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He welcomes the weakest


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Serving and being served by Christians with disabilities doesn’t require fancy programs

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 24th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: disabilities and the church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul says the church is like a body made up of many parts…and none of the parts can say that other members are unnecessary. He then says, “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

EICHER: If that means Christians with disabilities are indispensable to the body of Christ, what are churches doing to ensure that they are part of the gathering each week?

BROWN: WORLD intern Aidan Johnston recently visited two churches to find out.

MUSIC: [Brad Mann on piano for worship]

AIDAN JOHNSTON, REPORTER: Every Wednesday night, Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky hosts a time of corporate prayer and worship. Tonight, Brad Mann is helping lead worship on piano. He’s playing from memory, eyes forward, not looking at the keys or music. But most services, Mann is in the pews with the rest of the congregation, following along in his bulletin—except his bulletin is in Braille.

MANN: With the lyrics included in these bulletins that helps me to actually participate in worship with the rest of my brothers and sisters.

Every week, volunteers put together the Braille bulletin for Mann and two other blind members at Clifton Baptist. They make the bulletin with a Braille embosser.

SOUND: [Braille embosser]

It looks like a hybrid of a sewing machine and a typewriter. Hidden from view, a thin metal rod punches rapid-fire into the paper, making shallow divots. The volunteers always make an extra copy, just in case another Braille reader wanders in. Ethan Holsteen, the deacon of special assistance, is in charge of the operation.

HOLSTEEN: The first thing that I would say is, serve the people that you have. If you have folks with disabilities in your, in your church, I would, first things first, you know, make sure that they're being served well.

Holsteen has seen firsthand the struggle that a disability can cause a family. While working at a summer camp one year, he got close to a family that had two boys with disabilities.

HOLSTEEN: And I was working with them and then talking with the mom after one day of working. And, and she said that sometimes she just sits at home and cries and wondering, does anyone care that I'm even here doing this. And that just broke my heart. And I was like, okay, the church has something to say about that. And we have something to do about that.

MUSIC: [STARS Choir sings Come Thou Long Expected Jesus]

Two hundred miles to the north, in Wheaton, Illinois, the disabilities program at College Church is running its weekly choir practice. It started a small disabilities ministry in 1965 to help teach the gospel to one member of the community with a disability. Today, it serves about 120 people. Julie Clemens is the director of the program.

CLEMENS: We call our individuals in our ministry STARS, which stands for Seeking To Always Reflect the Savior.

The STARS program is specifically for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It has about 150 volunteers. They run several Sunday school classes, a monthly game night, and weekly choir practices. Tonight, the choir is preparing for its Christmas play.

CHOIR MEMBER: This baby will be the king who will reign forever. He will make everything right.

Laura Tebbe first heard the STARS choir lead worship over a decade ago.

TEBBE: And I remember, like, just being so blown away, and just surprised, I've never experienced something like this. And again, it's this idea of celebrating people that maybe most of the world wouldn't celebrate.

Back then, Tebbe didn’t know just how involved she and her husband would become with the STARS ministry. After their son Caleb was born, he was diagnosed with autism. Today, at age 11, Caleb is largely nonverbal. Tebbe treasures the times he does talk.

TEBBE: He's like, the most loving kid in the whole world. Like he is very physically affectionate.

Still, caring for a special needs child can be difficult.

TEBBE: And most of life feels like we don't fit because our we don't. Like life is not outside, is not made for people like us.

Part of that is the constant vigilance it takes to watch Caleb. He can get into trouble when his parents aren’t watching.

TEBBE: We have at least 25 toys somewhere in our sewer system, because he has discovered the toilet. And he loves flushing things.

It can be exhausting.

So one goal of the ministry is to create a place of respite for parents. Caleb goes to a STARS Sunday School while his parents go to the service. He hears the same lesson twice in a row. At first, Tebbe thought Caleb would get bored with the repetition.

TEBBE: And actually, we find that it's just, they love the repeat. The repetition is a calming aspect of like, oh, I can, I you know, you're in control. And like, I know what to anticipate when so much of the world doesn't make sense to me.

Many Christians want to make the church a place of belonging for those with special needs. Back at Clifton Baptist, Ethan Holsteen says it doesn’t take much to get started.

HOLSTEEN: Stepping forward in love is a million times more important than not doing that and being fearful.

Julie Clemens has similar advice.

CLEMENS: I would say start with Hello, and introduce yourself. I think you need to be comfortable with silence. It may take them a few minutes to respond to you. But smile, and be friendly and you will probably meet somebody who's friendly back.

For the Tebbe’s, that friendly environment has made a huge difference.

TEBBE: And it's just like, it's such a like, wonderful environment of people just like, again, that idea of like enjoying people that are different instead of having to everything to be so like, straight laced.

For WORLD, I’m Aidan Johnston, reporting from Louisville, Kentucky and Wheaton, Illinois.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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