Thursday, January 29, 2009

What I learned at Joni and Friends Summit

Denis and I had the privilege of attending a Joni and Friends training summit in Pasadena, CA along with 6 other folks from our church this past weekend. We went to learn from people in other churches who already have more mature disability ministry programs up and running. The days were full of different workshops with a variety of topics, so we took a "divide and conquer" strategy. These are some of the take home points for me:

  • People with disabilities need the church - they need to be told that God loves them, Jesus understands their pain and that hope is only found in Him.
  • The church needs people with disabilities - people who have been to the end of themselves, looked suffering and self-pity in the face and learned the long-suffering patience of putting their faith in God have a powerful testimony that we all need to be exposed to. Not only that, but we need the opportunity to give without being repaid. I don't think I really had a vision of this until one of the workshops about ministering to adults with disabilities. Sometimes, it may not be as much about the people we serve getting so much out of it from our perspective, but that we can put ourselves aside without earthly reward.
  • We are VERY blessed that our pastor is the one who initiated our disability ministry. Most of the attendees were struggling to get their church's attention on the need for a disability focus. They were very envious of our position. Our church is already leaps and bounds ahead of some because our pastor is enthusiastically promoting it from the pulpit.
  • It's not necessary to have all the answers or programs in place to get started - most of the mature programs started with just meeting a couple of needs as they arose, then growing from there.
  • "Disability Ministry" doesn't have to be hard and intimidating. It's good to provide low-commitment opportunities for people to get involved. It's contagious and the desire to be involved will spread.

The icing on the cake was getting to hear Joni Eareckson-Tada speak in the closing session. I've admired her for many years. What a blessing!


Martha said...

Sounds like an interesting time. People with disabilities often have the ability to make a profound impact on the lives they touch.

The pastor of our previous fellowship had a heart for the mentally challanged. Several residents of a local group home attended church regularly. They knew they were loved and loved us in return. I will never forget the look of joy on Robert's face when I placed my baby boy on his lap. I don't know if he had ever held a baby before.

Priscilla said...

That is great, Tracy.

lu said...

Hi Tracy
I'm Laura/lu. I found your blog through Ben's.

Two years ago I began a ministry to families with special needs children at my church in MI. Most of the kids we serve are on the autism spectrum - as are two of my three boys. Now these families are able be active participants in the Body of Christ at our church. The success of our "buddy" program can only be attributed to God because on my own strength and resources it may never have gotten off the ground, much less grown.

Also, my husband and I were blessed to hear Joni speak at a Young Life conference a few years back. I, as well, have admired her for years. She is an inspiration to all!

I look forward to following your journey ministering to the disabled through your church.

lu said...

Hi Tracy,
Actually, you were right in assuming that I am short. I am almost 5 feet. So my blog title refers both to being vertically challenged spiritually (heart and mind set on Christ and eternity)as well as physically!

I found Ben's blog through a comment he left on a friend's blog - Sean Murphy - he's on staff at a church in Cincinnati and I went to college with him.

Wow! Joni's life is a miracle in so many ways, isn't it? If she is suffering, I hope she will be able to go Home soon - where I think she will receive a new body and there will be no more pain or sorrow. Although she will be sorely missed she has left quite a legacy.

When we put the word out at our church that we were looking for volunteers to be one-on-one buddies to our kids with special needs we were overwhelmed by the response! And so far God has always provided for our needs. I try to remember that when I feel panicky looking at a weekend Buddies schedule that isn't full.

Thanks for checking out my blog and commenting. I am looking forward to getting to know you better!