Volunteering: creating inclusive ministries for people with disabilities
In the lead up to the National Volunteer Week, we celebrate Jesus Club leaders and coordinators, who are at the forefront of creating disability-inclusive church communities for adults with intellectual disabilities (I.D.) with the message of Jesus Christ.
Their volunteering experiences reinforce how indispensable people with ID are to God's church and His people. Hear them share their stories and what it has taught them about God and themselves.
Saddened by the fact that people with a disability are under-represented in our church community, Susan was eager to help at her local Jesus Club.
"I have been reading about Jesus' love of, and compassion for, people who are marginalised, and was confronted by the fact that if I am to imitate Jesus, I want to be more loving and compassionate to marginalised peoples."
It's clear to Susan that when people with intellectual disabilities are not worshipping, serving and contributing alongside others, our church is missing a vital part of the Body of Christ!
In her time volunteering at Jesus Club, she has been challenged to communicate God's word more clearly and accurately - a skill she sees essential for any Christian.
And she senses God is also teaching her to support, enable, and engage with diverse people in a natural, relaxed, and warm way. "I have a lot to learn about how to do both well. But I am trusting God to guide me and persist with me."
"When people with intellectual disabilities are not worshipping, serving and contributing alongside other people, our church is missing a vital part of the Body of Christ."
During his four years in disability support, Mike often wondered how to share Jesus with his friends. So, when he heard about Jesus Club, he immediately saw it as an excellent opportunity to make new friends, share the message of Christ died and risen, and learn how to do that better with old friends.
Being at Jesus Club has excited and energised Mike about what God is doing in the world, "He really is turning hearts from darkness and ignorance to the wonderful glory of his Son!" said Mike.
Volunteering has crystallised for Mike that God was ultimately the one building His church, which has also changed his relationship with prayer.
"As great as my skills may or may not be, it is up to God to work. So much more am I dependent on him in prayer to save lives." "I have seen that I can put so much work into studying theology, but God brings these great truths out in terrifically small and normal words that anyone can understand. How wonderful is our God!"
"[God] really is turning hearts from darkness and ignorance to the wonderful glory of his Son!"
Penny began helping out at Jesus Club when she started attending her new church. It was an area that interested her most, and now, it's the ministry she's beginning to love.
"We try not to divide our group into leaders and members, though essentially that is what we are [and] I love being with both the leaders and members. Our members are diverse in age, abilities, interests, and talents but are fun loving and very caring. Our leaders put in a lot of effort in preparation but are also flexible and easy going as well as very caring, so all up it’s a great group to belong to!"
Volunteering at Jesus Club has given Penny a clearer understanding of God's word, as she learnt to look at the Bible from a new angle. "As leaders, we get together to plan each meeting, and as we look at the lessons, we try to work out what the Bible is telling us and how we can simplify the message without diluting it, so that it is accessible and relevant for our members. This is good for us too!" said Penny.
And from the members, she has learned genuine acceptance and tolerance, "Our members are so tolerant and go with the flow at our meetings. They are not critical when things don't work out and overall are very accepting of everyone, as Jesus would have us be."
In her retirement, Sandra became a volunteer to help the Jesus Club at her church. It is a role she relishes, "I absolutely love our members. They are wholeheartedly into our group and love everything we do, whether it works or not. Never any judgement!"
Before volunteering, Sandra was more reserved and less open in sharing her faith. But being with Jesus Club members, and seeing how openly they share their faith, they have encouraged her to do the same.
"[The members] love everything we do, whether it works or not. Never any judgement!"
Before Jesus Club, Lisa ran another disability ministry, which she started for her son when he left school, because Bible studies and church services were way above his understanding."My son has an intellectual disability, and I could see a need for other kids at church like him to hear and continue to learn about Jesus."
Lisa is excited that through Jesus Club, she is now helping her son, and other adults with intellectual disabilities, to participate more fully in the life of a church. "I love it when they answer questions and show an understanding about God's word. Also, when they are having fun and being part of the group."
The experience at Jesus Club has reinforced for her that "God's love is for everyone, and every member has something to offer".