Engaging the Whole Body

What do you think of when you hear the Church described as “the body of Christ?” Paul paints a beautiful picture of the Church as the Body of Christ. He compares the Body of Christ to the human body with each part serving a purpose. According to the CDC, 25% of people in the United States live with a disability. When we look at our churches today, how do we engage people with disabilities within the Body? One of our members, Jane Palmer chatted with me about her work at Joni & Friends regarding disability ministry.

Question: Who are you and what is Joni & Friends?

Answer: My name is Jane Palmer and I am the Senior Manager for Joni and Friends Minnesota. Joni and Friends started 40 years ago by Joni Eareckson Tada, after a diving accident at age 17 which left her with quadriplegia. We are a ministry serving individuals and families affected by disability through practical support and the sharing of the Gospel. We come alongside the local church so those affected by disability feel fully engaged in the church with the opportunity to experience Christian fellowship, God’s Word, and use their spiritual gifts. Statistics state that approximately 75% of people with disabilities are unchurched, so there is a great need and opportunity for outreach and service.

Question: How did God call you into this line of work? 

Answer:  In late 2016, I began to pray that God would show me what was next for me. Honestly, I don’t believe I expected an answer. But three weeks later, I received a call from my former boss in prison ministry who said, “I just became aware of a position and I think you would be perfect for this.” I had no prior experience in disability ministry or any idea why God would call me to it, but respected and trusted this person and so inquired about the position.

As the process continued, I felt God prompting me to go. Almost 3 years later, I can say that this has been the most spiritually growing, humbling, and impactful ministry I have ever worked in. God awakened me, opened my eyes to see an entire group of people I had never “seen” before.  My passion now is to help others “see” these individuals/families and enter into relationship with them.

Question: What are three things you wish to see in US churches today to support disability ministry?

Answer: The first is to recognize people affected by disability as a large, unchurched people group who are so essential to the Body of Christ. God has much to say about those with disability and how they are indispensable in the Body. This can be found in Luke 14 in the story of the banquet and in 1 Corinthians 12 when Paul speaks of the church as one body. True disability ministry begins when the heartbeat of a church is to value all people regardless of ability and desire to include them in the church. Begin to pray about how God wants to use your church to reach, love, and serve these people.

Second, churches should share the vision with their congregations. Vision begins with the leadership. Messages from the pulpit set the stage for the culture of a church. Churches could host a Disability Awareness Sunday, a Wheelchair Collection, or training on Disability Etiquette to help people learn about the needs of those living with disability. Invite a group of people or the entire congregation to pray for next steps.

Finally, a church can take steps to serve those in their congregations and communities. When churches hear “disability ministry” they often think budgets, staffing, facilities, etc. In reality disability ministry begins when someone says, “I can be a friend” or “How can I help you?” That can simply mean being a buddy to a child during Sunday School or offering to pick someone up for church.  It’s about relationship.  Disability ministry will usually happen organically, but God will direct that path when the hearts and doors open. And then as it says in Luke 14, God’s house will be full and it will be blessed.

Question: How can Faith Covenant partner with Joni & Friends to foster growth in the area of disability ministry?

Answer: There are three main ministry initiatives at Joni and Friends Minnesota that Faith Covenant can be involved in:

The first is Family Retreat. We need Short-Term Missionaries (STMs) for our retreat for special needs families. These STMs are not PCAs providing personal care for people. They are a friend/buddy to a child or young adult with a disability; eating meals with them, accompanying them to programming, having fun recreation in the afternoon, and enjoying family activities with them at night. No experience is required, just a heart to serve. The dates for 2020 are August 11-16. It’s a truly life changing experience for both the family and the person who serves. We also need donations for welcome baskets, financial sponsorship for a STM or family, a prayer team, and office help.

Second, is our Wheels for the World Program. This is our international outreach. We collect manual wheelchairs, refurbish them at prisons around the country, and ship them to developing countries with a team of doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, mechanics, and lay volunteers, to fit the individuals to a chair, share the Gospel with them, and provide them a bible in their native language. We need volunteers to pick up wheelchairs and bring them to our storage site, to research medical companies, clinics, or hospitals to donate wheelchairs, and to help on loading days when wheelchairs ship out.

Finally, at Faith Covenant, people may serve as Children’s Ministry buddies, be a companion to an adult, or bring a meal to someone. Whatever the church needs to reach out and serve an individual or family.

Wow, Jane! Thank you so much for educating each of us on how we can better equip ourselves and our church in the area of disability ministry. Faith Family, I pray each of you will reflect on how you fit into disability ministry at our church. Consider joining us on November 24 after second service for the Special Needs Buddy Info Lunch. RSVP on REALM–we look forward to seeing you there!

In His Grace,

Tone Waters

Director of GO & Communications