In last week’s post, I shared about how Special Needs Ministries are needed to reach the 90% of special needs families who do not attend church. Most simply can’t. I also shared a few practical ways that extended –and spiritual– family can help.
You can imagine how inclusive churches and special needs ministries bless special needs families like mine. And as a Special Needs parent, I know how much God has used my child to mold, bless and transform me.
But what about the volunteers? What do they get out of it?
Today, you’ll hear from Nick. Nick has served for years with Joni and Friends, as a Short Term Missionary (STM) at Joni Camp. We first met when Nick volunteered to serve as a “pinch hitter” Buddy volunteer with our church’s special needs program.
Nick answers in his own words, “How has serving in Special Needs benefitted you? How is Special Needs ministry good for the Church?”
How did you get involved in Special Needs? What prompted you to serve?
In high school, my community service club organized a weekend retreat to volunteer at a respite camp. At first I was hesitant, but after seeing some of my friends step up to the plate, I thought it would be fun to get away and spend 2 days with all of them. Little did I realize that event would open my eyes to all the families and children who go through life with disability.
I was paired up with a young child (around 6 years old) and after 2 days being his partner, he called me his brother and gave me a huge hug when his dad came to pick him up. I just remember feeling so humbled after the 2 days and I even wrote my college essay about the entire experience — which got me into UCLA!
That memory always stuck with me, and I always wanted to serve in that capacity again. But didn’t know how after college. I even tried going back, but the retreat was no longer there. It wasn’t until I saw an advertisement at my church 4 years ago, about Joni and Friends, did I learn of the opportunity to serve in that capacity again. I haven’t looked back since!
Did you have any prior experience with disability? What initial concerns did you have?
I had no prior experience. But I always did have a heart for the Lord and the gift of compassion. I always had a heart for serving those in need, because I felt like I was given so much. At first, my concern was that I would not be able to connect with my child. But that all went away when I met all the kids, because they are all so happy to be with someone who cares about them.
What’s your favorite part of serving in special needs ministry?
The best part of serving families with special needs is the unconditional love that you receive back from the entire family.
How has serving in Special Needs affected your spiritual life?
Serving in Special Needs has brought me closer to God and gives me a taste of what heaven is like: I’m around people who do not judge you, but accept and love you for who you are, and who Christ has made you to be.
Serving has showed me humility. It has also showed me that God blesses people and children who are meek, the gentle, those who mourn and are persecuted, whose hearts are pure, who show mercy, and who work for peace.
I apply all these virtues in my everyday life. I try treat everyone the same way. I try to be childlike, just like the kids with special needs that I serve. Many of my friends wonder why God would do such a thing to a child or family by giving them a disability. They think it is unfair or unjust. It gives them a reason not to believe in God. But when I explain to them that it actually is a gift from God, they are often times flabbergasted.
Then I start to explain my experience serving at camp, all the love I receive, and the little slice of heaven that I experience when I’m serving and being around the children and families. They begin to slowly understand.
But honestly, no one will ever understand completely until they are there for themselves and witness firsthand how amazing God works through children with special needs. I feel blessed and honored to be able to serve God’s most honored children.
I’ve also learned that being a person without a special need can hinder my relationship with Christ. I can easily be tempted by the world’s definition of success or acceptance, and not God’s. I’ve learned that the innocent are the ones who are cherished in God’s eyes, and that I’m the one with the greater disability to get more connected with God, and to resist the world’s evils. By engaging with the special needs community, I feel comforted that there is hope for a better world. I have built true friendships that will last a lifetime, and I’ve gained more from volunteering my time helping than the child or family I’m actually helping!
How does Special Needs ministry benefit a church? Why should people get involved?
Every single member of a church congregation can benefit from volunteering just a little time and stepping out of their comfort zone. Too many members are afraid to get stretched or get out of their own comfort zone. But if they just take a single step outside their comfort zone, they will be rewarded greatly! They will often times see how God works in miraculous ways, and get to experience a little slice of heaven. They will understand more about what God means in the passage from Mathew 5:3-10,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It will show them humility, and God’s amazing love through serving others. It will be an act of selflessness and compassion and love, all characteristics that God wants all His Children to have. It will make them realize their own faults and breakthrough to see what God is truly about!
God bless Mr. Nick. He had no previous exposure or expertise in special needs, but became aware of the need. Then he took a step of faith outside of his comfort zone. Now, he’s hooked!
Oh, he’s still doing all the other things God has called him to do. Nick works full-time, travels, serves in other capacities — and is planning a wedding! Supporting a special needs ministry doesn’t have to be an all-consuming calling. Just like with my parents, my brother and extended family, Nick saw a need and pitched in, whenever and however he could. It’s just what you do when you’re in a Family. And he was immeasurably blessed for it.
Nick and countless other STM’s and volunteers frequently testify,
“I’ve gained more from volunteering my time helping than the child or family I’m actually helping!
I’m honored and blessed to journey with such a compassionate brother in the Lord. He demonstrates how the “weaker” parts are needed in the Body of Christ. Special Needs families and ministries need more faithful servants like Mr. Nick. But it sounds like he needs us, too:
As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
~ I Corinthians 12:20-26
For more inspiring stories how God expands our “Compassion Quotient” through Special Needs, click here and here. Serving in Special Needs ministry may not be for everyone. And that’s ok. God has a unique, individualized calling for each of us. But it just-might-very-well-could be for you. Like Nick, consider taking a step of faith. Come and see. Pray about getting in on these mutual blessings.
Got a testimony like Nick’s? Have you been blessed by a special needs individual? How has your church, school, or community been enriched by special needs? Do share! The world needs more of your stories how “the weaker parts are indispensable.”
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