USA (MNN) — A Joni and Friends conference held in mid-September helped equip Christian leaders to reach out to disabled people.
The conference focused on 1 Corinthians 15 and charged
Christians to share the Gospel with the disabled. Joni Eareckson Tada was a key speaker, as well as the President of JAF.
It is estimated that there are 600 million disabled people worldwide. Jon Ebersol of Joni and Friends explains: "People with disabilities are the most under-reached people group in the world, and they are the most unchurched. Approximately 80 percent of them have not heard the Gospel," according to information gathered by the Lausanne task force on disabilities.
Ebersol continued, "The barriers to churches welcoming and including people with disabilities are often not physical barriers as one might expect, although a ramp and an elevator are wonderful. The biggest barriers are in our hearts and our heads. It's generally because we don't have enough information. We haven't had experience with somebody with a disability." It's important for pastors to face this issue themselves and help their congregations deal with it.
Not only is including the disabled in the church what Christ would have us do, it also gives a richness to the community. "There's a pastor of a fairly large church that I talked to not long ago, and he said, ‘My church is so much better off because of people being involved with disabilities. It has made all of our ministries so much richer, and it has pushed the congregation. You know, it's not always easy when we include people that are different than us, but that's the good thing," said Ebersol.
When traveling to other countries as teams are planning to do in the near future, Joni and Friends bring refurbished wheel chairs to distribute with no strings attached. This kind of love opens hearts to the Gospel.
"People who have been ostracized and beaten down, given the crumbs of the country, begin to believe that they're lovable, that there is something of value in them. And then we tell them the reason we came is not because we're good. We're coming here because God has given His love to us and He wants us to share that with you," explained Ebersol. "Many of these people and their family members are drawn closer to and make first decisions for Christ."