Category Archives: Special Needs Ministry

1,000 Voices

God is building you a team, even if you feel alone.

Our families affected by disability are often home on Sunday mornings, isolated from the church. It is easy to believe we are alone. But God is building a team. And I have seen it.

It was 5am, 14 degrees, and still dark. If I wanted to get to the airport in time for my flight, I had no choice but to shovel this path…again. It’s always nice to visit California, but when one’s hometown of Boston has had more snow than at any other time in the history of the universe, and one’s house looks like an oversized meringue, it’s especially nice to visit California. 75 degrees, with a chance of earthquakes, sounds like a perfect forecast.

I took a few more shovels full of snow and stopped to stretch. My back was sore from shoveling this same narrow path almost every day for the past six weeks. And every time I shovel, it fills right back up with snow. As a single parent of a child with autism, I will admit – it’s tough to do the hard work of every day, and it’s easy to feel like I’m doing it alone. I wanted to walk back into my house and wait for global warming. But 1,000 people from 50 different countries were coming to this disability conference in California hosted by Joni and Friends. Many were traveling difficult paths.

So I kept shoveling.

By the time I arrived at the Global Access conference in Los Angeles, I had completely forgotten about anything cold. I walked through the doors of the conference just in time for afternoon worship. The stage was brightly lit and the music team was singing, “You are the everlasting God.” Gauzy white drapes hung from the sky-high ceiling of the sanctuary and captured the light mid-air. I breathed in the music, the voices, the magnificence of it all.

All around me there were people, of every color and culture and age, of every ability and disability. And every one of us held the same hope: to see the doors of the church open wider to those with disabilities. I stood in the back of the sanctuary so that I could witness everything, and everyone. The dancing hadn’t started yet, the conga line lead by Joni, the joy-filled worship that would later consume the back of the sanctuary. For now, we stood side by side, leaning on the Lord and each other, lifting our hearts and voices.

The woman beside me was tall and strong, with a shock of blonde hair that flew behind her like wild flames. In the middle of the song she reached for my hand and raised it into the air. She lifted it higher than I could have done on my own. I laughed a bit, as I had to stand on tiptoes. I then turned to the woman on the other side of me. She was beautiful and frail, her limbs no longer cooperating. I reached for her hand and gently lifted her arm, waiting for her approval. Her smile filled the whole sanctuary as we sang together to the Lord,

“You’re the defender of the weak.

You comfort those in need.

You lift us up on wings like eagles.”

Tears began to stream down my cheeks. Worship is different when it comes from a place of brokenness, when there are 1000 people in a room who know a “fix” may not come in this world, but whose hope is in Jesus Christ. Worship is different when we lift our souls to God, while we reach for those beside us to help carry their burdens.

Our families affected by disability are often home on Sunday mornings, isolated from the church. It is easy to believe we are alone. But God is building a team. And I have seen it.

I looked around the church, all of us with arms raised, worshiping in every language yet with one voice. And I couldn’t help but think back to the many years when my son and I were home on Sunday mornings. Like so many families, we had not yet found our way into the church. The thought of it stabbed me in the heart. But on this day, at this conference, there is hope. God is drawing us together from around the globe so that no one will be forgotten. He wants his church to be full.

Our 1,000 voices became so loud that I thought the roof was going to lift right off, the way a convertible opens up to let in the warmth of the California sunshine.

“Our God, you reign forever.

Our hope, our strong deliverer.”

I squeezed the hands of the two women beside me, and we helped each other lift our hands just a little bit higher.

By Emily Colson

The Gathering

His Church, Our Weakness, Pure Joy. 

Krista Dancing, croppedThe band hit the first note and people flooded forward, dancing before they had even left their seats. An oversized tricycle sat on the perimeter just in case it was needed, and jumper cables lay beside the alter. I could feel my heart race; I’d been waiting two years to experience this. Actually, I’d been waiting twenty years – every since the first moment my son Max was diagnosed with autism.

My dear friend Krista had a God-sized vision when she planted this church and built Benjamin’s Hope, a community named after her son and designed for those with and without disabilities. It is in Holland, Michigan, where people are born kinder than most, with hearts as big as the farmland stretching around them. The church, in the very center of Benjamin’s Hope, hosts a fully inclusive worship service every Sunday night called The Gathering. Dancing is encouraged. Jumping is expected. Sitting is optional.

Pastor Eric, cropped

When the music finished Pastor Eric stepped to the front and welcomed us. He is tall and tree-like, stretching above the congregation to offer us safe shelter. I looked at the faces around me; over 100 people had gathered, many with needs on the outside, all of us with needs on the inside. We sat beneath a huge white tent that rose above us like peaks of meringue. Pastor Eric began to tell us about God’s power to help us when we cry out to him, when we ask him for help. My heart hurt a little with the magnitude of needs around me. He then held up long gangly jumper cables to simulate how this transfer of power takes place. But before he could finish his point, a commotion broke out beside me. Two young women with disabilities were visibly upset, perhaps at each other.

“Is everything ok,” Pastor Eric asked gently as he turned toward our front row. “Should we stop and pray?”

As if waiting for the invitation, several young men who live at Benjamin’s Hope jumped forward to pray, eyes closed, hearts open. I ached at the simple beauty of stopping life, of asking to God to come to our rescue at this very minute, before we can go forward. “God, please help us love each other,” one young man with autism began to pray. “Please give us peace.” It took my breath away. This is who we should be in our churches, I thought to myself: totally transparent; willing to drop everything to be with one another in our needs; able to be present with someone without demanding that they change for our convenience. How many of our families affected by disability sit at home on Sunday mornings because they can’t find their way into a seemingly perfect church? How many people without disabilities stay home for exactly the same reason? Tears filled my eyes as if my heart had been pried opened. God wants us to come to him as we are, open, vulnerable, even in our most untidy state. Another young man stepped forward to take the microphone. “And God,” he added thoughtfully, assertively, “Please help these two girls to stop horsing around.”

Pastor Eric finished his sermon and the band began to play again. I jumped to my feet to dance with anyone and everyone. It was as if the whole congregation was effervescent. We swayed and hugged and cried. I glanced over my shoulder to look for Krista; I wanted to flash her a smile to tell her, ‘this changed my life.’ But she wasn’t looking towards me. Instead she was standing in front of her son Ben, who is twice her size now, just gazing into his eyes. I watched as Krista slowly reached up and tenderly cupped her hands around Ben’s face.

As The Gathering came to a close we began to sing the benediction,

“My friends,

may you grow in grace,

and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

I smiled as Krista reached for my hand, and then I noticed everyone else in the church holding hands too. We looked like a string of paper dolls. As we sang, the entire church lifted their locked hands up toward the sky. Everyone at The Gathering became connected, unified, as if the entire church had become part of a long twisting jumper cable. I could hear every kind of voice around me, some on key, some shouting out, and my own voice cracking with emotion. I didn’t want this moment to end. With my hands held high, I tipped my head back like a baby bird and drank it in.

“To God be the glory,” we sang,

“now and forever,

now and forever.”

Benjamin’s Hope: A Place Where We All Belong from Benjamins Hope on Vimeo.

By Emily Colson

For more information on The Gathering, go to