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Failure is not possible

Our kids filed into the church pew and sat quietly through the whole service, hands in their laps. The elderly lady behind me leaned over to whisper a compliment: “Your kids are so well behaved!” They were that time…and that time only. In fact, it was a candlelight service and five of the six kids were sleeping. My wife and I laughed all the way home.

You see, we are not a discreet, unnoticeable, quiet, calm, sit-down dinner kind of household. We can’t possibly pass ourselves off as a typical family. I don’t like being the center of attention, yet it doesn’t seem to bother my kids. When I reflect on our blessings, I can’t help but think: this is God’s plan. What an honor that he chose me to have a large family, that he chose my wife to be my life-long companion, that he chose these kids to be part of our family. I dare not say, “Let me think this over first.”

I was at work when my wife called to excitedly announce that we were expecting twins. I was excited too, until she said, “One of them will be here tonight. On your way home from work you should stop and meet the other one at Children’s Hospital.” A typical wife gives her husband six-to-eight months’ notice when expecting a child. My wife gave me less than six hours.

Our now-adopted twins were suffering from severe neglect and were being removed from a foster home. My wife, without hesitation or consultation, decided to bring them into our home. She didn’t know their health conditions, or their background, or their legal status, or where they would sleep. She knew only that two children needed a home now. I am indescribably thankful for a wife who knows what needs to happen, takes action, and asks questions later.

Our nuclear family has been sewn together through adoption, foster care, biological children, and kinship care. We all proudly share the same last name. Our home is a blend of four biological families, three ethnicities, four toddlers, two elementary age kids, and three adults. Currently five people in our home have special needs. We utilize wheelchairs, feeding tubes, speech devices, orthotics, braces, accessible vehicles, oxygen concentrators, suction devices, incontinence supplies, and much more. Our kids are supported by a team of 17 doctors in 13 specialties. We average eight therapies and three doctor appointments each week.

If all that had been presented to me ten years ago, I would have been terrified of failure. But now I can tell you: God has blessed our family with adequate financial means, more-than-adequate access to medical equipment, and a well-trained team of doctors, nurses, and therapists. He has surrounded our family with love and provided unthinkable possibilities.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” But “option” suggests a personal ability to fail or succeed. Failure is not possible when we trust in our Savior. As Christ lay in the grave, it appeared to the world—and to his disciples—that he had failed. But his death and resurrection were all part of the plan, and God’s plan cannot fail.

Not every family or person is equipped to take on foster care or adoption. But God laid before us uncertainties that looked like options to fail, then turned them into successes for me and my family.

What possibilities has God laid at your feet?

Jeb Lucht and his wife Cindy are raising their remarkable family in Kewaskum, Wis. They are members at Good Shepherd, West Bend. He serves as chairman of WELS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry.

Find resources for those with special needs at wels.net/iddm.

 

 

 

A scary problem

Kristen is a member of the church I serve. Every Sunday she tells me that my sermons are interesting and that she really likes me “as a friend.” She often gets excited that our birthdays are in the same month. Partially due to her autism, she never tires of saying nice things to me.

Of course, Kristen’s autism also causes her difficulties. One such difficulty is that loud noises scare her. For this reason, Good Friday was her least favorite church service of the year. That service concludes with the strepitus, a loud sound that signifies the closing of Jesus’ tomb. That sound caused Kristen to become very upset, not only on Good Friday, but any time she remembered it.

After her parents told me about this problem, I decided that it wasn’t worth causing her distress. I told the man who usually performs the strepitus that we would eliminate it. Then his wife suggested that Kristen might not be afraid of the noise if she made it herself. When first asked, Kristen wasn’t sure that she wanted to. But she gave it a try, striking the tympani with a mallet. From that moment forward, she couldn’t wait for Good Friday service! And she started telling me something new on Sunday mornings: that she was going to make the noise that scares me on Good Friday!

How might you involve members with special needs at your congregation, so that they can become as excited as Kristen about serving their Lord?

John Derme speaks loud words from the pulpit that scare the devil every Sunday at Shepherd of the Mountains, Reno, Nev.

 

 

 

Special Olympics: An outreach opportunity

When I arrived in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2012, I was in for quite a culture shock. Both inside and outside the church, things were different than in Wisconsin. I was used to a larger congregation where most of your time as a pastor was spoken for.

Here, with a smaller flock to shepherd, I looked for ways to get involved in the community. I discovered that Special Olympics can offer opportunities for outreach, both to the intellectually disabled competitors and their families.

I found my niche as the head coach of bocce ball. Leveraging that influence, I made sure that the outside courts were built in the community park near me. An inside turf court was, likewise, close by. The first year I had to travel farther and become known, but my views gradually began to carry more weight.

Many community organizations need volunteers to serve on boards and committees. Getting involved has connected me to people that I could invite to my church. That led to including them in a bell choir that performs in the church and community. Each bell choir practice begins with snacks and a Bible story from the “Dear Christian Friend” curriculum from Jesus Cares Ministries. We now count six members at King of Kings who stem from that Special Olympics connection.

If you are interested, do some groundwork. Visit specialolympics.org to read about this movement for inclusion that began in 1968. Consider how the principle of including people with disabilities matches the mission of the church. Under the “Stories” tab, find some inspiring accounts to share. Under the “Get Involved” tab, see what is happening in your area.

Discuss the possibilities for outreach with your church council and/or evangelism committee. Ask your members to consider the positive effects on the congregation and in the community if you were to invite people with special needs and make them feel welcome.

Get advice from Jesus Cares Ministries on starting a “Jesus Cares” class for the intellectually disabled. Contact Joel Gaertner or click on the “Jesus Cares Ministries” tab at tlha.org.

Caution #1: This ministry could easily consume more time and effort than you are prepared for. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow at first. Recruit other people to assist you.

Caution #2: Many events take place on Sundays, at least in my community. Can you afford to miss one or more Sundays a year, even for such a worthy cause? Our team has an assistant coach who fills in until I can get there after church. Telling your team and their families that worship comes first can make an important statement about faith and priorities.

In Luke 14:15-24, the Master tells us to go to the streets and alleys and roads and country lanes to find more guests for the wedding banquet. Might Special Olympics be one of those places for you to look?

When he’s not playing bocce ball, Robb Robbert serves all the special saints at King of Kings, Wasilla, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

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.