible says, and I’m being told this is the only way we deal with this… and I took this doctor’s advice. Then, whether it’s three months or three years or whatever later, I come into contact and have a relationship with a person with Down syndrome. Now, I could possibly be in that situation saying: ‘Oh my goodness, this is my friend who makes me laugh and we have a great relationship, [but] that doctor told me that this [individual] basically wasn’t even a person’. So if we can have that education, if we can have more awareness so that instead of making blanket statements about people who have a disability, we would get to know these people with disabilities and recognize that they do have value, one, on the fact that they’re made in the Image of God.”


Despite this corrupted counsel, along with ambiguous advice from some of her friends, Amick found the strength from God necessary to rebuke abortion in an unlikely setting: a nearby fast-food restaurant. After her husband had returned to work, Amick was at home with her two kids ‘feeling like the walls were closing in on [her]’. This prompted Amick to get some fresh air by taking her children out for lunch.


“As I sat there staring out the window and crying over my fries, I could suddenly sense someone standing over my shoulder… an older woman smiled down at me and simply said, ‘Everything’s going to be alright, honey. My friend and I couldn’t help but notice you were crying and we just wanted to let you know that it’s all going to be okay,’” Amick remembers in her booklet: My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers. “I glanced over at her friend, who was standing nearby. He had the biggest smile I had ever seen and he had Down syndrome… I thought about that brief encounter time after time, and it somehow helped me hold it together when I felt like falling apart. I believe with all my heart that God sent those two strangers that day to give me His heavenly perspective on disability.”


Amick would give birth to Sarah on a beautiful summer morning, but the prenatal diagnoses, especially the heart defect, would keep Amick, her husband and Sarah in the hospital for an extended period of time. Six weeks after Sarah’s delivery, the only option to secure her survival was heart surgery.


A few days before this complicated and painful procedure, Amick, while crying over Sarah’s crib, would ask Jesus for a sign that would provide support and comfort in such difficult conditions.


“Maybe it was because Sarah could feel my tears on her face or maybe the Lord in His wisdom knew how close I was to giving up, but right at that very moment as I leaned over my daughter’s frail body, Sarah opened her eyes and looked at me for the very first time,” Amick recalls in her booklet: My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers. “I stooped down lower, and it felt like her hazel eyes penetrated into my very soul. It was though Sarah was making a plea for her life and a plea for my sanity by saying, ‘I’m in here, Mommy! Don’t you dare give up on me! We’re going to make it- you and me. You’ll see!’”


Amick and her newborn daughter would, indeed, make it and would finally leave the hospital three months after they first arrived. In the weeks prior to, during and after this ordeal, however, Amick would lose contact with some friends who believed that Sarah’s disabilities were a product of unanswered prayer. Amick holds no grudges against these people, but, because of this added hardship, appreciates the presence of one particular friend even more. This ally had empathy for Amick as she, too, had a child with a disability and was able to connect Amick with a larger support system in Joni and Friends’ Mom’s Morning Out support group.


“It was all moms of kids with disabilities… we had so much in common. I felt like I was at home and these people understood me,” Amick said. “We weren’t too messy for them and I just jumped in with both feet.”


The rest of Amick’s family would be welcomed into this same, life-affirming culture at a family retreat hosted by Joni and Friends. Joni and Friends is an international Christian nonprofit that aims to evangelize and spread the Gospel message to the nearly 1 billion people affected by disabilities, assist churches in providing better care to those with special-needs, and advocate for a world founded on a Biblical and sanctity of life ethic through better public policy, material aid, and education.


Amick, being so moved by the ministries and mission of Joni and Friends, would join the organization as a local board member for Joni and Friends Greater Boston in 2011. Later, she would become Area Director of the group as it expanded operations and became Joni and Friends New England.


In the summer of 2016, Amick and her family would pack up and move across the country to Agoura Hills, California where Amick would start working at the Joni and Friends headquarters. Amick started in California as the Senior Manager of Development at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center and, soon after, was promoted to Director of Radio Channel Marketing at Joni and Friends. In this role, Amick is able to share her own story, be a witness to the Gospel, and promote a pro-life and sanctity of life message through radio, podcasts, and social media that reach people all over the globe.


“Disability organizations are pro-life organizations, that’s all there is to it. If we’re upholding the value and dignity of people with both physical and intellectual disabilities, you can’t get much more pro-life than that. I love it that that’s what I get to do every day, to be part of that type of organization,” Amick said. “Specifically, with the radio… it’s all about encouraging people and sharing the Gospel, telling the truth about who is God, and just in the telling of our stories [where] there is always that pro-life [message].”


Amick views a few key endeavors as highly important in promoting a sanctity of life ideal that will lower the 67% abortion rate of unborn babies with Down syndrome in the United States.


“Joni and Friends are offering resources, education, and the idea of inclusion, especially including people with disabilities so that we can see and we can be in relationship with them. It humanizes, it’s bringing the whole human perspective to all people [by] being in friendship with people with disabilities, [and] encouraging adoption instead of abortion,” Amick said. “There are people who want to adopt babies with disabilities, we just need to make them available.”


Amick is excited about Joni and Friend’s support of the pro-life movement, which has allowed Amick to publish her own, previously-mentioned booklet: My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers and will lead to Joni and Friends publishing a Pray for Life Bible, which discusses abortion, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia and other life issues using a Biblical perspective and is filled with personal testimonies, in late 2020.


Amick acknowledges the Bible as the bedrock of her beliefs.


“For me it’s all about the Bible, it’s all about God and Jesus; that’s my motivation. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be like that for everybody and I’m not going to force anyone else to believe or say the same things, but I’m just telling you this is my story,” Amick explained. “When I’ve had an opportunity to speak at different venues and I share this, people will come to see me at the end and say they’re so encouraged. They can’t believe I’m bold enough to share my beliefs the way I have. It floors me every time, because they believe the same thing… People will find faults with that [message, but] I’m just going to tell you my story and what you do with it is what you do with it.”


Even with great strides made in recent years, Amick still sees work to be done in the disability-rights movement, especially in promoting the immense value of those with intellectual disabilities.


“Even in circles where people agree that a person with a physical disability has value, the same people might not be willing to go so far as to say somebody with an intellectual disability has value. There’s almost a hierarchy, which is totally bogus, that portrays people without disabilities at the top of the pyramid, then below them are people with physical disabilities, and at the bottom are people with intellectual disabilities,” Amick said. “My heart [wants] and my mission is to eradicate that hierarchy and that’s why I am so thankful for my daughter’s platform. She is able to show people that folks with intellectual disabilities bring just as much to the table as anybody else.”


Sarah’s platform, first discovered in that prayer-filled room seven years ago, has continued to develop and bring people closer to God.


“I see the glory of God illuminated in her when she raises her hands in worship, unafraid and truly unmoved by any judgmental eyes surrounding her,” Amick stated in her witness pamphlet: From Fear to Hope: The Touching Story of Shauna and Sarah Hope Amick. “If it’s Down syndrome that catches people’s stares and makes them contemplate the purpose behind Sarah’s personality, then it’s Down syndrome that’s pointing people to Jesus.”


“Sarah is who she is because she has a disability. It’s part of her story and it gives her testimony great power… Sarah draws people to Christ because she has Down syndrome,” Amick said in My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers. “People hear her laughter, see her joy, and sense her strength- and they encounter Jesus.”


Amick views the goal of fully including those with special-needs into the human family as one that begins on the interpersonal level.


“[It’s important to understand this] idea of friendship, getting to know people with disabilities one person at a time, and recognizing how much that humanizes the idea of disability,” Amick said. “That seems simple and, yet, if we did that, it would totally change society.”




Shauna Amick (right) and Sarah Hope Amick (left) spending time together on the playground.



Sarah Hope Amick (fourteen-years-old when picture was taken).



Shauna Amick (left) smiling next to Joni Eareckson Tada (right), founder of Joni and Friends, during a radiocast.




Sources:

1. Thiessen, Marc A. “When Will We Stop Killing Humans with Down Syndrome?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Mar. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/when-will-we-stop-killing-humans-with-down-syndrome/2018/03/08/244c9eba-2306-11e8-badd-7c9f29a55815_story.html


Materials by Shauna Amick mentioned in the article:

- Amick, Shauna. My Baby Has a Disability: Life-Giving Questions and Answers. New Growth Press, 2019.

- Amick, Shauna. From Fear to Hope: The Touching Story of Shauna and Sarah Hope Amick. Joni and Friends.


Connect to Joni and Friends:

https://www.joniandfriends.org

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