Learning to Serve with Courage

“Wow…you must really have a gift. I could never do that!”

Sadly, this is the type of response I often receive when I tell people about working with the disability community. Viewing the disability community as a foreign, and therefore, intimidating world is a significant gut reaction that prevents many people from becoming involved as volunteers.

2013 Ghana International Family Retreat

My husband introduced me to Joni and Friends in 2013, when he was interning at the Joni and Friends Central California Area Ministry as part of a college course. When I first heard about Joni Eareckson Tada, I was impressed by her artwork and the wonderful ministry she founded – but I must admit, I did not envision myself working alongside the Joni and Friends team.

This reluctance stemmed from a fear of inadvertently saying something offensive, or doing something wrong. I started small by volunteering in the office, and after a few months, attended the 2015 Wonder Valley Ranch Family Retreat as a Short Term Missionary (STM).

I was assigned as a buddy to Anna, a fourteen year old girl with Down syndrome, who is known as the “Camp Queen.” As I had the privilege of getting to know her parents, they encouraged me to ask questions if I felt uncertain, and never made me feel inadequate as a new STM. I am still in touch with Anna’s family, and enjoy seeing them at various events and meetings throughout the year.

Austen Torrence is the Administrative Assistant for the Central California Joni and Friends Area Ministry. She is a graduate of California State University, Fresno, and has worked in the non-profit sector since 2012.

Austen Torrence is the Administrative Assistant for the Central California Joni and Friends Area Ministry. She is a graduate of California State University, Fresno, and has worked in the non-profit sector since 2012.

Through this experience, I discovered that the trick to being a “successful” volunteer in the disability community is to possess a willing heart. Before I met Anna, I was nervous about how the week would go. I prayed that through my service I would represent Jesus, and that people would not see me. I feared making a mistake, but I wanted the families to feel Jesus’ peace and comfort, knowing that they were in a place of complete acceptance, where service is offered without agenda.

One of the few times I have received a clear answer to prayer occurred on the last night of Retreat, when the worship leader told the STMs that he saw the hands and feet of Jesus through our service all week.

I left Family Retreat knowing that something far greater than our own human effort is at work when we offer ourselves in service to the disability community. While I attended Family Retreat with the intention of helping others, I received help as well!

A year and a half later, I find fulfillment through working with children affected by disabilities, and inspiration through meeting their parents. After spending a week at Family Retreat, I feel saddened when I notice the absence of people with disabilities in average, every-day contexts.

Ministry should not be defined so narrowly as to limit it to a church or camp context. As Christians, we are the church, and God will provide opportunities to minister whether it is to coworkers in a secular workplace or tired parents in grocery stores. All we need to do is offer our hearts as servants, and trust that God is faithful. He will provide His children with courage to serve.
 
Credit: