L-R: General Conference's Special Needs Ministries director Pastor Larry Evans, Graeme and Diane Weir, and CSFBHI's Lee Dunstan.
In a series of presentations across four days at the end of April, a group of up to 30 people explored issues surrounding the special needs community within the church and how the Church might address them.
The “special needs” people group includes the blind and the deaf—which the Church has for some decades catered to through its Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired (CSFBHI) ministry—as well a broader group that encompasses those with physical and mental impairment, along with their often stressed carers.
Whilst the focus and principle thrust of CSFBHI is to provide for certain needs of the Blind and Deaf communities, it also works to raise awareness of the wider disability community through education, encouraging meaningful acceptance and inclusion, and motivating Church members, including those with disability, to action.
Keynote presenter at the conference, which was held at the Catalina Conference Centre at a former World War 2 Catalina flying-boat base on Lake Macquarie, itself a fully accessible facility, was Pastor Larry Evans, director of the General Conference’s Special Needs Ministry.
“The premise of the Special Needs Ministries is the belief that all individuals are created in God’s image and have a unique purpose,” said Pastor Evans. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they can walk, see or hear, they are still created in the image of God. This very basic belief teaches us that we cannot, must not, neglect reaching out to anyone.
“Our mission in Special Needs Ministries is to lift individuals to their fullest potential, help them discover their God-given talents, and share those talents as part of the Body of Christ. It is not only a ministry for but a ministry with those who have special needs! This ministry is a call to the deaf, the blind, those bound to wheelchairs to have an active part in all forms of ministry.
“It isn’t about ‘rights’ per se, although that can sometimes be a concern. Rather, it is to find or even create opportunities for these individuals to have a ministry.”
Other presenters included disability industry professionals, such as Vision Australia; Logan Reserve Church’s Deaf Church Down Under (Qld), Mark Davey; and church chaplains and care providers. Among the “providers” was Neil Cady who manages the West Australian Conference’s residential care facility for those with intellectual disability. “It seems like we are at the fork in the road to a special needs ministry,” said Cady. “We’re building a new foundation under what I perceive as a shift in focus toward a fuller special needs ministry for our Adventist churches. It was an honour to attend what could well be the founding of this broader ministry, working with a group of dedicated leaders—church leaders and laypersons—that have Jesus as the centre of their thinking and service to the needy.”
Deaf Church Down Under’s Mark Davey, a volunteer, says he saw the conference as an opportunity to network and learn. “It is so encouraging to come together and hear what is happening, to know that you are not alone in this work, and also to be able to contribute to the planning for this work. You can only do this together with like-minded people at a conference like this. I returned home with new ideas and a renewed commitment for this work as a result of the encouragement and affirmation received at the conference.”