- General information about disabilities
- What is a disability ministry?
- A basic definition of disability ministry is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those with special needs and helping them through their life’s struggles. A disability ministry can come in many forms. It can be as simple as having space for people in wheelchairs in your sanctuary or complex as hosting Sunday school programs for people with special needs. Some churches provide respite care for families affected by disabilities or help financially support their needs. Most of all, a disability ministry does not keep people with disabilities on the sidelines. Rather, it recognizes them as an important part of the Body of Christ and includes them in the life of the church.
- What types of disabilities will I most likely encounter?
- Generally, there are three causes of disabilities. They are developmental, illness, and accident.
- Developmental disabilities occur at birth or shortly there afterwards including cerebral palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida, and some forms of deafness and blindness just to name a few. Some disabilities are/may be caused by family history such as Down Syndrome, Rhetts Syndrome, and Sickle Cell Anemia. Developmental disabilities happen before or during the birth process. Life-long disability is the result. There is help, such as therapy, but there is no cure.
- Illness disabilities happen as a cause or a result of a sickness. Some are Polio, River Blindness, and Leprosy. Malaria and measles can also leave a person disabled.
- Accident disabilities can be caused by self-infliction, deliberate, or unintentional situations. Some are short term while others affect the rest of a person’s life. One example would be Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni and Friends.
- How do I interact with someone who has a disability?
- Be yourself. Talk in your normal voice as if you were talking to anybody else. If you’re talking to someone in a wheelchair, be sure to get on his/her eye level with out performing gymnastics. Don’t talk over them. It’s okay to shake their hand, and they will “make it work” if they aren’t able to. Remember, a smile goes a long way!
- How much help does someone with a disability need? Will they need to be taken care of while at my church?
- Many people with disabilities are self-efficient. While it may look like they are struggling and need help, many times that is just how they do things. They are used to it, so don’t think they need help. Always ask first. Usually someone who needs a lot of assistance will provide his/her own helper.
- Is it okay to ask someone about his/her disability?
- It is never okay to say, “Hey, what’s wrong with you.” However, many people with disabilities are not only willing but also eager to share their lives with you. The more you know about someone, the more you are able to understand and offer help.
- I hardly ever see a disabled person. Is there really that many to worry about? They never come to my church.
- Have you ever thought they are not there because they may not feel welcomed?
People with disabilities are the largest unreached people group in the world. It is also the only people group in which anyone could become a member during his/her lifetime. Ten-percent of the world’s population has a disability, and 90% of that group do not go to church or have a relationship with Christ. If our mandate is to share the gospel with everyone, shouldn’t that include people who have disabilities?
Many people who have disabilities and their families are often overwhelmed with life circumstances and do not have time to worry about having a normal life. Doctor and therapy appointments, learning how to use special equipment, not to mention feeding and grooming time can make it difficult to do much else. We’ll discuss the theology of disability in a later question, but many times people may be mad at God for causing their disability and therefore do not choose to attend church.
Remember, people who have disabilities are God’s children, too. He loves them. Our Lord does not look at the outside package but into our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). We encourage you to start looking past people’s disability and realize they need the Savior just as much as anyone.
SECTION TWO: ABOUT MEPHIBOSHETH MINISTRY
- Why did you choose the name Mephibosheth for your ministry?
- All of us remember the Old Testament story of David and Jonathon in the Bible. This relationship is at the heart of this ministry. David and Jonathon made a promise to each other out of their deep love. Since they knew that one would die and the other one would become king of Israel, the one who lived would take care of the other man’s family.
After he was made king, David remembered Jonathon and inquired about his friend’s family. The only one who was left was Jonathon’s son, Mephibosheth. But there was a problem: Mephibosheth was lame in both feet.
David was encouraged to forget about Mephibosheth and leave him for the dogs (after all, a “disabled person” couldn’t be seen in the palace courts!), but the king took compassion on Mephibosheth, accepting him as his son, and made him a place at his table.
This story is the cornerstone of our ministry. David’s example reminds us that everyone is special and has a place in the Kingdom. He didn’t have to create a law and a program in order to make Mephibosheth part of his family. No, David just welcomed him into the family. Following David’s example, Mephibosheth Ministry’s goal is to encourage churches to see people with disabilities for who they are and that they can be a valuable part of the church.
- What makes Mephibosheth Ministry unique in the field of disability ministry?
- Mephibosheth Ministry is committed in following David’s example of mainstreaming people with disabilities in the local church. We do not want to set up or encourage time-consuming programs in your church. Instead, we want to help you find the right place for a person with a disability who has become a believer to serve Jesus in your church. We know from experience that people with disabilities would rather served than to be served, and our ministry is designed to help with that.
We believe we fill a niche that no other ministry provides. We have seen great strides in providing assistance to people with disabilities and their families with support, retreats, and sharing the Gospel. We applaud these ministries for their work and support them whole heartily, however, we see little in giving people with disabilities the opportunity to serve Jesus Christ. Our goal is to take it to the next level. James tells us that faith without works is dead, and we believe people with disabilities should have the privilege of living this verse out.
Another uniqueness in Mephibosheth Ministry has to do with our financial policy. Everyone in our ministry raises his/her on support. No one on staff takes a salary, and 100% of the money raised goes towards the person or project it is designated for. We trust the Lord to provide our running expenses.
- Do you have a Board of Directors?
- Yes, we have seven members on our board of directors that meets once or twice a year. A list is available at your request.
- How large is your staff?
- Over the years, we have grown from just a one-person ministry to inviting other associates to join in the ministry. We are based in Colorado Springs, but we have associates from all over the world join our ministry. Here is our current break down.
Mary Jane Ponten – Executive Director
Tait Berge – Associate Director in charge of Church Relations
Bonnie Nakasuji – USC Associate – taking Occupational Therapy students to Ghana*
Vonnie Nicholes – Receipting
Joe and Andrea Jehu-Appiah – Directors – Mephibosheth Training Centre
Jeff Taguchi – Oasis Bread of Life Church – Taiwan contact person
As with all ministries, we use many volunteers throughout the year, to help with projects.
*We are blessed to have a working relationship with the Occupational Therapy department of the University of Southern California headed by Dr. Jaynee Taguchi. Dr. Bonnie Nakasuji heads up the level I field work group that goes to Mephibosheth Training Centre in Goma Ankamu, Ghana, West Africa. The students get their first work experience there. These students get experience rather than merely observation of the work. It has proven most successful.
- How is Mephibosheth Ministry funded?
- We are a faith-based ministry. Following Paul’s example we believe donors are essential. However, we choose the term partnership feeling that each one is a full partner in our ministry. As such we are all equally blessed by God. Each associate is responsible for raising his/her funds for projects. No administration fees are imposed.
- Where in the world have you ministered?
- We have ministered all over the United States and many parts of the world. This is just a partial list:
- We have a school for children with disabilities in Ghana, West Africa with full time staff
- We have part time staff in Taiwan
- We cooperate with a school for children with cerebral palsy in Nanning in southern China
- We collaborate with Friends of the Disabled Latin America in Bolivia
- We work with Joni and Friends in Ghana and ChinaPreviously we have served with Joni and Friends in
We have invitations to serve in
- Outer Mongolia
- Do you work with other ministries?
- Yes. Mary Jane and Tait are Ministry Associates of Joni and Friends and have partnered with Friends of the Disabled Latin America.
SECTION THREE: WHAT MEPHIBOSHETH MINISTRY CAN DO FOR YOUR CHURCH
- What is one way you can benefit our church?
- Our gift to you is putting you into “your comfort zone” as you deal with the special needs population – whether it is in the inclusion or self-contained mode. Wherever you are now in this process, we will guide and encourage you to a more complete process.
- Why should we be involved in a time consuming program to reach so few people?
- We are not advocating you to develop programs. Rather we would like to see people with disabilities be involved in your congregation. This is one of the unique things about our ministry. It is our desire to show you how to include and incorporate these special people into you existing programs. We have experience this ourselves and know the blessings someone with a disability brings to a church.
You need us as much as we need you. The body of Christ will never be complete without people who have challenges. We will bless you as much as you bless us if given the opportunity. It doesn’t happen over night. It takes time and work, but we are here to help you. This is our task.
- What workshops do you provide?
- We offer a one evening program to introduce the need and biblical background – “why bother?” We also offer consultation to the leadership. Finally, we have a three-day training seminar.
- What resources do you provide?
- We have a wide verity of resources for you to use including books for pastors and books for people with mental challenges. Some of our most requested books are:
Written resources for church leaders
- In His Image
- Hand in Hand
- Body Language
- Taboo and Disability
Other resources available include:
- Community disability survey
- Leadership workshop
- Disability Awareness Sunday
- On going support as requested
For a complete list of Bible Studies, stories, and other materials, please contact us.
1406 Rainier Drive
Colorado Springs, 80910
SECTION FOUR: HARD QUESTIONS
- We really don’t want these people in our church. Can you give me a compelling reason why we should change our minds?
- We wish we could “speak softly and carry a big stick” as Teddy Roosevelt said. However in all honesty we must be very forthcoming. If we believe that there is a Heaven and therefore also a Hell then we must look at the end of each life. If people with disabilities are placed in contact with us and we do nothing, say nothing, offer no hope, we are in essence telling them to “go to hell.” Sending a person to hell is a very serious offence. The prophet Ezekiel says that if we say nothing then their blood is on our hands. Love for Jesus, love for the world, and love for people created by God should give reason enough to offer hope – the hope that is in Christ.
- What do you have to offer me?
- I come to you as a messenger, called by God, to represent the ten percent of the world’s population that has disabilities to the church. I have over thirty years of experience of having a disability, and that has allowed me to go through times of self-doubt, challenges, and rejection. I know what it is like to be left out and made fun of. The Lord has taken all of my experiences and empowered me with a solid foundation in Scripture and theology to be able to do this ministry for Him. I come as an ambassador for people with disabilities to help you welcome them into your church.
Mary Jane Ponten, the Executive Director of Mephibosheth Ministry, would answer this way:
“I’ve been the one rejected by churches as worthless, useless, and unable or unqualified to serve. The fact remains that I have lived, served and been accepted in both the able and disabled communities all my life. I’ll admit it was a struggle to be accepted in the typical community. I have been privileged to live a very ‘normal’ life, which includes work, marriage, family, and much lay work. I completely understand both communities and it is one of my desires to help you and your church understand and accept those in your neighborhood who may have special needs and see the joy of the spiritual partnership that can grow here.”
- How does God view someone with a disability?
- This is an important question, isn’t it? First we cannot tell you what and how to believe, but we can tell you where we stand. We believe everyone is created in the image of God and that people with disabilities are just as good and bad as everyone else. Sin is the condition of our hearts not our bodies. Can sin cause a disability? In some cases, yes it can. (Such as a drunk driver causing permanent disabilities to someone.) The act of sin not the state of sin causes bad behavior that can often cause short-term and permanent disabilities.
However, that’s not often the case. We know from Scripture that God has used people with disabilities to accomplish his plan. Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that the works of God might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) When Moses tried to use his speech disability as a way to get out of his calling, God said, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 4:11-12) God doesn’t allow our weaknesses and disabilities to excuse us from doing his work, and we shouldn’t limit people’s abilities either.
Other parts of the Bible make it clear that people with disabilities have value, too. Psalms 139 makes this clear:
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
- Do people with disabilities really understand what church is really all about?
- Who’s to say they don’t?
We believe that even the person with the most profound disabilities can benefit from going to church. Church is, after all, one way we communicate with our God with other believers. What better way is there to incorporate people who have disabilities in the body of Christ? We have seen this happen many times over, and we know it works!
- How do I offer the sacraments to someone who has a disability?
- Our best advice is this: where’s a will, there’s a way. Go with the flow. If someone needs communion to be “fed,” to them, than put the bread and the juice in his/her hand or mouth. If someone in a wheelchair wants to be baptized by emersion, then get three or four people to help lift the person into the pool. You aren’t going to hurt him/her!
- Are you here asking for a donation?
- Absolutely not! I’m here on the behalf of the ten percent of the population around this church who have significant disabilities who may want to worship in your church. We are a “faith-based” organization. God provides for our needs.
CONCLUSION: OUR CHALLENGE AND PROMISE TO YOU…
We understand this is a lot to take in. Opening up your church to people who have disabilities will be a challenge, but we think it’s worth it. We have experienced and seen great strides in getting people involved in the work of the Kingdom of God, and we want to see it to continue to grow.
We’re not asking you to make any hasty decisions today. After you have thought and prayed about the things we’ve presented here, please contact us. We’ll be happy to serve you.