Going to college can be a challenging experience. For people with a disability, the experience can be daunting.
Peter Gordon understands what it’s like. Despite having a hearing impairment and a learning disability, he earned degrees from Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., the latter a master’s in pastoral care.
Now a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, Gordon works with students who have disabilities through Jabez Ministries, a ministry at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in Mich. Two years ago Gordon founded the ministry, which is supported by Christian Reformed Home Missions and several Grand Rapids-area classes (church regions).
“What a lot of my students with disabilities are talking about is, ‘what does God expect from me? What does he want me to do?’” Gordon said. “They’re looking at life’s questions from a totally different perspective [than an able-bodied person].”
More than 600 of GRCC’s 14,000 students have a disability. “That is only the students who have registered with the Office of Disabilities,” Gordon said, indicating that the number may actually be higher.
Jabez Ministries offers Bible studies, pastoral care, and opportunities for service projects and mission trips. Sarah Stanford, who is blind, discovered Jabez Ministries two years ago while attending GRCC. She credits Gordon with giving her the confidence to finish her associate’s degree and continuing her education at Western Michigan University, where she is studying human resource management.
“He’s helped me realize that I want to be heard despite my disability,” said Stanford, who wants to work in vocational rehabilitation with disabled military veterans after she finishes her bachelor’s degree. “It’s not the inclusion that matters, but being heard and understood that means a lot more.”
Jabez Ministries is just one arm of the CRC’s presence on the campus of GRCC, where the denomination has offered ministry since 1970, said Harry Lew, who heads the college’s campus ministry.
Lew said it’s good to have someone who is really aware of the challenges students with disabilities face. “There’s that need,” he said.