This post first appeared in the Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary Christian Directories. It will appear in the print edition of the Toronto Christian Directory when it is released.
How does the work you do contribute to your sense of wellbeing?
Perhaps comradery with coworkers helps you to know that you belong. Perhaps you are able to make a difference in the lives of other people through your work. Every job involves some kind of service, whether to God, one’s employer, a customer, or the community at large. Selection for a paid or volunteer position helps us know that our gifts are valued and respected.1 Peter 4:10 teaches that everybody has gifts to share – gifts best expressed in service of others. Yet, the benefits of work elude many people with disabilities. Often our gifts and abilities remain unrecognized!
I was born with Cerebral Palsy. As such, I have low vision and I use a power wheelchair for mobility. Thankfully, I was born into a Christian home where I learned that all people are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Throughout my childhood, family and friends reminded me that God has a good purpose and plan for my life. However, reading, writing, and mobility challenges made it difficult to discern a career path in which I could succeed and contribute!
When I was old enough to work, I pursued all kinds of volunteer and paid work experiences, regardless of any challenges posed by my disability. Looking back, I acted like Jonah, running in the opposite direction of God’s call on my life. This is ironic, considering I do not have the physical capacity to run. I was inclined to responsibilities that had little or nothing to do with disability. I inadvertently assumed the heavy burden of minimizing my challenges so I could compete with other candidates. True, I grew through these experiences. I learned valuable interpersonal skills volunteering in hospital. I developed my knowledge of sports and the importance of teamwork as a sports instructor. I enhanced my relational abilities in retail. I even grew in my understanding of faith formation and mentorship as a Christian camp counselor. All of these skills would help me in my future calling, but something was missing.
I could not be all that God wanted me to be because I was spending my energy ignoring the unique gifts that he has given me!
Prior to undertaking (and later, completing) my Masters of Divinity and Social Work, I sent a resume and cover letter to Joni and Friends Ministries. I might not have done this if it were not for the encouragement of my campus minister. As a child, Joni Erickson’s music and books inspired me. Joni is an international evangelist who happens to be paralyzed from the neck down. I could only dream of what it might be like to work for her! Surprisingly, within six months of sending my letter, I found myself interning at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center in California. It was here that I began researching and writing about quality of life for people with disabilities around the world and learning how to implement Family Retreats.
These opportunities with Joni and Friends equipped and prepared me for ministry with Christian Horizons, where I serve as Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life. I research and write about the intersection of faith and disability on the Disability and Faith Forum, and help make resources on accessibility available on Christian Horizons’ website. I engage in learning and conversations with churches, schools and others who desire to live out God’s vision of community and inclusion and participate in leading Christian Horizons Family Camps.
I am grateful for my work because it blends my ministry and social work expertise with my lived experience of disability, and allows me to embrace all of whom God has created me to be. This is not to suggest that people with disabilities must serve others who share that experience. Rather, everybody finds fulfillment in using the unique gifts that God has given her or him. All people find value in meaningful paid or volunteer work that serves their community.
Christian Horizons’ vision is that
People who experience disabilities belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.
This is more than an organizational vision. It is a Christ-shaped calling that you can help to make a reality in your community. How might you respect and engage someone’s God-given gifts today? Perhaps this involves welcoming someone with a disability into a valued role at church. Maybe it means offering paid or volunteer opportunities for someone to develop, practice or enhance their skills by contributing to your workplace, business, or organization in meaningful ways.
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can collaborate with you in nurturing communities where everybody belongs!
Visit us online at www.christian-horizons.org/churches.