I met Jeffrey and his mom, Fabiola, when they started attending our church in 2012. At the time, Jeffrey was two.
Years have since passed, and I recently attended Jeffrey’s seventh birthday party as a friend and disability ministry leader from the church. As I recall the last five years, I am amazed to reflect upon the miraculous change that has taken place in this young man (and his mom).
When Jeffrey wasn’t saying any words at two years old, a hearing test was scheduled. His hearing was fine. Speech therapy and occupational therapy were started. Fabiola, a single mom, felt worried and guilty as she asked herself, What is wrong with my child? Is this because he didn’t have a dad around? They had very little money and she worked 40 hours a week to provide for their basic needs. She kept thinking I have to fix him. She felt responsible for his slow development. One day a therapist said to her, “Why are you trying to fix him? He’s not broken. Be strong! God has big plans for you and Jeffrey.”
Shortly after that conversation Fabiola was in a car accident that left her feeling hopeless. She called her sister and told her that she wanted to go to church. When she learned that the church had a disability ministry and people trained to support Jeffrey, she was thrilled! She could attend church services without worrying if Jeffrey would be well cared for. As Fabiola was exposed to the truth of God’s Word and love from people at church she was deeply moved. Before long, she had made the decision to follow Christ! When Jeffery was diagnosed with autism several months later, Fabiola was grateful for the loving support of her new church family. God’s timing is so perfect! A year later, Jeffrey was dedicated in a church service, and Fabiola was baptized soon after!
The disability ministry from our church sent Jeffrey and his mom to a Joni and Friends Family Retreat in 2014. Jeffrey had a blast, and Fabiola’s life was forever changed.
During her time at Family Retreat, Fabiola observed other kids and realized that Jeffrey was more capable than she realized. She was profoundly touched as many individuals participating in the Talent Show shared, “I want to thank God and Joni for making it possible for me to be here. This is the only place I can feel normal and loved.” In that moment, Fabiola realized she was ready to change her career—she wanted to work with kids affected by disability! She started volunteering at Jeffrey’s school, then got a job with the local school district. She has learned quickly and made amazing progress in the field. She now helps other families affected by disability, and the hours allow her to spend more time with Jeffrey.
I sat back at Jeffrey’s birthday party, thinking about how well he talks now and how loved he is by so many friends and family.
Through my friendship with Fabiola and Jeffery, I have learned that disability ministry not only opens the door for growth in the individual with a disability, but also provides opportunities for positive development in their family members as well.
Susan Hewer is the co-leader along with her husband, Scott, of the special needs ministry at Calvary Chapel Oxnard, In His Image. Scott and Susan have enjoyed many years as special education teachers, but feel very blessed to be part of the growing field of disability ministry in their “retirement” years. They have been married for 36 years and have one daughter, Gina, who is involved in full-time ministry.