Bringing hope, encouragement and support for the special needs community.

Today the ministry I have the privilege of leading ran a carnival for a local organization which have several homes. The residents who live in the various homes run by this organization have moderate to severe special needs. Many of these individuals have limited if no contact with their families.

One resident really touched my heart. A teen with severe autism and no verbal skills. He wasn’t sure about all of the activities. I went over and began to talk with the staff member who was working with him. In the course of the conversation the staff member shared that this young man was recently part of a news story that was seeking to share the need for adoptive families. It struck me that this young man is truely an orphan. He is who Jesus said to take care of .

I have not been able to get this y0oung man out of my mind. How do we care forthe widows and orphans? How do we share the love of Jesus with the many like this young man who most of society has forgotten? We put ona carnival and take presents at Christmas, yet is that all? I am sure that Jesus requires more. Oh forgive us for looking away or being too busy wi th our lives to see the needs of those around us.

May you see the widows and orphans in your life and ask how you can make a difference.

Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?

Here is an article I had the privilege of writing for Holiness Today. I love the rich history of the Church of the Nazarene.   To give hope to those who often wonder if anything good can come from them.  Of course, we say yes! 

Laura Story wrote blessings out of her own families personal struggle with disability. The words spoke to my heart. It was my hope and desire to give testimonies of how God works and brings joy and blessings through our struggles. I hope and pray you will be encouraged as you watch.

Special Needs Sibs

Every year in October I have the privilege of organizing and coordinating a Special Needs Emphasis Sunday here at our church. A few years ago, I began to have families from our ministry share their story in the various adult Sunday School classes. In the children’s and youth departments we also have some type of awareness to help the kids and teens have a better understanding of how to include and be a friend to someone with special needs.

This past October, we had a teen who is a sibling share her story via a video testimony. I wanted to share it here to encourage other siblings and families as well. I hope you enjoy her story. Thank you Ali Siebels for being willing to share and for letting me share your story.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8D3toMsIcg%5D

I know that I am pretty spoiled in that for the past couple of years our family has had annual passes to Disneyland. Then this past year my husband started to work there. Double blessing!! Last week I was able to take my son, my assistant and her sister for a full day at Disney. My assistant is amazing and it was so great to treat her to a day. Her sister, Tania, has autism, and has not been to Disneyland in many years. Tania is non-verbal for the most part and communicates with a simple yes or no and with her smile.

Throughout the day, Tania wore her smile as we went on ride after ride. She had never been to California Adventure so we began our adventure there.  She loved Screaming, Soarin and Goofy’s Sky School. Tower of Terror put a little terror in her but she was still smiling as we left.  Her excitement remained steady as the day wore on and we continued to ride rides and catch a show or two.

As I watched her I wondered what she must be thinking. Her smile told us that she was having fun, but what else was going on inside of her head as we watched the parade, rode rides and took in all there was to see and do. I was amazed at her ability to be patient when we got stuck on Space Mountain. She got an inside view of the ride as the lights were turned on. We even got to ride again this time completely in the dark.

Tania and I became buddies that day as we rode many of the rides together. Her smile lighting up her face when the ride ended. It’s a Small World was the best as Tania sang throughout the entire ride. It was the most she said all day long. We closed out the park that day. I am not sure who had more fun, Tania, my son, my assistant or myself as I was able to share in the joy of making a memory for a young lady who is not able to communicate her thoughts and feelings.  It was an amazing day and I was glad to be a part of it. I am thankful to Tania and what she taught me that day. She taught me to smile at the simple things and enjoy each day as it comes.

Be Free

Freedom is something those of us living in America think about and here a lot about at this time of year. July 4th is called Independence Day as many Americans reflect back and celebrate the freedoms we enjoy.  Yet, there is an even greater day of Independence for those of us in Christ- it is the day we receive Christ as our Savior and are freed from the power of sin and death.

This freedom does not mean that life will be perfect. In fact, there are times it is far from that. Freedom in Christ means that we can be set free from the things that keep us from living into the Kingdom of God and all that God desires us to be.

As I began writing this reflection, I was at Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Murrieta, CA. This year’s theme is Be Free. It is such an appropriate theme as so often individuals who struggle with the effects of a disability, whether it be their own disability or that of their child, do not live in freedom. They understand all of the things in this world that keep them from being free. The pressures of daily therapy sessions, school challenges, challenges gaining access to church and many other things often keep them from being able to focus on their Spiritual growth.

The entire retreat provided opportunities for the children, youth, parents, and adults with special needs to be able to focus on Being Free, not just from sin but from all of the things that bind them up emotionally as well. We can all make a list of these things: fear, anger, bitterness, un-forgiveness, jealousy, envy, discontent, denial, depression, addiction, abuse etc. When these feelings and emotions are not given over to Jesus to let Him bring freedom, they will keep an individual from truly living into the Kingdom of God as Jesus desires.  It is my hope and prayer that all who attended this year’s retreat were able to go home having left at least one thing at the foot of the cross so they can truly Be Free.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Freedom” 2 Corinthians 3:17

I was recently asked to write an article for the Christian Ministries Training Association’s Convention that would specifically address the Why? for Special Needs Ministry. This article was published in the magazine that was given to every registered attendee and workshop presenter. I thought I would pass it along.

In Genesis 1:37 we read how God created man in His image, male and

female; He created them. All people have been created in the image of

God – no matter who they are, what they look like, where they live or

what their abilities or struggles are. Therefore, children, teens, and adults

with special needs have all been created in God’s image.

Special Needs Ministry is based on this key understanding that all people are created in the image of God the Father. Not  only are all created in His

image, but all people are to be included into the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 gives us a mandate for the inclusion of all

people into the body of Christ. Paul was very clear about how everyone has a specific function in God’s Kingdom. When our friends with special needs are not invited to use their gifts or are left out, God’s Kingdom, the body of Christ, is not functioning at its fullest potential.

There must be a place for all people to come, use their gifts and find a

place of belonging to learn and grow in Christ within the local church.

It might be in specialized classes or it might be in a class with typical

peers, depending on the needs of the individual. The important part is

that there is a place and that the church be inclusive.

It is also very important that special needs individuals and their

families be encouraged and supported to be involved in the life of the

local church in the areas they feel called to participate in and desire.

While God has created all people in His Image, he did not create all

people to be exactly the same. God is not a God of cookie cutter

molds. He is a God of creativity, desiring for all to use their individual

differences and gifts to grow His Kingdom here on earth.

I pose this question, Does the church you pastor, lead or worship at include ALL people? Are there ways for those with special needs to use their gifts? Are you actively inviting them to come in and worship? My prayer is that you become an instrument of providing for all people to become a part of God’s Kingdom so that the body functions as Christ intended.

If you are reading this and want to know more about starting special needs ministry in your church or just want some encouragement where you are please message me.

Blessings on your day

Julie Keith