All names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of those in the special needs ministry.
I’ve been helping out in a special needs ministry for about 2.5 years now, a decision I made on a whim.
My friends invited me along, and knowing their presence would be much-appreciated familiarity in a sea of new faces, I agreed. What started as a casual befriending role has now turned into a regular fortnightly commitment.
Along the way, I have learnt precious lessons that have taught me that the best discipleship is mutual – while it appears that we teach them lessons from the Bible at every meeting, in that process they have unknowingly taught me much!
4 LESSONS FROM SERVING THOSE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
We met for dinner before my first session – my friends thought it would be helpful if I met all the members over dinner as we would have more time to be acquainted with each other. Knowing that I was the new person in the group made me feel apprehensive about it, but the apprehension faded when I realised how welcoming they were.
As my friends introduced me over dinner, the members from special needs ministry – who have now become my friends – approached me on their own accord to introduce themselves.
As I reminisce the hospitality I had been shown as a newcomer, it begs some self-reflection – have I likewise been welcoming to newcomers, both in special needs ministry and the greater Church community?
At special needs ministry, we wear nametags for ease of helping newcomers get to know people. At the end of each session, we keep these nametags in plastic pockets until the next one.
While we are meant to place our tags into the pockets before we leave, Toby takes the initiative every week to collect them from us to help keep them. On one hand, I believe this empowers him to help as much as his abilities allow; on the other, I admit to being a grateful but lazy recipient of his constant initiative.
While I will not take away Toby’s opportunity to serve the community this way, it makes me pause for thought – where can I likewise show initiative, within and without special needs community?
Daryl is another special needs friend who makes me smile. He shared with me once that when the song leader was looking for a volunteer to demonstrate song actions for the set list, he responded with, “I know the songs and their actions, so I will help!”
On one of the evenings as I ate my takeaway dinner, he joined me and recounted the previous meeting’s learning points, knowing that I was not around then. I was familiar with the narrative – special needs ministry talks mirror past Sunday sermons – yet, I was heartened that he approached me to share his learning points.
How often do we voluntarily approach others in church to share our learning points from service?
Once, I was walking to special needs ministry from the MRT when I met Toby with Sean. Annoyed to be running late for the meeting, Toby wanted to speed up in order not to be late, but he noticed that I was unable to walk as quickly.
Though hesitant to slow down, he called out to Sean, who was ahead of us, to wait for me. This was despite me reiterating that I was fine with them going ahead – I’d catch up.
The objective measure of waiting for me and getting someone else to do the same warmed my heart – it would have been easier to say, “See you, I’ll go first.” I know this because I’ve said it to others, and they’ve said it to me!
DIFFERENT NEEDS, ONE BODY
I write this not to artificially inflate the status of my friends at the special needs ministry – I know there are opportunities I have that they might never get. They might need more assistance than usual in certain things.
Instead, I hope to show that the learning process is mutual – although it appears that the volunteers are the “knowledgeable figures” who give the talks to help the members learn, they have unknowingly taught me much as well.
Paul exhorts the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12 not to swell with personal pride at the gifts they have been given, nor should they evaluate who has the better gift over another.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Rather, everyone has a part to build up the church – body parts that appear least important are in fact crucial to the proper functioning of the body, that we should give greater honour to them (1 Corinthians 12:24). This is reiterated in Romans 12:4-5, which shows the need for unity amidst diversity in the church.
Volunteering in special needs ministry has helped me understand this truth on a personal level. It’s been a journey of constant learning and growth as I see my friends display others-centred love, but for these friendships, I give thanks.