The mission of Reedley MB Church includes “proclaiming God’s gospel to all.” For volunteers and leaders involved with the church’s JOY Disability Ministry, that mission begins right within the church walls.
“We usually think of people around the globe,” says Christa Scott, JOY Ministry coordinator. “But [missions] is also children, adults and families who deal with disabilities.”
The Reedley, California, church has had a disability ministry for years under various names. When Scott took on the role of coordinator in 2020, she changed the name to JOY Disability Ministry; the acronym JOY stands for “Jesus, Others, You.”
Scott attended an event in 2019 put on by Joni and Friends, an international disability ministry that provides training for churches that have or wish to begin disability ministries for their congregations.
“As the day went on, I definitely could feel the call of God on my life, that this was something I was resonating with,” Scott says.
Scott stepped into the position in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 shutdowns began. She said the following months gave her time to expand the vision of how the ministry could serve children and adults both in and outside of the church.
Removing and adapting
“It’s so often difficult for families to become a part of the church because there are so many barriers for them to participate,” Scott says. “If we can help remove those barriers and accommodate and adapt our service to what they need to participate, then that can allow them to have a home at a church and be encouraged and use their gifts to serve, which is what the body of Christ is supposed to do.”
The ministry now includes four facets. The first is the buddy program, which assigns one-on-one volunteers to children and youth with disabilities so they can participate in Sunday school or Wednesday night activities with their own age group.
The ministry also provides a Sunday school class for adults with disabilities and a mentor program that extends beyond the church walls.
“(The program) is for adults who do not attend as regularly, but we have people who are regularly reaching out to them and being their friend, taking them on outings (and) giving them spiritual encouragement,” Scott says. “That has been a blessing to see people feel the love of Christ even though they’re not able or comfortable to attend.”
Scott says the ministry conducts in-person training for volunteers in these programs each January, with help from a church liaison from Joni and Friends. She also attends monthly network meetings held by the organization.
“I go as often as I can and meet with other ministry leaders from churches in the greater Fresno area,” Scott says. “We try to learn from each other.”
Respite care serves community
The final facet of the ministry is providing respite events that allow parents and caretakers of people with disabilities to have several hours of free time for rest or whatever else they need to do. One such event was held Sept. 16 for four hours, serving seven families.
The events are held at the church but are open to families outside of the congregation as well.
“We’ve enjoyed getting to serve other people in the larger community that don’t have a place to have respite,” Scott says.
The events begin with about an hour of training for volunteers before families arrive. The volunteers range in age from late elementary school to those in their seventies.
“The neat thing is we have people with disabilities serving along with us as volunteers,” Scott says. “I tell them, ‘The biggest thing we need is the love of Christ. We’re not going to understand perfectly the situation of each person, but if we have his love and if we’re listening and learning from them what they need, we have all we need.’ We’re all just there together as one family.”
At the September event, Scott included a devotional time and read the Parable of the Great Banquet from Luke 14.
“We want our church to become a welcoming place for people with disabilities,” Scott says. “We are giving the glory to God and giving people the value they deserve because they’re made in the image of God.”
Volunteers provide lunch and a wide variety of activities, including crafts, games, puzzles and movies, as well as time on the church’s playground and basketball court.
“It’s a very joyful event for sure,” says Scott.
In October, the ministry organized a potluck-style fall party for families
and volunteers to fellowship and get to know one another. They also plan to hold another longer respite event in November to allow caregivers a chance to do their Christmas shopping.
Scott emphasizes that the JOY Ministry is truly a team effort that relies on volunteers, the six-member leadership team and the support of church leadership.
“God has been so good in providing the volunteers that we need,” Scott says. “It’s so obvious that he cares very much about each of our friends affected by disability.”
Jessica Vix Allen is a freelance writer living in Blue Springs, Missouri. She and her husband, Joel, are both graduates of Tabor College. The couple has three children.