Loving as God Would
Frequently left out of social situations, persons with intellectual disabilities (ID) are seven times more likely to experience social isolation and loneliness than the general population.1
Concerningly, this also happens in our Church, where Bible teaching and church life remain largely inaccessible to persons with ID.
Grace Mao, a former secondary school teacher with special needs experience, observed this in her country of Singapore following several years of volunteering at Jesus Club Gladesville.
"In Singapore, after persons with special needs, reach 18 years old, [they] get out of the school system, and there aren't really that many programmes available to them. Those with lower support needs [can] get a job. [But] for those with higher support needs, they either go to a full daycare service or they stay at home."
Even in the gospel-centred churches there, Grace found little that catered to adults with ID.
"While cognitively, persons with ID could access the kids or youth groups at church, socially, they don't want to be seen as kids [or youths], so those programs are inappropriate for them."
"[But] they can't sit through the service [either] because they can’t understand the sermon. As a result, we don't see many persons with special needs in our congregations."
Grace recounts the story of John*, a boy in her previous congregation who came to the service but stayed only for the songs. Then as soon as the sermon began, John would go downstairs and just sit and look at his phone. "He couldn't understand what was going on," recalled Grace.
But Grace was equally unsuccessful when she tried to integrate John into their young adult Bible studies groups, "It was difficult to pitch it at a level that he could understand, and which would benefit the whole group as well."
Members and leaders learning in Buddy groups that match their abilities.
Faced with these challenges and a growing urgency to evangelise persons with ID in her country, Grace started Jesus Club Singapore with like-minded friends at Bethesda Church Bukit Arang in 2013. Their goal was it to become a community for persons with and without disabilities, to gather and fellowship around his Word and serve one another in love.
From a three-person group at one location, this club has since grown into two thriving clubs with over 100 members and volunteers!
"About half our members come from non-Christian homes or families and [Jesus Club] is their first exposure to the Gospel. Some of them have accepted Christ. Two of them have gotten baptised!"
She was also tremendously encouraged by the outreach opportunity Jesus Club created for the carers and parents of their members. One mother started attending church regularly, and one even became a Christian after accompanying her son to Jesus Club.
"It's been an incredible ministry that we didn't plan for. We've given them Bibles and we've had chats with them, and we've [even] prayed with some of them."
Just like their sister clubs in Australia, Jesus Club Singapore uses a combination of songs, simple Bible talks and small study groups of similar abilities to help members understand and apply the Bible to their personal lives
They also actively participate in running their fortnightly sessions: rostered in roles to co-emcee, co-lead songs, lead prayer, and prepare supper.
"Finding opportunities for them to serve together reminds them that they are an important part of the body of Christ."
It's clear their members love going to Jesus Club Singapore; during their lockdown in early 2021, Grace would receive daily texts from members asking when they would resume their fortnightly meeting.
"They really, really enjoyed coming. They feel that [they are] accepted as a brother or a sister in Christ and [Jesus Club is] a place where they feel loved. [As] we try to get alongside them to journey with them in life, to find out how the Bible intersects with the struggles that they're facing in life."
"We really try to love our guys and treat them as God would treat them - as someone who is dearly loved by God and who is fearfully and wonderfully made by Him."