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.

The Hope Of Glory

food-healthy-man-person-medium + IN YOUR HANDS
Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law. On his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish.
Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth take a stand, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh, and against his Anointed, saying, «Let’s break their bonds apart, and cast their cords from us.» He who sits in the heavens will laugh. The LORD will have them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his anger, and terrify them in his wrath: «Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion.» I will tell of the decree. Yahweh said to me, «You are my son. Today I have become your father. Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron. You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.» Now therefore be wise, you kings. Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Give sincere homage to the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.
Yahweh, how my adversaries have increased! Many are those who rise up against me. Many there are who say of my soul, «There is no help for him in God.» But you, Yahweh, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry to Yahweh with my voice, and he answers me out of his holy hill. I laid myself down and slept. I awakened; for Yahweh sustains me. I will not be afraid of tens of thousands of people who have set themselves against me on every side. Arise, Yahweh! Save me, my God! For you have struck all of my enemies on the cheek bone. You have broken the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to Yahweh. Your blessing be on your people.
Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness. Give me relief from my distress. Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. You sons of men, how long shall my glory be turned into dishonor? Will you love vanity, and seek after falsehood? But know that Yahweh has set apart for himself him who is godly: Yahweh will hear when I call to him. Stand in awe, and don’t sin. Search your own heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Put your trust in Yahweh. Many say, «Who will show us any good?» Yahweh, let the light of your face shine on us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and their new wine are increased. In peace I will both lay myself down and sleep, for you, Yahweh alone, make me live in safety.
Give ear to my words, Yahweh. Consider my meditation. Listen to the voice of my cry, my King and my God; for to you do I pray. Yahweh, in the morning you shall hear my voice. In the morning I will lay my requests before you, and will watch expectantly. For you are not a God who has pleasure in wickedness. Evil can’t live with you. The arrogant shall not stand in your sight. You hate all workers of iniquity. You will destroy those who speak lies. Yahweh abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But as for me, in the abundance of your loving kindness I will come into your house. I will bow toward your holy temple in reverence of you. Lead me, Yahweh, in your righteousness because of my enemies. Make your way straight before my face. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth. Their heart is destruction. Their throat is an open tomb. They flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, God. Let them fall by their own counsels; Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against you. But let all those who take refuge in you rejoice, Let them always shout for joy, because you defend them. Let them also who love your name be joyful in you. For you will bless the righteous. Yahweh, you will surround him with favor as with a shield.