I am very comfortable in the non-profit world. My father has worked at a non-profit as long as I can remember, I spent time doing an internship at a non-profit during college, and all of my post-college jobs have been in the non-profit sector.
But, truthfully, I had no idea how much God wanted to teach me through my time at Joni and Friends. Yes, I’ve learned new skills and gained confidence in my professionalism. But, more importantly, I’ve had significant changes in my attitude and heart.
Before I started working with the disability community, I had a general understanding that everyone is created in the image of God, and that we all have gifts and talents to contribute to the body of Christ. But, as I started meeting individuals whose severe disabilities left them unable to speak or move, depending entirely on the care of others, I had to consider this truth with more intentionality.
Do I really believe this individual is a gift to the body of Christ? Are their disabilities truly part of God’s perfect plan? I cringe as I type out those words, because it feels shameful to even ask these questions. My first instinct is to quickly assert, Of course they are! But, for someone like me who had virtually no experience with the disability community prior to 2015, these were real questions that I needed to wrestle with.
As I spent time getting to know individuals with disabilities, whether mild or profound, I begin to understand a person’s value on a totally different level. I was forced to slow down, listen, and learn. I began to see that our value is not found in what we can do or achieve, it is simply in the fact that we are God’s beloved children. Our lives may bear evidence of living in a fallen world, but every single person on this planet is created in His image, designed to bring Him glory in a unique way.
God has used my friends with disabilities to teach me invaluable lessons—I am not nearly as patient as I would like to be; I struggle to trust God in certain areas of my life; I am called to rejoice in today regardless of my circumstances. And, this is only a sampling of what I have learned. What a gift my friends have been in my life! I am so grateful that God crossed our paths and allowed me to learn from them.
I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned though, is a lesson I didn’t even know I needed to learn. I genuinely thought I understood that every individual is created with purpose for a purpose… but now I know it. This is a truth that I treasure, and I pray that everyone will have the privilege of learning this truth on a deeper level!
Ali Howard is a Baylor University graduate who has engaged in full-time, nonprofit work since 2011. She joined the Joni and Friends team in January 2015, and serves as the Senior Coordinator of Volunteer Services. She also acts as the content editor for the Irresistible Church blog and books.