Reflection on Mark Stephenson's Leadership as Director of Disability Concerns

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In May, Mark Stephenson announced that he will retire from full time work with the CRC at the end of 2021. The posting for Director of Disability Concerns (DC), which Mark has held for almost 15 years, is on CRCNA job openings page. Since February 2020, Mark has also served as the Interim Director of Race Relations and Social Justice. Please pray for God’s leadership and direction as the search committees discern new leaders for these ministries.  

With gratitude for Mark’s service, we asked Len Bakelaar, Chair of Disability Concerns Canada Committee and longtime volunteer for CRC Disability Concerns to share about his time working with Mark. Len writes: 

Mark joined DC in 2006. At the first meeting we met, he used the phrase, “Everybody belongs. Everybody serves.” He explained what that meant to him. Since then it has become the tagline of DC. 

Early on, Mark saw the need for a handbook that would help advocates and church leaders to navigate effectively in the ministry of accessibility. This would be to replace the big black binder which we used at that time. This booklet became known later as the "Inclusion Handbook" and has served advocates and countless other people as a training module in advocating for those with disabilities.

Mark was quick to guide the team to use the web site and the internet. For some it was not always smooth going, but bit by bit we found helpful resources and best practices to use in our work serving the churches. He understood that the growth of this ministry depended on  technology. In its various forms, technology allows you to be up-to-date on events, resources and a number of conversations.

Early on in Mark’s service, the conversation turned to what we were doing in Disability Concerns with the Reformed Church (RCA) to see if there was a way of collaborating and sharing this work. Mark worked steadily on this and eventually worked with Terry De Jong, coordinator of Disability Concerns for the RCA, to bring about the shared ministry as we see it today. 

Under Mark’s leadership Disability Concerns has grown to be a resourceful ministry, but he continues to state the importance of the many biblical values we hold on to. The ministry exists first of all to act on what Christ teaches us, "to love each other dearly." All people are God's creation, no one is made imperfect. Mark believes that God puts different people in our lives so that we may see Him more clearly including those who have different abilities.

Advocating for and with people on the margins is a response to what Christ calls us to be.

On behalf of Len, the staff and volunteers of the Disability Concerns Ministry:

Thank you, Mark, for your years of dedication for our ministry. You serve as an example of how Christ would want us to serve others as an embodiment of being the church.

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Thank you, Mark, for your years of service and for your passionate example of leadership.  God bless your years of retirement!

Thank you Mark for your dedication and love for people, and your openness and willingness to teach amd guide other leaders in the church. I will always treasure the times you came to Edmonton to share with us in NADC, and later DMC. May you enjoy your retirement, and Gods favour. And make "snow angels" when you can.    Henry Bosch Edmonton 

Thank you Mark for your dedication and love for people, and your openness and willingness to teach amd guide other leaders in the church. I will always treasure the times you came to Edmonton to share with us in NADC, and later DMC. May you enjoy your retirement, and Gods favour. And make "snow angels" when you can.    Henry Bosch Edmonton 

Participant

Thank you Mark for your many years of passionate and committed service on behalf of those on the margins in our churches. Your advocacy and passion are gifts you shared generously, motivating and equipping us to always find ways to do better. Enjoy your retirement and know you made a difference in the lives of people who have different abilities, their families and caregivers, and the wider church community.

Thank you for your faithful service,  especially in the area of disability concerns.  Your sessions at the Theological Education in Africa conference in Tanzania were very impactful for the the participants.  God used your insights and wisdom as well as your warm and humble persona.  May he continue to open new doors for you!

Participant

As a disability advocate, I thank you for your leadership, Mark, to include those in our churches who are differently abled and to help us all serve better together!  You will be missed.