I was born two months premature and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. My awareness, from a very young age, that my survival was very unlikely due to health complications helped me understand that God protected my life for a purpose. I have a visual impairment and I cannot walk, but I began using a power wheelchair when I was two years old. Just over 10 years ago, I earned a degree in psychology. I went on to obtain my Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work.
Faith and Wheelpower Ministries is a platform from which to share my story, the power of God in my life, and the tools God has given me. I am a Christian Reformed chaplain working in the spiritual care department of Christian Horizons, an international developmental services agency based in Canada. My role involves coordinating Family Camps and speaking and writing about the intersection of faith and disability on the Christian Horizons Disability and Faith Forum.
At virtual training recently hosted by CRC/RCA Disability Concerns focused on welcoming the next generation, including people with disabilities. Annalise Radcliffe and Ruth Langkamp from Next Generation Engagement noted three components of inclusion:
- Hospitality: “we welcome you”
- Mutuality: “we need you”
- Solidarity: “we “stand” with you”
These components illuminated how Waterloo CRC has so deeply enriched my faith formation and vocational development.
I experienced hospitality from the moment I entered. Lasagna was warming in the oven for "Student Welcome Sunday." This delicious smell wafted through the sanctuary throughout the worship service. Mutuality became evident a short time later when I was enjoying the lasagna. A ministry leader approached me and said, “We are looking for people to serve in Story Hour. Would you be interested?”
I made an excuse of trying to keep my head down and focus on school, but really given my physical challenges I wasn’t sure that I could handle supervising preschoolers and wanted to give this ministry leader a way out. “If you really can’t find someone, I’ll see what I can do.”
Surprisingly, this ministry leader approached me again. She said, “We really need someone! Can you join us?” Uncertain of my ability to serve in the capacity that she was asking, I reluctantly agreed, on the condition that she would pair me with an able-bodied volunteer.
With the best of intentions, this ministry leader agreed, but called me the week before to say, “I’m really sorry! I am having trouble finding another volunteer to partner with you. Is there anyway you could bring someone?” I was deeply impacted by her faith that I was capable, physical challenges and all. She had more confidence in me than I had in myself at the time and it was clear that she really needed help. Therefore, I brought an assistant with me.
We taught about the miracle of the wedding at Cana, dripping red food colouring into white grape juice, to a group of three- and four-year-olds who are now 13- and 14-year-olds (and I still enjoy connecting with them). Since then, my church has demonstrated solidarity with me in many ways—most notably, when I shared the calling on my heart to serve as a CRC chaplain, the church council called me.
My experience of hospitality, mutuality, and solidarity at church motivates me to let others know that such a sense of community is possible for everyone. I hope my story informs more church leaders of how they might be able to nurture the faith formation and support the vocational development of people of all abilities.