Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ministering in Friendship With People Who Have Intellectual Disabilities

Note: This is a guest post from my friend Marda. -- Glenn

When I was a young child, I had developmental delays due in part to my extremely  premature birth.  This caused social workers and doctors to recommend to my family that I be institutionalized in a school for the mentally retarded.  These days that would not be as likely to happen.  In addition, the label "mentally retarded", which has carried such a stigma, is no longer used.  The current term is "people with intellectual disabilities".  Sometimes the term "cognitive impairments" is also used.
I want to share a valuable resource for ministering to this population.  It is an organization called Friendship Ministries.
Their mission statement is: "To share God's love with people who have intellectual disabilities and to enable them to become an active part of God's family."
While the group does have Bible study materials available, its primary focus is in helping Christians of any denomination to minister with those who have intellectual disabilities.  Their website is a rich resource for finding out ideas about the Friendship Model, ways to get a group started and so on.  This model isn't all that difficult to implement and there is room for flexibility.  I have used their materials but prefer to plan my own lessons and when I was in a church that required us to have a curriculum I used the materials for ideas but did not follow them strictly.  That is the way the model is designed.  The thing I like about Friendship Ministries is that the people at the organization are accessible, personable and friendly and they really do care about your ministry.
Another thing I like about them is their attitude.  They call their group members "friends" rather than "students".  This seems like a small thing but for many intellectually disabled adults it's huge.  It acknowledges them as adults and as equals in God's family and recognizes that while we are teaching them the Bible they have a great deal to teach us about life and they all have some kind of gift to share.
The website also has material on ministry with autistic children and adults including a couple of good recorded webinars.  There is a listing of resources and a suggested reading list, both of which are updated periodically.
If you have people with developmental, cognitive or intellectual disabilities in your church or you know of some who could be potential church members, Friendship Ministries offers a lot of good ideas to get started and many resources are free.  They are not the only producer of Bible study materials for those with intellectual disabilities, the Lutherans and Southern Baptists have curriculum for special needs ministry and I like some things about those too.  But Friendship is so much more than the curriculum.  If you're looking for curriculum in Spanish, they have that too.  It's called "Amistad", the Spanish word for friendship.
In a future article I will share more about ministering to this population.  For now, if you feel called to this kind of ministry or are interested at all, give a look.
May God continue to bless you in your ministry.

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