Every Monday evening, Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alta., is filled with 80 to 100 individuals having fun, singing, listening to a Bible story, sharing, praying, and eating together. Half of them have developmental disabilities. Some are children. Some are seniors. Each is paired with a volunteer mentor or “friend.” This is a Friendship Ministries gathering. Covenant, together with West End CRC, started this group 30 years ago. During a worship service on April 23, participants old and new celebrated and gave thanks for God’s faithfulness through the years.
Friendship Ministries emphasizes that it is not a ministry to people who have disabilities. Rather, it is a ministry with them. It also mentions that mentors often find that they learn as much as their friends and receive more than they give. Speaking with many involved in this 30-year ministry at Covenant made it obvious that this is true.
Ann Kool has been a mentor for 30 years. “I get more out of it than I put in,” she said. “[The friends] teach me kindness, patience, and peace. They are so real and genuine. They say, ‘I love Jesus.’ No questions asked. We should be like that too, but we have so many questions. Sometimes I think I’ll quit, but I’d miss it terribly.” Both of Ann’s adult sons, Peter and David, are also mentors.
Lloyd Thompson has been involved in Friendship ministry for eight years, the first three bringing his son, Adam, who had cerebral palsy. When Adam died three years ago, Thompson continued to be involved. “If it wasn’t for my son, I wouldn’t have started. But I keep coming because I get more out of it than I put in. It’s a place to smile.”
Pat Vos started ten years ago as a Bible teacher at Rehoboth’s summer camp and gradually began teaching the stories for Friendship. “I love telling Bible stories, and you can’t find a more attentive and appreciative audience. I learn so much myself as I dig deeper into the stories, making a three-verse Bible story into a 15-minute engaging story.”
Linda Rosendal has been involved in Friendship for 20 years. She began volunteering at Rehoboth’s summer camp after grade 9 and discovered a love for working with children with disabilities. This eventually led to a 28-year career at Rehoboth. Rosendal is touched by the unconditional love and acceptance those with disabilities give.
Why do friends like Friendship? Andrea likes to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” likes to see her friends, and likes fun nights and playing Dutch shuffleboard. Shelley loves Friendship because she loves her friends and she loves the singing and stories. This is her family. Tim loves to sing and listen to Bible stories and to meet people. Katia likes Friendship because she loves Pat and her stories. James loves the dances.
People who have disabilities, according to the Friendship Ministries website, deserve a chance to know about God and feel God’s love. They also deserve to be treated with respect and to have friendships with others who know and love God. The group gathering every Monday night at Covenant CRC embodies this ideal.