Katie started her journey with Joni and Friends in 2012 serving as an intern in Uganda. She was an ambitious undergraduate student at Arizona State University determined to overcome every limitation given to her by society and her school. Katie has a form of Muscular Dystrophy that has over time made her dependent on a wheelchair. However, this didn’t discourage Katie from moving across the country to pursue her degrees in Global and Justice Studies. Neither did it stop her from going to Uganda in her wheelchair when her academic advisor told her it would be impossible.
I met Katie this past summer at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. She volunteered to serve as the Supervisor for our Arizona Academy Internship Program, leading a team of six interns desiring to learn more about disability ministry. Having only talked with Katie over the phone, I knew little of who I was about to serve alongside at Retreat. Katie’s spirited enthusiasm for disability ministry was infectious from the first time we were introduced. Throughout the week, I observed her interactions with her interns. It was evident that they loved and respected their leader. Katie was able to teach them more about the stigma that comes with disability better than any “able bodied” supervisor could. But she also exemplified the grace and humility needed to live life in a wheelchair.
I learned so much from Katie that week. But, the most impactful moment came when I sat in on a discussion that Katie had with the moms attending the retreat. The mothers that crowded the immaculate entry way of the country cabin had come to Family Retreat exhausted and heavily burdened by the constant care their child with disabilities required. On this particular morning Katie was asked to speak to the moms in hopes of providing them some encouragement and insight from a grown child living with a disability. One thing you should know about Katie is that she is not a subtle person. She doesn’t like to sugar coat life. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that life doesn’t have a lot of sugar for those with disabilities. So when Katie opened her discussion she went straight to the heart of the matter.
Katie described her life growing up with a disability. She divulged the realities of her limitations at home and throughout school. But where she focused her story was on the unrelenting expectations her parents set for her. She recalled one particular memory of having to unload the dishwasher. Due to her disability, Katie has lost the use of her hands. But that didn’t stop her parents from giving her the responsibility of clearing out the dishwasher every day. She said there were many times she could feel her mother watching her from the next room. Katie now understands how painful it must have been for her mom to watch her daughter struggle with the heavy plates and dishware. But she never stepped in to help. Katie’s mom allowed her to struggle through the difficult chore in hopes of instilling some independence in her disabled daughter’s life.
Katie then looked directly into these mothers eyes and implored them to encourage independence in their own child’s life. She sat there as a living example of how fostered independence could impact the life of a child with a disability; a teacher, Power Soccer World Cup player, a graduate student, and a now a trailblazer in disability ministry. As I walked out of that cabin along with the rest of the moms I couldn’t help but glory in the fact that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
If even half the mom’s walked away with a greater ambition to instill more independence in their children our world would start looking at weakness differently. What a glorious world it would be if every disabled person was encouraged, inspired and even disciplined to find the power in their weakness through Jesus Christ!
We would love to hear your thoughts below on lovingly instilling independence in individuals affected by disability.
Rachel Roleder serves as the Supervisor to the Cause 4 Life, Global Missions and Internships department at Joni and Friends. Click to read Rachel’s full bio.
 2 Corinthians 12:9, English Standard Version