In nearly six years of attending the Adventist Church, Amanda Shaver has rarely had an enjoyable experience. She doesn’t have a problem with the message or the people—it’s how the message is sometimes presented and how the people are just there.
For individuals like Amanda, staying home is a more restful Sabbath experience. Even in her small church she sometimes feels overwhelmed and claustrophobic. When given jobs, she can feel pressured and uncertain. Sometimes these feelings manifest into what seems like rudeness or indifference to her church family, but in reality is a biological response to invisible disabilities.
Amanda has suffered from sensory processing disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder every day since she was a young child. Periodically, she also deals with depression and anxiety associated with these conditions, making it hard to function in a setting as simple as a small church service. Although Amanda joined the church at age 20, she wasn’t taken seriously because she spent most of her time sitting with the children or writing in a journal.
Caring Enough to Ask
As Seventh-day Adventists and Christians we have an unwritten rule of maintaining self-control over our urges, emotions, addictions and fears. When Amanda joined the church she caught onto this idea and immediately felt as if she was doing wrong. Often angry and afraid, she would walk out of church and retreat to her addictions of cigarettes and controlled eating. Many times she would leave spiritually unfed simply because there were too many men in the congregation that Sabbath.
Because a concerned member took the initiative to ask Amanda about her struggles, her church family learned that she had a severe fear of men rooted deep in her history of familial abuse. If no one had inquired, her church would never have realized what a victory it was that she asked a male mentor and church elder to baptize her into that welcoming little church.
The Power of Acceptance
Looking back, Amanda says that what made the most difference for her was acceptance. The church accepted that Amanda was more comfortable with the kids and she excelled at ministering to them. They saw quickly that she was honest, faithful and had a way with words, so they let her speak. They understood that she had a history, and supported her efforts to reach out to others with a similar history.
In March of 2013 Amanda spearheaded the first Butterfly Project hosted at Peace Point Chapel in Sikeston, Missouri. The Butterfly Project is a self-harm awareness program where community professionals share information regarding mind-body-spirit relationships. Amanda feels strongly about this program because she says, “The whole point is to educate the church and the community about mental disabilities and mental health. We also touched on physical issues.”
Amanda’s dream was to host an awareness seminar every year, but life brought other plans. While most of her struggles were invisible, Amanda had also suffered physically for several years. In 2014 Amanda was diagnosed with Myotonic Dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy, which in Amanda’s case is very aggressive. In a matter of months Amanda suffered such intense spasms in her limbs that she broke several bones in her feet and soon gained the unlucky label “wheelchair bound.”
Suddenly, she was unable to manage young children from her heavy power chair or stand at the podium to preach. Sometimes the spasms in her hands kept her from playing her guitar. People who had finally come to terms with her abrasive personality and understood her internal struggles began to look on her with pity, talking as if she wasn’t there, and judging her absences from church.
It would be easy for Amanda to become angry with God, angry with her church, and quit attending. So why does she wake up at 4 am on Sabbaths to physically prepare for the day, practice praise music, and get herself to church week after week? “Because God expects it out of me,” she says. “He told me to. I love Him and He told me to!”
Mercy and Love Ministries Birthed
When Tina Moore, local church elder and Amanda’s mentor, invited her to help with a Celebrate Recovery group in the nearby town of Gideon, Amanda went. At first she didn’t expect to do anything but fill a seat, yet now she facilitates the female group of 12 attendees. She is good at leading this program because she has herself dealt with addictions and codependency for much of her life.
At the time of her baptism Amanda was struggling with a severe eating disorder. That’s when Tina started emailing Amanda a daily Scripture verse. Amanda would spend the day studying the verse and writing down her thoughts about God and herself and then send the message back. Tina soon realized that Amanda was writing devotionals! Four years later these have grown in depth, along with her spiritual understanding.
One Thing and One Person
Her thoughtful devotionals, her work with parolees at Celebrate Recovery, even her 15-minute praise services are all things Amanda can do. Someone told her she could, God blessed her with talents—and so she does.
Amanda offers this advice to those who may have a disabled family member or a church with no program for disabled individuals: “Find the one thing that is possible to do and do it. If you have a gift and are able to use it for God, you don’t need a special program. All you need is one person saying you can do it.”
Tips for connecting with people who have special needs
- Remember that a medication, diagnosis or special need is not associated with a relationship to God.
- Instead of continuing to invite them to the kinds of functions they repeatedly miss, consider planning something new or simply inviting them to socialize at your house.
- Be a friend despite their absence at church. They miss their church family when they cannot attend.
- If you want to get to know them or understand their behavior, tactfully ask or educate yourself about disabilities.
- When you speak please remember personal space, and also that speaking slowly and loudly only helps people who are hearing impaired.
- Those in wheelchairs, especially children, love to be on your level. Consider bending down or pulling a chair close.
The Disabilities Ministries Quick Start Guide is designed to help you begin or improve Disabilities Ministries in your local church. Order from AdventSource in English or Spanish or through your local Adventist Book Center.