Ministry to Individuals With Special Needs

Here is a good article about what a church is doing for the people with special needs in their community and how the Church of the Nazarene was originally interested in reaching out to the poor, addicted and marginalized in the world.

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Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?

by Julie Keith

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I am a transplant into the Church of the Nazarene.  While growing-up, and even as a young adult, I heard about the Church of the Nazarene but never really knew much about its beliefs or history.  I came to the church through a variety of circumstances, the most recent being an interview for the special needs pastor position at First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena, California (PazNaz).

Since high school, I have been involved in some kind of ministry to individuals with special needs, as well as with their families.  Prior to coming to PazNaz, I was serving at a church experiencing financial problems.  I believe God used this set of circumstances for me to discover the church I now call home.

Pastor Scott Daniels shared the history of the church during my initial interview.  He shared how Phineas F. Bresee, the first general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, wanted to do more for the poor, the addicted, and the marginalized in society.  Of course, individuals with special needs are still marginalized in the world.  As I listened and learned how we obtained our denomination’s name I knew the position was a natural fit and I had come home.

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’  Philip said to him, ‘Come and see” (John 1:43-46 NRSV).

Can anything good come from Nazareth?  These words were the foundation for the name, Church of the Nazarene.  Nazarenes are named after Jesus the Nazarene.  Our church has its core the belief that something good can come from “Nazareth.”  Nazareth was considered the pit of the earth (my definition).  No one believed anything good could come from Nazareth.  The same is often said about children, youth, and adults who have varying kinds of disabilities and special needs.

The majority of the people in our world do not truly believe anything good can come from individuals who have special needs.  While there are more programs and services becoming available in the U.S., individuals in other places around the world with special needs are kept hidden.  They are not allowed in schools and typically not in places of worship.  The work that is being done to make an impact in the lives of the countless girls, boys, men, and women is largely being done by the community of faith.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go to Romania on a mission trip to provide training and education to local churches and Christian organizations to better equip them to reach those with special needs for Christ.  The second part of this trip was to go into the orphanages and provide training and encouragement to the staff who wee providing care for orphans, many who had severe disabilities.

One particular day stands out in my mind as we were visiting a state-funded orphanage.  None of the orphans had anything that belonged to them.  On community outing days, the staff would go to the store closet and pull out clothes that were appropriate for the children to wear on outings to the community.

The next day we saw some of the exact same clothes on different children.  We then had the privilege of visiting an orphanage that was funded by a local church.  The contrast was amazing.  In this orphanage there was a row of  wheelchairs.  Each child had his or her own wheelchair.  It was nap time so most of the children were sleeping.  The facility was clean and attractive.  Children who were there had been rescued from some of the orphanages because if they had not been moved to this facility they would have most likely died.

After that visit, I was impressed with what happens when the people of God truly live into god’s kingdom and reach out and believe that something good can come from Nazareth.

This past June, at the Los Angeles District Assembly, we were reminded again of the call God has placed on us as the Church of the Nazarene.  It is our call to reach those from whom the world thinks nothing good can come.

Who are the children, teens, and adults in your life who have special needs?  What is God calling you to do?  What can your church do to begin to dream and plan to show God’s love and compassion to these individuals?  Begin to seek God’s face about how to reach out to those who are marginalized in most societies.

No matter where you live, there is at least one child or teen or adult and their family who need to know something good can come from them.

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Julie Keith is special needs pastor at Pasadena, California, First Church of the Nazarene. This article first appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Holiness Today.  You can follow Julie Keith’s blog at JulieKeithsReflections.

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