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Baker’s dozen at the font

Abiding Word Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas, has had a Jesus Cares program for over ten years. This ministry has been a blessing in so many ways.

Each week our Jesus Cares Sunday school gathers around God’s Word. A number of the participants have been confirmed after being instructed by members. On the first Saturday of each month, we meet for a craft and a snack, then head to the sanctuary for our Jesus Cares service. In March 2018, our regular Sunday service used parts of the Jesus Cares service to show our congregation what the ministry is like. The teachers, students, and congregation members are all encouraged as God’s Word is taught and God’s people worship together.

We have also used the program to reach out to our community. Right around the corner from our church lives a woman who has adopted eleven special needs children. As we have gotten to know our neighborhood, we met this family and invited them to attend Jesus Cares. They have come regularly for a few years. One member of that family is enrolled in our school and another in our preschool. We stayed in touch with this family and, in Spring 2018, brought up the subject of baptism. After meeting with the mother, she asked for all her children to be baptized…plus one grandchild!

That would have been twelve baptisms, but God had one more planned. We visited with some of the children beforehand, preparing them with a Bible lesson on the sacrament. The Lord blessed that time by leading one of the workers in the home to learn about baptism and she asked to be included. The number rose to thirteen!

The date was set, and on May 5 there were eight baptisms during our Saturday Jesus Cares service. After worship, a group of our members went to the house to witness five more souls being washed with water and the Word. An additional blessing was that many of our members were able to participate.

Jesus Cares has taught us to recognize the opportunities that God places before us. It has reminded us that ministry blessings are not necessarily financial or church membership numbers but souls for whom Jesus died, souls to whom we get to tell that good news. As we kept our eyes open, we saw open doors for an ESL (English as a Second Language) program and a ministry to inmates at the third-largest county jail in the United States.

All this we call “special ministry,” but it’s really just plain ministry. It is God’s people using God’s Word to carry out the mission Jesus has given us. Because Jesus cares for us, we care for others by proclaiming Jesus our Savior.

Interested in starting a Jesus Cares class in your community? Visit tlha.org/jesus-cares-ministries or call Rev. Joel Gaertner at 888-600-8542.

Matt Brown is pastor at Abiding Word, Houston, where every ministry is special, and special ministry is just plain ministry.

 

 

Rallying for inclusion

Every two years thousands of teens gather for fun, fellowship, worship, and mutual encouragement at the WELS International Youth Rally. But can a teen with special needs attend and participate in this event?

Our daughter Sonja was born with cerebral palsy and has profound challenges with mobility and communication. Her younger sister Christina had attended the 2016 Youth Rally in Fort Collins, Colo., and it was a given that Christina, along with the rest of the teen group from our church in Oak Creek, Wis., would attend the 2018 event in Bowling Green, Ohio. But what about Sonja?

Having turned 18 in March, this would be Sonja’s last opportunity to attend a rally. But special accommodations would be required: she would have to be accompanied by one of her parents at all times to serve as caregiver; she would need more privacy and space than the dorm accommodations would allow; and her dietary and mobility needs would have to be addressed.

Thanks to Kris Snyder and her team that organized the 2018 event, all these issues were solved. While Christina bunked in the dorms with the rest of the group, Sonja stayed with us in a hotel directly across the street from the campus. The arena which served as the primary venue for the rally was wheelchair accessible, so Sonja could participate in every worship service and see all the keynote speakers. The Bowling Green State University cafeteria had gluten-free options which served Sonja well. When asked about favorite parts of the rally, gluten-free pizza was one of them.

Sonja particularly enjoyed the songs by the band Koiné and the address by Steve and Sarah Schroeder. Steve was a US Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot injured in a January 2017 crash. Our daughter could relate to the intense therapy regimen that Steve has undergone since his accident.

The theme of the rally was “Never Alone,” which seemed particularly fitting for Sonja. A person who deals with a disability can often feel left out and alone. Teenagers, too, are vulnerable to feelings of unimportance and worthlessness. The gospel love of our Savior was spelled out so beautifully in the lyrics of the rally song, written and performed by Koiné:

Sitting all by myself in the darkness
All I see are the dark clouds rising
Seems there’s no one around who hears me
Who understands, understands
But then I hear you say,
My name is Jesus,
I’ll help to see you through.
My name is Jesus,
And I have promised you
You will never, no never be alone,
I’ll be with you ‘til I carry you home
In the darkness, in the sunlight,
No matter where you go.

The entire rally was a wonderful reminder that we share a universal need for God’s love, and God has filled that need by sending Jesus to be our Savior.

So can a teen with special needs attend and participate in a WELS International Youth Rally? Because of Sonja’s experience we are so happy to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!”

Margo Schmidt is a member at St. John’s, Oak Creek, Wis., where her husband Steve is also the pastor.

 

 

 

Inclusion can be the key

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that “membership” came into common language through Paul’s writing about the “Body of Christ.” He said that the world wants to define a “member” in terms of how all members are alike.

In the Body of Christ, the members are not the same, but they belong to each other. Family members (mother, father, child, grandparent) are also very different. They use their position to love and help each other. Members are not alike and don’t have to be the same in order to serve God’s purpose.

How many members of your church can you identify as intellectually or developmentally disabled? Statistically, one in six children have one or more developmental disabilities! Many of these do not remain members of the church when they grow up. Yet God created them to be members of his body.

WELS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry (IDDM) seeks to help congregations share the gospel with those who have special education needs. We are also passionate about helping churches to be a Christian network for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families. Our partner, Jesus Cares Ministry, is a prime supplier of Christian education materials to conquer this barrier. IDDM’s resources help churches to include special needs families in worship, fellowship, and serving.

Inclusion of adults and children with these challenges will flow from our faith that Christ died for all, and all people need to hear that. Jesus calls us to love and serve one another. We want each person, regardless of ability, to see their place as a member of the Body of Christ. When we strive to be inclusive, challenges will lead to joys. Let IDDM help your church, or connect your family to others who can help. We belong to each other!

Learn more at wels.net/iddm. Find resources at csm.welsrc.net/iddm.

To add a special needs individual to the mailing list, go to wels.net/refer.

 

 

 

“I think you could be good at it”

Bill Truebenbach is a staff minister and program consultant for Jesus Cares Ministries, a ministry of The Lutheran Home Association. His home church is Morning Star, Jackson, Wis.

Twenty-nine years of public sector work had done me in. I resigned my full-time job for a no-time job. God has always supplied, so I walked my streets praying for work in his field. A guest pastor had given me the itch by talking about volunteer ministry, and visits to a prison with my brother had given me a taste. There had to be more I could do.

One day my pastor dropped by with some news. “They’re looking for someone for Jesus Cares Ministries, and I think you could be good at it,” he suggested. “Great!” I replied, before going to look up what Jesus Cares Ministries (JCM) was. That was sixteen years ago.

I had no background in what The Lutheran Home Association (TLHA) and JCM were looking for, but that did not stop me from applying. They hired me! Really? I now reflect on how God has always been in control, and the many blessings he has provided to this sinner. He has allowed me to be part of a ministry that serves people with a developmental disability. He allowed me to become a second career staff minister. And now, as I approach retirement at the end of this year, he will allow me to continue advocating for families who have a loved one with special needs.

How did I learn to work with people who have a developmental disability? I read, I studied, I attended seminars and webinars. They help. Yet the best way is to just work with someone with special needs. Many who do this work have said, “We do not teach them; they teach us.”

One who became a close friend was David Koss. Although he wore hearing aids in both ears and had some cognitive challenges, he was able to live independently. We did so many things together: basketball games, football games, movies, concerts, restaurants, fishing. David faithfully called me almost every day to see how my day was going, what I was doing, and if any new JCM programs were starting. He went with me to an annual meeting in Belle Plaine, Minn., so he could see the TLHA campus and I interviewed him in front of the attendees. When I asked David what he wanted to see in the future he said, “That there is a JCM program in every church in our synod.”

David’s passion for the ministry fueled my passion, and reminded me of the importance of serving all people. In his last years he moved to a facility where he could be cared for. It was a joy for me to speak at his memorial service and share his faith one more time. David loved the Lord, and I know many more like him in the ministry.

There are so many memories, joys, victories, and satisfactions I could share: being at the baptism of an adult with special needs; the confirmation of someone with special needs; hearing their professions of faith; seeing their smiles; going to the Lord’s Supper with them on their first time; a journey to Malawi, Africa for Jesus Cares. What more could one ask for?

I have been blessed to help churches and pastors with their disability ministry needs. JCM has grown, yet many are still not being served. There is a great need for our churches to consider a disability ministry such as JCM Bible class or simplified “Worship at the Cross” service. Learn more at tlha.org/jesus-cares-ministries or call Rev. Joel Gaertner at 888-600-TLHA (8542).

There is also an urgent need for parents of special needs children to be connected with other Christian parents who are starting or have been on that journey. My hope and prayer is that through the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry branch of Special Ministries (wels.net/iddm) I can connect those parents online, with small parent-mentoring groups. Get them connected. Get them talking.

Why? They’re looking for someone. Want to join me? I think you could be good at it.

 

 

 

Wheeling around Camp SOUTH

My name is Alex Timothy Heldman. I am 12 years old and going into 7th grade. I live in Wisconsin but heard of Camp SOUTH through my Uncle Duane Vance. Camp SOUTH, which stands for Sharing Our Unity Through Him, is held in Covington, Ga. for kids entering 4th through 8th grade.

I was born with a condition called spina bifida so I have difficulty walking without braces for my legs. My parents decided to let me try out the camp and it was lots of fun! The food was good, the kids were nice, and there was a lot to do. This was my first time at camp and I had to do things a little differently, since I have used a wheelchair since I was three years old. In order to get around the campground I rode in my van with my dad since the camp is very hilly.

I was thankful that the camp allowed me to skip the water, mud, and running events and go bowling instead. I didn’t bowl my all-time best but still had a lot of fun. I was surprised that we were able to have drinks and snacks as we bowled. Tuesday night’s “Survivor Challenge: You Can’t Win Trivia” was great since we could party to the music while we answered Bible trivia questions. After the evening activities, during free time I played golf-cornhole and pingpong until it was snack time. I also enjoyed watching the other kids play ship-shore down by the lake and making s’mores on Thursday night.

I was on the black team and we didn’t win the victory medals on Tuesday or Wednesday. Finally on Thursday the black team won the victory medals after the “Recruiter vs. Recruiter: Battle of Honor” and in bowling, which meant I got to go to the front of the line for lunch and dinner on Thursday.

There was so much to do that each day just flew by. We were encouraged to arrive at the activity center early before devotions so everyone was on time and we could watch fun videos until devotion started. There were even board games that we could check out and play if we had extra energy. I would say that my favorite things about camp were playing games in the evening and the music that was part of each morning and evening devotion. It was great to have a live band to lead all the praise songs. As we were getting in the van to leave on Friday morning I told my dad: “Camp was so fun! Can we come back next year?”

My mom and dad were kind of nervous to allow me to attend the camp because it was not specific to special needs, but Pastor Jon Enter did a good job familiarizing them with the layout of the camp facilities so they were well prepared in what to bring for me for the week. I would encourage other children with special needs or different needs to not be afraid to try Camp SOUTH. It was an amazing time and I am glad God gave me this opportunity to hear his Word and make new friends.

For more information about Camp SOUTH, send an e-mail to: info@HopeLutheranWPB.com.

 

 

 

 

A purpose in disability

Elise Rosenbaum is a senior at Martin Luther College. She grew up at Grace, St. Joseph, Mich.

Growing up with a brother who has Down syndrome had more impact on me than I initially realized. I never saw Matt as being that much different from my other siblings—in fact, some people would ask if Matt and my youngest brother Adam were twins. I cannot imagine life without Matt and I know that God had a purpose in placing him in my family.

Last December, Matt put on his wish list: “Elise home for Christmas.” But I would not be there because I was going on a Kingdom Workers service immersion trip to Malawi. I was thrilled to be going to Africa after desiring it for so long.

My interest in Africa began when a new girl joined my class in sixth grade. Her family had just moved back to the United States after her dad had served for several years as a missionary in Malawi. I loved hearing her stories and dreamed of going there myself someday. Just nine years later, my dream became a reality. I asked four girls to join me: Bekah Bartz (the missionary’s daughter), Elizabeth Bergemann, Brittany Krause, and Emily Unke. We applied, were interviewed, and were eager to learn and grow from the experiences ahead.

Two short weeks in Africa taught me a great deal. One week was spent helping with Vacation Bible School; the other was observing the disability ministry. I loved getting to see the work that they were doing. There is no fancy medical equipment and the volunteers do not have much specific training, but it was incredible to see what they are able to accomplish with what they do have.

Chikondi, a young boy who has cerebral palsy, was a great example of this. The volunteers set up sticks and Chikondi had to practice walking over them. Once he made it through all of them, we cheered. He had the BIGGEST smile ever. It was so rewarding to see Chikondi’s and the volunteers’ faces light up with pride at his accomplishment.

The simplified “Worship at the Cross” services they put on are very similar to those put on by Jesus Cares Ministries in the United States. The volunteers go to the people since traveling to the church is hard, if not impossible, for them.

Their greatest challenge, however, is changing the mindset toward disability in their culture. The president of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa explained that many people in Africa see a disability as a curse. They hide their loved ones away in their homes and don’t give them the proper care. Families don’t bring their loved ones to the church for help. It is by word of mouth that the church finds out about those in their villages who need their help. The ministry’s vital task is to share the news that God has rescued all people from sin and he has a purpose for all people.

The disability ministry in Malawi is serving God by providing assistance and support, as well as sharing Jesus’ love for those who have a disability. Rather than being a punishment for sin, God has a purpose in disability.

Interested in this service immersion trip? Learn more at kingdomworkers.com/opportunities.