Photo courtesy of Jesus Club.

Friends at the Jesus Club in Bethesda Church Bukit Arang enjoying a Christmas event together before Covid. Photo courtesy of Jesus Club.

Have you ever wanted to start a church ministry with, or for, people with disabilities but felt ill-equipped to do so?

Church leaders and members in this predicament can now turn to a locally-written handbook for insights, as local disability ministry advocates move to provide more comprehensive resources suited to the Singaporean context. 

Enabling Hearts: A Primer for Disability-Inclusive Churches explores not just the theological introduction of disability but also different aspects of disability ministry, such as how to disciple the differently-abled into disciple makers, develop an inclusive liturgy and build churches that are accessible to all.

The cover of Enabling Hearts features a painting by the artist Hyatt Moore entitled Luke 14 Banquet. The painting is based on the banquet in Jesus’ parable in Luke 14, where the “poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”. Every individual featured in the painting a real person with disability who posed for the photo. The painting was commissioned by Joni and Friends, a leading disability ministry based in the US. Photo courtesy of KIN.

The cover of Enabling Hearts features a painting by the artist Hyatt Moore, based on the banquet in Jesus’ parable in Luke 14. Every individual featured in the painting is a real person with disability who posed for the photo. The painting was commissioned by Joni and Friends, a leading disability ministry based in the US. Photo courtesy of KIN.

On top of that, it also takes a deep dive into how churches can be more inclusive of people with different types of disabilities, and also includes real and practical insights from leaders who have been running disability ministries for people with autism and the deaf.

The 23-chapter book combines the expertise and experience of almost 30 believers across the country’s disability sector, including academics, disability professionals and persons with disabilities and their families.

Programmes to equip churches 

This new book is part of a concerted effort to boost the volume of resources available to local churches that are interested in establishing disability ministries.

Last Saturday (January 30), a new local research centre, called the Centre of Disability Ministry in Asia (CDMA), was launched to serve as a one-stop resource to allow churches who lack the necessary know-how to equip themselves.

The research centre hopes to provide substantial “context-relevant” resources for disability ministry in Asia.

It was co-established by Koinonia Inclusion Network (KIN) and the Biblical Graduate School of Theology (BGST).

The launch, which was held on Zoom, was graced by guest-of-honour Rt Rev Keith Lai, President of the National Council of Churches of Singapore and Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Leow Wen Pin, Director of CDMA and President of KIN, noted that while there are many resources for disability ministry published for a Western context, there is a “relative dearth” of such resources in Asia.

Thus, the research centre hopes to provide substantial “context-relevant” resources for disability ministry in Asia.

It will do so by running programmes like the Certificate of Christian Disability Ministry, a three-module course that equips churches and its members to build disability-inclusive communities.

It will also produce contextualised resources such as Koinonia Papers, which are short articles that help disability ministry leaders to upskill themselves, said Leow. These articles are available for free on the CDMA website.

In collaboration with local Christian publisher Graceworks, the research centre is also working on publishing a comprehensive series of books to support and enable disability ministry in the Asian setting. 

Enabling Hearts: A Primer for Disability-Inclusive Churches, which was edited by Leow and retails at $20, is the first volume in the series.

Drawing inspiration from the disabled

Dr Lai Pak Wah, Principal of BGST, said the launch of the centre marks a significant milestone in the growth of the disability ministry in Singapore and in Asia.

“Every child of God is given spiritual gifts to build up the Church, and that includes people with disabilities.”

“Our brothers and sisters in Christ are an equally valuable part of God’s church. In fact, as we read the Gospels we cannot help but notice how persons with special needs appear so often within the pages, reminding us that persons with disabilities are not marginal to God’s concerns but very much are at the heart of the mission of God.”

At the launch, Leow told the audience: “On the very fundamental level, (the launch of the research centre) is driven by our common conviction that God’s call to make disciples of all the nations includes persons with disabilities.

“Moreover, we also believe that including people with disabilities is an act that will benefit the Church. This is because every child of God is given spiritual gifts to build up the Church, and that includes people with disabilities. And so, the Church includes them for her own good and not out of pity.”

“Persons with disabilities are not marginal to God’s concerns but very much are at the heart of the mission of God.”

In an interview with Salt&Light, he added that he hopes to see more disability ministries and inclusive worship services being set up in creative ways, as well as churches empowering persons with disabilities to take the lead in starting and running ministries.

He urged churches to start a disability ministry if they do not already have one, noting that the country’s ageing population means that disability will continue to increase in churches.

“Thus, churches that start getting involved with disability ministry are wisely preparing themselves for the future, while at the same time fulfilling the Great Commission’s mandate to make disciples of all peoples – which, of course, includes people with disabilities.”

Acknowledging that starting such a ministry may be “daunting”, he added: “But imagine this – our brothers and sisters with disabilities themselves also find life challenging, yet they take it upon themselves to love Jesus and love the Church.

“Let us draw inspiration from their daily commitment to God to work hard ourselves at the task of inclusion!”


FOR MORE STORIES ON BUILDING A DISABILITY-INCLUSIVE CHURCH, READ:

How do Sunday Schools meaningfully include children with special needs?

Blind greeter, drummer with Down’s Syndrome, inspire participants at disability-inclusive course for churches

How can churches better include people with special needs?

About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer at Salt&Light. When she's not working, you will probably find her admiring nature or playing Monopoly Deal with her little brother.

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