Thursday, July 29, 2010

Journey of Faith Friday: Ministry


It was the end of summer and I had just returned from my first foreign mission trip.  Sarah and I were excited to accompany a friend we had made, while on our trip, to Handi-camp.  Neither of us knew what to expect, but we had just spent 10 days serving children with special needs in Haiti, so we were thrilled at the potential of continuing our service state side.  

Brewster, who was our team leader in Haiti, had invited us to Handi-camp hoping that we could volunteer in assisting the campers during game time.  Brewster asked if I could help at the inflatable jump yard and nervously I said, "Yes."  I saw a young girl sitting in her wheelchair waiting to be put inside the jump yard.  Someone picked her up, placed her inside, crawled inside with her, and he began bouncing her all around.  The excitement on her face was indescribable.  I joined in and was soon lifting/assisting people in and out of the jump yard, but continued to feel uncomfortable in how I was to treat the men and women who were "different" from me.  

Little did I know that summer day in 2002 would lead to 7 years of volunteering in special needs ministry (aka. Access Ministry) at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY.  I began attending "Jesus Parties" which were monthly events held on Friday night.  Jesus parties always consisted of dinner and a short Biblical message, but beyond that it was hard to know what Brewster would have planned.  Maybe a dance party, Harley rides, movie night, St. Patrick's Day fashion show, a clothing drive for the homeless, a wedding, a concert, a hoe-down, roller skating, bowling, Deal or No Deal, or almost anything else you can imagine.  There would be anywhere from 40 to 100+ special needs people of all ages attending those monthly events.

I attended my first "Jesus Prom" in the fall of 2002.  My life and how I view and love individuals with special needs (and their caretakers) was forever changed.  Jesus Prom and Brewster's idea for Access Ministry grew out of this verse found in Luke:

"Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.  Although they can not repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
-Luke 14:12-14

I can't begin to describe in words what I experienced during my first Jesus Prom, but it changed me.  It changed me for the better.  I began attending Brewster's Sunday school class and before I knew it many of my friends were the individuals who attended and volunteered in all areas of Access Ministries.  I have done everything from taking an individual to the bathroom to teaching Sunday school to speaking at a funeral to feeding someone to being blessed by a big hug around the neck to being pushed into the pool.  However, the individuals I am speaking of have touched my life much more than I have touched theirs.  I think of Rex, Audrey, Jonathan, Jana, Kalen, Jenna, Carol Ann, Vald, Greg, Nicole, Seth, Sarah, Tannon, Andrea, and the list could go on and on.

Jesus Prom has grown and changed over the years.  What began with a handful of people has turned into thousands.  Every other year Jesus Prom is a formal.  Southland has a stock pile of formal dresses (all donated) that are lent to any lady that needs a dress.  All of the men are fitted with tuxes (yes they are free) that were donated by a local tux shop.  As the "promers" arrive they are accompanied by an escort (we have thousands of volunteers) to dinner, to games, to get their hair/make up done (if they choose), to get their shoes shined, to pictures, and eventually on to the dance floor.  Every other year is informal.  This began in 2005 after we (the leadership team) began brain storming ideas to keep Jesus Prom fresh, but to lower its budget.  In 2005 we had a hoe-down, 2007 we had a Luau, and 2009 we or shall I say they (we missed due to being in Florida) had a Big Blue Bash (Kentucky Wildcat theme).

me, Kristin, Monica, Jana, and Greg at Jesus Prom 2007

Tyanne and Jonathan (and Julie in the background)

Tannon at Jesus Prom 2008

Barb, Brewster, and myself

Sam and Audrey

To say the very least God transformed me through my time as a volunteer in Access Ministry.  I find myself missing all of the friends I made during those years.  I learned to love in a new way.  I learned to interact with all types of people.  I learned that no matter how different someone may be they are really just like me.  We all need eye contact.  We all need hugs.  We all need LAUGHter.  We all need education. We all need a smile.  We all need love!

As always I will leave you with a portion of a journal entry I wrote after losing a dear friend of mine.

October 3, 2005

"To write this seems a little scary, but I feel sure of what lies before me.  I began volunteering in Access Ministry in August 2002 after returning from a trip to Haiti with Brewster.  It took me out of my comfort zone, but I quickly found myself longing  to be surrounded by people with all types of disabilities.  Then I attended my first Jesus Prom and our meeting is somewhat foggy, but our friendship is very clear.  I met Rex and my friend Sarah and I danced with him most of the night.  I never dreamed I would be one of the people he held dearest to his heart.

....I received news that Rex had been diagnosed with cancer and a million thoughts ran through my mind.  Thoughts I can not begin to describe, but You, LORD knew them all.  

The last few months have flown by and I can't decide whether I want them to go faster or slower.  We spoke one day about Heaven and how we both longed to be there.  I told him I was a little jealous that he would be there soon and I more than likely wouldn't.  He shared a verse with me that someone hung on his wall: Isaiah 57:1-2 "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death."

(a few days passed before I finished this journal entry and Rex ended up going to meet the LORD on October 4, 2005)

I believe that (verse) and now what I thought may take weeks has come to pass.  Rex has left this earth and is now able to speak clearly, walk freely, and worship God with no effort.

There are things I will forever cherish about my short time as Rex's friend.  We always argued, because we're so stubborn.  Too many times I got "the fist" shook at me or he would stick his tongue out.  We used to laugh because he wouldn't let anyone else push him in his wheelchair, at church, but I gave him no option.  Just the command "pick up your feet and go along for the ride."  We argued a lot over those feet and just 2 weeks ago his gift to me was a foot rest for his wheelchair."

I stopped my journal entry at that point and began writing the words I would share at his funeral, which I won't share in this post, but I look back on my time with Rex, my time with every individual I encountered through Access Ministry and I smile on the inside and out.  

Have you had a time or season in life that you have spent influencing people and how has God blessed your service (ex. as a prayer warrior, Bible study leader, volunteer, grief support, mission trip, missionary, evangelism, through encouraging words, etc)?
Would you share it with us today?

If you'd like to share... enter the direct URL to your exact post  in the link tool below 
(just under "you are next").  

If you join us, please help us find one another by sharing the "Journey of Faith Friday" graphic via HTML code within your post.  You can copy and paste the code that is located below "Journey of Faith Friday" at the bottom of this post.   

I look forward to reading how God has used your gifts to influence and bless others.
Thank you for sharing.

Next Friday:  We will begin a three part series.  Consider sharing how someone has influenced your walk with the LORD Jesus.  It may have been the words of a mentor.  It may have been a sermon preached by your pastor or spoken at a weekend retreat.  It may have been words on pages written by an author you've never met.  It may have been the silent embrace of a friend.  It may have been a life lived that you only watched from a far.  It may have been your small group.  Think of one for next Friday and then begin thinking of one for the following Friday. 

Have a blessed day in the Lord Jesus!!

Amber's Articles


Sandy said...

Thank you, Amber, for sharing this. Jesus Prom and your involvement with it had slipped to the back of my file of "things I know and love about Amber" and it was very good to hear this story afresh, with all the details, to watch the video and remember the gracious welcome I received when I tagged along to your evaluation/celebration/future planning event.

Just last night after listening to a brief conversation about our loved one's severely limited mental ability, I was in the shower, listening to strains of "...if I only had a brain...." from The Wizard of Oz play in my mind, wondering what it will be like for her, if, after this life on earth, God gives her a new mind, shaped by his love for her and not her earthly deprivation; a mind that is able to effectively communicate and reason and have full relationships.

I thought about how my hope for "something more" for her shapes my theology...realizing the Bible doesn't offer much beyond the character of God to shape our beliefs in this matter.

I realized I had thought about physical disabilities being absent in "the city of God", but I had never before thought about mental disabilities being completely reversed. "The last shall be first and the first shall be last"...."He will wipe away every more sorrow... or sickness"....what do those words mean ? what will the fulfillment of them look like?

and grief moves in once again over the numerous limitations and constraints placed upon ___'s love and welcome and shaping of this "little one" - so many things that parents, people do naturally to communicate love and to "grow" a child have been removed from their and our arsenal of tools because of her emotional and mental handicaps....

For these ones I love who bear this great burden and for all those who struggle to cope when love is not enough, when therapy and nutrition and exercise and consistent, kind discipline and education and opportunity are not enough, I pray that Jesus' words:

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me"

will bcome a river of life able to wash over and through their hearts wounded by grief and toughened by the ever unfolding consequences of deprivation - wash over them and through them and heal them.

I pray that river, that water, is reality beyond desire, and that they will have enough hope and strength to walk or crawl into the water.

Nate and Molly said...

Amber, this was really challenging for me to read. What you shared is so special. But it was hard because I realized that I have such a hard time even being around people who are different than me--the disabled, the poor, the uneducated, etc.--nevermind serving them. The other reason it was hard to read was that I don't know if I've ever really poured myself into a single ministry long term. And so I don't know if I've influence others in the way you described.

It's definitely given me a lot to think about. I'm enjoying this series; you're a thoughtful, intentional writer and I am learning from it.

Carolina said...

Hey Amber-

I REALLY enjoyed reading your post today- definitely one of my favorites by far! It is so neat to read about the God shaped your heart through serving these children/adults with special needs. I really think we grow and learn more from serving them than they receive from us.

Due to lack of time I won't be able to participate in 'journey of faith Friday' today. but I wanted to share that I really enjoyed being part of 'Best buddies' during college. This organization pairs up a mentally handicapped child with a mentor. My senior year I was president of our chapter and loved planning the monthly outings-to chuck e cheese, movies, halloween dances, etc, etc. I know I received more from them than they ever did from me. It was a blessing.

I remember my best buddy always loved to dance. I am going to cry here remembering her.

I will start writing my post for next Friday. Can't wait to see you soon!

Kay K said...

I loved the video it was sweet !!
GOD has blessed you as you have been a blessing to others
I am sure that you changed those kids lifes as well as you were changed ...Just knowing that they felt love in a world that most people turn their backs to them.
We must show love to all ~~ just as you have ~~agape love !!!