Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., has made ministry with people who have disabilities a priority. To take its ministry to a new level, Faith CRC consulted with various people, including Rev. Mark Stephenson, the director of Disability Concerns, who led a worship service and met with some of the ministry leaders. Because they were ready, the leaders at Faith recognized the giftedness of Elizabeth Schultz. She tells the following story.
Growing up with cerebral palsy that affects my movement and my speech, I constantly had to prove myself. As an adult, I had to tell people that I have a college degree so that they would not “baby talk” to me. Some thought of me only as a “project.” They saw my wheelchair and heard me speak, and then assumed that I was intellectually disabled. They certainly didn’t think of me as a leader.
When I joined Faith CRC, the shift in public perception—from being a project to being a leader—was just mind-blowing. After 44 years, a body of believers truly understood me. This shift became clear one Sunday evening when Pastor Jim told me that I had been nominated to be an administrative deacon. At that moment, I knew that I had been blessed with a church family that “got it.”
After being elected as a deacon, I began serving on the council, on our church’s administrative team, as liaison for the council on our worship committee, and as one of our church’s deacon delegates to classis meetings. I take the offering using an attachment for my wheelchair constructed by one of our church’s members.
Because I live with disabilities, I can provide a perspective that others can’t. For example, at a meeting of classis Holland, delegates discussed a church that will make ministry to people with disabilities a significant focus. I was able to ask questions that others might not have thought about, and I could provide answers to some questions that others asked.
Although the word “I” appears a lot in this article, it’s really not about me. It’s about God, who has blessed me with a church family that understands and celebrates differences. If it were not for God, I would not be here. I give all the glory to God. In fact, I thank God for my disabilities, because through them I am the woman I am today.
Note: A longer version of Elizabeth’s story appeared in Breaking Barriers, Winter 2012.