Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Christian Examiner Article

Rayne Ministries provides disability resources for churches
By Sue Sailhamer
Marvin and Teresa Miller have a big dream for their little daughter. They hope that someday she will be welcomed as a full participant in her local church and have an opportunity to serve others in her community of faith. Their daughter, two-and-a-half-year-old Lillian Rayne Miller, has Downs Syndrome.Standing in the way of their dream, they believe, is a church culture that is largely under-educated and under-equipped to help the developmentally disabled and their families. It is a status quo the Millers hope to change. The couple launched the Rayne Project, a multi-disciplined collaborative effort to further develop the theologies of disability and create strategic programs in the local church and community.“We’d always felt a call to the ministry but doors were closed,” Teresa said. “Our second daughter was born and God opened up the door and said, ‘here it is.’”As the Millers began exploring a variety of state and local resources available to help their daughter they realized that churches were largely left out of the network. The Rayne project is a way to change that.As directors of the project they desire to help churches share resources with each other and their community. The project’s educational arm, the Rayne Education Foundation, is charged with studying the theology of special needs and forging collaborative relationships with all levels of the educational system. Rayne Ministries will focus on the development of programs and resources for the local church.“If anybody has a call to be accessible, it is the church,” Marvin said.The Rayne Project supports the National Organization on Disability’s Seminary Project and sees it as a critical step toward helping pastors to be aware of their entire congregation.Marvin, who has his Master’s of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, is quick to acknowledge the Rayne Project is just taking shape. He hopes the project will eventually become his full-time endeavor.The Millers are not alone in their efforts to make the local church a more hospitable place for the disabled. Joni and Friends, founded by Joni Eareckson Tada, has been dedicated to accelerating ministry to the disability community since it began in 1979. Joni and Friends has developed a national network of area ministries and partners to help mobilize and equip local congregations to minister to those with special needs. The ministry Web site also offers an extensive list of resources.Progress reportedAnd, while the vast majority of evangelical churches may not yet be equipped to accommodate the needs of the disabled, a growing number are. It is never an easy task.“Working with people with disabilities is uncomfortable, it’s an unknown,” said Connie Hutchinson, director of Disabilities Ministry at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, Calif.. “It’s not an area of ministry people are able to jump into.”The ministry veteran recommended churches recruit volunteers for a specific time period rather than asking for an ongoing commitment. She said it is helpful when special-needs families call before bringing a disabled child to give the church an opportunity to be ready.“People need to realize that a church is a church and most people working there are volunteers,” she said. “The church is not a social agency.”Yet, Hutchinson is sympathetic to the difficulty facing families dealing with special needs.“It’s hard work to come to church with a disabled child,” she said. “It’s not worth the effort if you don’t feel welcome.”Those who do minister to children and families with special needs often find an unanticipated blessing that accompanies the task. It is a simple truth anyone can discover.For more information, visit the Web site or by Keener Communications Group, March 2005
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