After Pastor Jeffrey Hough of Angel Community Church in Muskegon, Mich., stopped attending church over four decades ago, it would take a torn Achilles tendon and a congregation that welcomed his daughter to get him to return.
Around the time he entered college, Hough left the church. “I thought the world had much more to offer,” he said. “I was just chasing the bright lights.” When he tore his Achilles tendon playing softball in the early 1990s, things changed. Amidst fears of the operation and the uncertainty of whether he would walk again, Hough promised God that if he made it through, he would begin attending church again.
The operation was successful, and Hough was intent on upholding his promise. He overheard a conversation about Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and decided to try it out. Eventually the messages started resonating and he built relationships with church members.
But for Hough to feel truly enveloped by the church, he would need to see them welcome his daughter, Fahyola, now 36, who has autism. When Hough had brought her to churches occasionally as an adolescent, he was always disappointed in the reception. “People would stare,” Hough recalled. “I was protective of her and we would stop going.”
“The people at Madison didn’t stare,” Hough noted. “They looked at her like she was a person. I was touched by that.” They remained at Madison Square for almost three years.
Hough later moved back to his hometown of Muskegon and returned to the Pentecostal church he was raised in. One day as he was doing street ministry in the neighborhood surrounding Angel Community Church, a combined Christian Reformed and Reformed church in urban Muskegon, Hough’s life changed. “I heard God say to walk over and bless Angel because I would be the pastor of that church someday,” Hough remembered. “And I said, ‘Yeah, right!’” Through God’s provision, two-and-a-half years later he became a commissioned pastor of that church and has been there for 15 years.
Without Madison Square’s inviting spirit toward Fahyola, Hough’s journey might look much different. Mark Stephenson, director of disability concerns at the Christian Reformed Church emphasized, “Everybody belongs; everybody serves. Not only do churches need to be welcoming and accessible in our buildings, but also in our attitudes,” he said.
Hough echoed that by saying, “Jesus said it best: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Realize that [people who have disabilities] are people and not objects. Love them deeply.”