This past week, my friend Jill and I attended the ‘Beyond the Ramp’ Conference, hosted by the Interfaith Disability Network of Oregon. The main speaker was Bill Gaventa, the coordinator of the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, the Associate Editor of Intellectual and Development Disabilities and former editor of the Journal of Religion Disability, and Health. As pastors and lay persons from different faith communities in the Portland area gathered to talk about disabilities and faith, we were encouraged by words from Bill focusing on the theme, ‘from mission to member to mission.’
My interest was piqued when Bill stated that “People with disabilities don’t want to be the mission field or a project.” Wow, I wholeheartedly agree with this because when people feel like a project, it makes us feel like a victim of our circumstances. Unless there is a relationship between the two people, it makes the them appear unequal. Even though the person ‘helping’ them does so with the best intentions, the individual being served can be made to feel frustrated because our gifts are overlooked.
The Church will flourish when they welcome people with disabilities not as a mission, but as members, because everyone wants to be a part of the greater community. We all have gifts and abilities that help the body to flourish and grow. We want to be involved in the mission of the Church as a whole once we have become members; we don’t want to continue to be the mission.
Another great thing about this conference was that everyone was from around this area and I am looking forward to networking with them. It is kind of like fishing, you have to know where the pods of fish are in order to catch anything! It was a great opportunity to connect with pastors and see what their congregations and communities are doing. When I told some of the pastors that I was the Area Director of Joni and Friends, they expressed an interest in hearing more about it, and that was an encouragement to me.
One of my main goals for Joni and Friends here in the Portland area is to help people of all abilities realize their significance in the body of Christ. I was very encouraged to find churches in the area that have already started to create an awareness in their faith communities about the gifts and abilities of all of their members. If you know of churches or individuals who are interested in joining us in this mission, let me know by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or share the good news with them that there are churches that are welcoming the abilities of everyone!