Reaching the “Differently-Abled” for Christ

Reaching the “Differently-Abled” for Christ

Voice of Care is on a mission to help the church reach the “differently-abled” for Christ. It is with that goal in mind that Deaconess Kris Blackwell, Executive Director of Voice of Care, and her ministry team of pastors, deaconesses, and lay people, are bringing a unique disability training opportunity to the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The district-wide workshop “Set to Serve: Reaching the Differently-Abled for Christ,” taking place on Saturday, September 17, 2016 at St. John, Rochester will introduce a range of disability ministry options for congregations to consider.

“Matthew 7:16 says, ‘You will recognize them by their fruits,’” shared Blackwell. “I think the best way to understand the ministry of Voice of Care is to recognize the fruit that God has blessed us with. I’d like to introduce you one of the people we have worked with, one of the places in which we have facilitated the sharing of Gospel and one of the congregations we have worked with to enable a special needs ministry…”

Meet Andy

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Andy’s music job is to play the tambourine at “Jesus Time” when other Voice of Care trained volunteers lead songs of praise and worship.

Andy is a young man who has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that occurs in one out of every 800 births. People with Down syndrome may have learning disabilities and some physical coordination problems, but often exhibit a loving and happy attitude. They enjoy hands-on, concrete learning experiences at a slower pace. Repetition is the best way for them to learn.

Andy participates in “Jesus Time” at a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities. Andy, however, is not a resident. He is one of the Voice of Care trained volunteers who sing, make music and share Bible studies with those who live at the facility.

Alongside his father, Bill, who plays guitar, Andy keeps rhythm with the music on his tambourine. Voice of Care’s Rev. Paul Klopke has shared how adept Andy is at Christian caregiving. He exhibits kindness, listens to residents, and prays with them.

“Andy is a wonderful man of God who reflects the love of Jesus,” said Pastor Paul.

Meet Deer Path

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Lutheran Church Charities K9 Comfort Dogs often participate in weekly worship at facilities. Residents and Voice of Care trained volunteers enjoy a visit with JoJo after a service.

When Voice of Care approached Deer Path of Huntley, an independent assisted lifestyle community for adults with physical disabilities in Huntley, Ill., they had no idea it was in answer to a prayer by Resident Services Coordinator Julie. Julie, a member of a nearby Lutheran church, had been hoping for spiritual opportunities for Deer Path’s residents. Voice of Care trained volunteers from Julie’s own church and two other nearby congregations. They began offering devotions and other Christ‐centered activities at the facility. Collaboration with Faith, Hope & Peace Ministries now ensures weekly Lutheran worship at Deer Path, with prayer, hymns, liturgy, and God’s Word. The K‐9 Comfort Dogs from Lutheran Church Charities are regular participants.

Kathy, a volunteer from one of the participating churches, offered her perspective. “It makes me so happy to know that these are not ‘forgotten’ people. I truly believe that this is where Jesus would be—hanging out, holding hands, and listening to them.”

Meet the people of St. Paul

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A respite drop-off evening at St. Paul Lutheran Church includes dinner and a movie or other activity, at SPACE, the familiar nickname of St. Paul Adult Care Event.

What’s a church to do when its school closes and it suddenly finds itself with a large, well‐appointed facility and a lot of space? St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chicago Heights, Ill. used that space to address a ministry need and, appropriately, named it “SPACE.” St. Paul Adult Care Events, known as SPACE, is a ministry to people with special needs and aging adults needing care. Once a month, St. Paul opens its spacious school gymnasium for a SPACE movie night or other activity combined with dinner. This unique ministry ensures participants a fun (and well‐fed!) evening in a safe environment. Families and caregivers enjoy an evening off, knowing that their loved ones are looked after. Individuals from area group homes attend, taking advantage of an alternative activity while lightening the load on trained staff. To ensure that SPACE volunteers could provide proper care for participants and to instill emergency preparedness, Voice of Care worked with Deaconess Katelyn Hansen. Voice of Care’s Rev. Phil Gruenbaum helped lead the REST (Respite Education and Support Tools) training program for St. Paul volunteers.

“With our aging community and funding reductions at nearby group homes, we wanted to meet the needs of our neighborhood by offering activities that give relief from the norm while also sharing the Gospel of Christ,” shared Deaconess Hansen. “We wanted to reach into our community and let people in all types of care-giving situations know that the Lord cares for them and provides respite in the arms of St. Paul [members].”

The ministry performed by Andy, volunteers at Deer Path, and the people of St. Paul are woven together with a common thread—they have all been trained by Voice of Care to share God’s love with people who have disabilities.

Blackwell points out that there are currently dozens of Andys, Deer Paths, and St. Pauls, and she believes that Voice of Care, with God’s guidance, can help foster many more.

Meet Voice of Care

Voice of Care has established a unique and successful model for equipping the church to nurture people with disabilities and their caregivers in their walk with Christ. This model was conceived and implemented in the Northern Illinois District of the LCMS, but Voice of Care is actively working to expand this ministry across the synod’s 35 districts.

Having discerned both a passion and need for this ministry in the Michigan District, Voice of Care brings “Set to Serve” to the Michigan District, LCMS people of hope, who are vigorously making known the love of Christ. At the workshop, designed for both church leaders and lay volunteers, Voice of Care staff and ministry partners will present interactive sessions addressing how congregations can help provide inclusive worship, adaptive Christian Education, short-term respite programs, Disability Awareness Days, volunteer-led “Jesus time” in residential or daycare facilities, appropriate Vacation Bible School programing, and special needs camp ministry.

The 2014 Disability Statistics & Demographics Rehabilitation Research & Training Center annual report lists Michigan among the states with the highest percentages of population with disability, both ambulatory and cognitive. Over two million people, or 22% of the state’s residents, have one or more disabilities. Furthermore, 90% of all people who have disabilities are not connected to a church home. Many Lutheran congregations lack the distinctive and specialized expertise within their staff and laity to effectively reach into their own pews and surrounding communities to serve people with disabilities. This can be a huge impediment to both sharing the Gospel with the unchurched and nurturing the spiritual growth of believers among people with disabilities.

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Andy (in back row, third from l-r) participates in God’s Special Friends, a Bible study group that helps him stay grounded for his Voice of Care volunteer work helping with “Jesus Time” at nearby facilities.

As LCMS churches reach out to serve those with disabilities within their congregations and in the surrounding communities, they must typically rely on external sources to obtain training and tools for providing inclusive Christian education, accessible worship opportunities, and short-term respite care.

The ultimate goal of Voice of Care’s ministry as a whole, and of the specific initiative to equip Michigan’s LCMS churches for disability ministry, is consistent with our Lord’s directive to share His love and proclaim His message of salvation to all people, regardless of ability.

Blackwell explains the vision behind the workshop: “Being armed with ideas and resources, each participant would be able to return to their congregations equipped to formulate a plan for witness to people with disabilities and ideas for including them in the life of their church.” She added, “Detailed follow-up training would be encouraged, with geographically compatible congregations banding together to share expenses and/or acquire third-source funding.”

Voice of Care is a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and relies on the financial and volunteer support of congregations, service groups, and individuals who value this outreach to people with developmental disabilities.

WHAT: “Set to Serve: Reaching the Differently-Abled for Christ” presented by Voice of Care
WHEN: Saturday, September 17, 2016 – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: St. John Lutheran Church, 1011 West University Drive, Rochester, MI 48307
WHO: church workers and lay volunteers
COST: $10 per participant (includes lunch)
REGISTER (by September 10): at VoiceOfCare.org

Photo courtesy of Voice of Care

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