By Steve Kramer, U.S. Missionary to CityServe
I remember when I first heard the word “vulnerable” a couple of years ago. My wife, Julie, and I had been invited to be the CityServe National Directors for the Vulnerable Initiative (https://cityserve.us/about-us/initiatives/the-vulnerable/), but to be honest, I wasn’t sure I knew who “the vulnerable” were. I soon learned that at CityServe, we consider the vulnerable to be special needs families, those with mental health issues, at-risk youth, pregnant mothers and the unborn. CityServe is committed to helping the local church reach the vulnerable in their communities.
To understand why the vulnerable matter to me, it helps to understand a little of my story. I was born two-and-a-half months premature and weighed only three pounds. Doctors told my parents that if I survived, I would never be productive. Times were tough for me. In fact, my dad reminds me that when I was in the preemie ward at the hospital, nurses kept me breathing by tying a string to one of my toes and pulling on it when I needed to breathe again. As I like to say, “my life was hanging on by a thread” which always elicits awkward laughter. Later my first year, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
As I like to say, “my life was hanging on by a thread”
The challenges of my early years were tough for me, enduring many surgeries, body casts, wheelchairs, and walkers. But what many people might overlook is that having a special needs child can be a great challenge for families. My parents, who married young, struggled in their marriage and in their relationship with God as the added stress compounded the challenges they faced. My dad, at one point, was even suicidal. For many, it would have seemed hopeless and my life would have been very different than it is today.
But here is where the story takes a turn for the better. My dad, who was a railroader, was transferred to the small desert town of Needles, California. When our family first moved there, the local Assemblies of God church offered to help my parents move into their house. That small act of kindness made a big difference in our lives. The community and friendship of that little church helped jumpstart my family’s relationship with God and it is where I came to Christ at seven years old. A little boy with cerebral palsy learned that God’s love was not limited to those with straight legs. He loved me exactly the way I am.
A little boy with cerebral palsy learned that God’s love was not limited to those with straight legs. He loved me exactly the way I am.
So hopefully now you can understand why we at CityServe are so passionate about reaching the vulnerable and believe that the local church is God’s method for doing so. We believe every church can do something and that every church should do something.
Luke 14:21, 23 says:
“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
Many people might say that they don’t have disabled people in our church and therefore not see a need for special needs ministry. But Jesus’ words are clear: we are to be intentional in going out and pursuing them. It is estimated that at least 1 in 8 people in the world are considered disabled. So, if we are truly going to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus, we must be intentional about reaching the vulnerable.
So, if we are truly going to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus, we must be intentional about reaching the vulnerable.
CityServe is committed to helping any church around the world who wants to reach the vulnerable. We have been fortunate to partner with Pastor Paul Owen in the Portland, Oregon area (http://www.theneighborhoodchurch.org/) for a summer outreach to special needs families. Through this ministry, their church has reached over 100 special needs families in the past year, just by including them in what they do: easter egg hunts, harvest parties and planning a day for special needs families with inflatables, a barbecue and games adapted for kids with special needs. They are passionate about making sure everyone experiences the love of God.
Perhaps you are a foreign missionary reading this and you would love to reach the vulnerable in your community. We can help. For example, we are currently working with Wendy and Jeremy Osborne (https://agmd.org/u/TheOsbornes ) who are missionaries to Ukraine. The local government there has asked the national church to help minister to the special needs community. In response to this request, we worked with local churches and individuals in the United States to provide for the urgent needs of children and adults with disabilities. From a new wheelchair to a cleft palate surgery to an insulin pump, lives are being changed through the generosity of the local church and as a result, people are coming to know Jesus.
Another church contacted me recently with the idea to have a special weekly online church service for those who are unable to physically get to church. This would include having an ASL interpreter for their special online services so that it could be shared around the world, reaching this largely unreached people group.
CityServe was also contacted by one of the largest international churches in Europe, Copenhagen Christian Cultural Center. One of the pastors of the church has two autistic children, and she is troubled by the fact that it is often a struggle to get to church, not just for her but for many parents of autistic kids. She was no longer content to sit by and not take action. As a result, we are currently working with them to start a Champions Club (https://www.championsclub.org )ministry for special needs families. To our knowledge, it will be the first local church special needs ministry in the history of the country of Denmark.
When I asked each one of these pioneers why they were motivated to reach the vulnerable in their communities, they seemed surprised by the question. Isn’t it obvious that every church would want to reach everyone in their community and that no one would be turned away from the church?
I have been sensing a change in the atmosphere when it comes to how the local church is engaging the vulnerable, so I wanted to ask Debbie Chivers what she thought. Debbie and her husband Charlie pioneered Special Touch Ministry (https://www.specialtouch.org ) over 3 decades ago with the goal of educating the local church to the needs of those with a disability. The Chivers’ have ministered in hundreds of churches across America and are now working with the Osbornes in Ukraine to reach special needs families there.
When I asked Debbie what it takes to get a church going when it comes to reaching the vulnerable, she said, “Steve, it starts with the right mindset. We have to have the mindset of Christ.”
So maybe it really is that simple. Just doing what Jesus asks of us in Luke 14.
Now is the time.
If you would like to get involved in reaching the vulnerable in your community with the good news of Jesus, please contact Steve Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org. (503-580-1544).