To be Accepted…
This past month we shared a story of conversations with two mothers with sons who have intellectual disabilities who were turned away by their congregations. These congregations do not yet understand the blessing that can come when they include members with disabilities. It is a sad story, but one that illustrates the need for Connection Ministries. We bring awareness to churches and equip them to be welcoming faith communities for our friends with intellectual disabilities and their families.
God works in the midst of our hurts and reshapes our stories with grace, hope and acceptance. Since a team of dedicated people started Connection Ministries, I have had the joy of visiting congregational ministries connecting with our friends with disabilities, their families and care givers, and the many volunteer companions. The stories people have shared bring me a great deal of encouragement. God is doing amazing work in these churches and I hope you are encouraged as well.
Sharon and Arv moved to Indiana from Colorado with their daughter Jill for what they thought would be a better location for their horse farm. Sharon went on to say, “The move became less about horses, and more about God connecting Jill to a church with a Friendship class for adults with intellectual disabilities.” This Tuesday night gathering has become a family event and they are grateful to belong to a church where Jill is embraced as part of their faith community.
Dick and Marcy’s daughter, Joann, became part of a Friendship class 28 years ago led by a dynamic Christian couple who are also parents of a daughter with disabilities. This class became the model for ministry that continues today with Connection Ministries. Dick shared “Joann regularly attended church with the family and was confirmed and received communion.
Although Joann understood the purpose of church, she had difficulty finding significance in the worship because the message was not tailored for her intellectual level. Her Friendship class was designed for Joann and she began to understand the true meaning of Jesus loves me. She has become less angry and frustrated with who God created her to be.”
“Joann began to understand the true meaning of Jesus loves me.”
This ministry certainly reaches our friends with disabilities with God’s love, but God is also tapping on the hearts of all of us who get involved; parents, caregivers and volunteer companions. Candace told me she is thankful for the day she was in church ten years ago when I visited and spoke about this ministry opportunity. She writes, “It spoke to my heart. Every friend with a disability is amazing in their own way. I look forward each week to seeing the smiles and joy on their faces when we sing, pray and learn the Word of God. When they say they know that they are going to heaven because of God’s amazing love, it is such a humbling experience…”
Don and his wife Susan lead the Friendship class at Spirit of Joy. Don got involved 25 years ago at a difficult time in his life. He shared, “I was close to giving up on organized religion. It was through the simple unconditional faith I witnessed in my friends with intellectual disabilities, such as Lenny, Mark, and Kathy, that softened my heart.” God’s grace became real in this Friendship class, and together, they are experiencing the love of Christ. Don told me about a new friend with a disability who recently joined their class. He came from a difficult background and did not warm up to the class right away. But as in Don’s life, it was the warmth of Jesus’ love demonstrated by everyone in the class, that help him find a place of acceptance. He now participates and even shares his own prayer requests with the group.
Andra, leader of the Friendship class at Grace Presbyterian, writes, “So when the Lord dropped me unexpectedly into this ministry, I was not necessarily very willing to start and to lead our study. Now, I am very thankful beyond words for our Bible study. Although we are often the mouth and the hands of God to our friends with disabilities, they are the heart and face of God to those who volunteer. My walk of faith has been tremendously impacted by this ministry beyond expression. As I see our Lord working to grow the faith of everyone involved as we minister with each other, I never cease to be amazed and give Him the glory.”
“My walk of faith has been tremendously impacted by this ministry beyond expression.”
The world would have us focus on the sad stories. We witness this in the headlines every day. But, we worship a God of grace, hope and acceptance and therefore we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and His redemptive work. Over the years we have witnessed hundreds of God stories where friends with disabilities begin to pray and participate in Bible lessons, sometimes for the first time. Volunteers tell us they receive far more than they give. Through Christ, we all find acceptance. Thankfully, with God all things are possible.
“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
If you are part of one of these ministries, you have your own stories and I invite you to share them with us. We can post it on our website and on Facebook or keep them private. We all need encouragement, but your story may inspire the next church to minister with our friends with intellectual disabilities, or the next volunteer to get involved!