ST. LOUIS – The church is meant to be a place where all Christians can come to worship and fellowship with one another. But what if churches are unintentionally excluding a group of people who need God’s love just as much or more than the rest of the world?
Joni and Friends, an international nonprofit organization, works with churches to reach that invaluable group – individuals with disabilities and their families.
According to Judy Redlich, Church Engagement Manager with Joni and Friends, only about 10% of families and individuals affected by disabilities go to a local church on a regular basis.
There are seldom any programs or accommodations for disabled people in local churches, which makes it nearly impossible for disabled persons and their families to attend.
For Redlich, who has been blind her whole life, this lack of accommodation makes disabled people feel unwelcome.
“People who are marginalized often feel lost, alone and forgotten,” Redlich said. “We help churches start and grow disability ministries so that families affected by disabilities can be accommodated and welcomed.”
Redlich works with Joni and Friends in their Missouri branch based out of St. Louis. They serve all of Missouri, Kansas and southern Illinois through training and various outreach events.
Joni and Friends offers training to churches to assist them with topics like accessible churches and worship, biblical perspectives on disability and much more. They can tailor their presentations to the needs of a particular church, and they have all the information necessary to help churches accommodate people and families affected by disability in their communities. In the first six months of 2018, they provided training for 61 churches.
“We have equipped churches so that they are starting to change the culture,” Redlich said. “We’re always training awareness.”
Joni and Friends also holds family retreats every year for individuals with disabilities and their families. The retreats are a chance for families to be refreshed. During the day, a short-term missionary partners with the person with special needs, and the whole family gets involved in Bible teachings, gatherings, boating, swimming, a barn dance and a talent show.
Another program from Joni and Friends is called Wheels for the World. Throughout the year, volunteers collect wheelchairs, canes and walkers. Then the Missouri office travels to Mexico every year to give mobility aids to people who need them. Through this ministry, more than 6,000 people have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Most of the work done by Joni and Friends is accomplished with the help of volunteers. They always need people to be drivers, hold wheelchair drives, assist with administrative tasks or join their email prayer support group. There is always a job for new volunteers, and those who want to learn more or get involved can call (314) 773-5664 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.