Ministry of Presence
I have spoken before about Friendship Ministries and the resources they provide churches, including Bible studies and curriculum units written specifically for adults with intellectual disability. Friendship is also the organization behind the book Autism and Your Church. Friendship Ministries works with churches all over the the world to help them establish small group settings for “mentors” and “friends” to engage in relationship and Bible study.
Last week I received the news that Nella Uitvlugt, Executive Director of Friendship Ministries, passed away unexpectedly. Personally, this is a tough loss because Nella had been a dear friend and mentor to me (and to countless others who work in disability ministry circles). Just last Monday Nella emailed me, helping me with my own a writing project. She was a gem of a person!
Today I received my quarterly newsletter from Friendship Ministries which featured Nellas most recent (and last) column. The story Nella shares is a beautiful reminder to every volunteer and leader who serves in a special needs environment. With Friendship Ministries permission, I am reposting Nella’s column here.
Ministry of Presence
We’re hard-wired to crave feedback.
We want to be assured.
We want to be affirmed.
We want to know what we’re doing is worthwhile and important
So what happens when we don’t receive feedback? How do we know we’re making a difference?
Friendship programs across the country are made up of a diverse group of people, and each friend has unique abilities and disabilities. Some can speak, but others can’t. Some make eye contact, while others turn away. Some can drive, and others can barely walk.
How do we know we’re making a difference to each of these friends, regardless of their abilities?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question, as I have worked to support Friendship mentors throughout the country and the world. Too often mentors become frustrated when we do not receive the feedback that assures and encourages us. We think we’re failing. We think we aren’t good enough.
It’s time to relax our expectations and to be content in our ministry of presence. What does that mean?
For a year and a half I have been working with John, a young man with autism who doesn’t speak. Every Tuesday night I show up and I see John. I speak to him. I’m not doing anything special. I’m not doing anything substantial. But by simply being there – by simply giving of myself and my time – I am ministering with John.
Do you know how I know that?
I recently invited John to the front of our group to sing. I handed him a microphone knowing full well he would not utter a word, but I wanted him to feel loved, accepted, and affirmed in his ministry with us.
Guess what happened? John sang. “Oooooooo,” he sang. “Ooooooo.” I was taken aback. I was blessed.
Ministry of presence is about living the gospel as reflected in our actions and our deeds. It’s about spreading the gospel message simply by being in a relationship with those around us.
God uses our ministry of presence. John is proof of that. And though John’s “feedback” isn’t the type of feedback we’re so hard-wired to crave, or the assurance and affirmation we so desperately seek, we know that what we’re doing with John is both worthwhile and important.
How do you minister with your presence? What are your ministries of presence moments? Share them with Friendship Ministries on Facebook.
Reposted with permission of Friendship Ministries