Reaching Out With Restoration
Dozens of members of Freedom Fellowships have volunteered annually at the Joni & Friends camps that serve families affected by disability by providing them with a week of rest. Many people who volunteer at Joni & Friends return with a conviction to serve those with disabilities here at home.
Jamie Bell, a member of the Fusion fellowship group, had that conviction after she returned from Joni & Friends a few years ago.
“I came back from my first Joni & Friends and thought that this needed to happen more than once a year,” she said.
Bell wasn’t alone in her conviction. Carlell Howard, also of Fusion fellowship group, and Ted Howell, a member of Phoenix fellowship group, had similar convictions a few years ago.
“The conviction comes from the desire to extend our experience with Joni & Friends,” Ted said. “We can love these special needs kids and families on a more ongoing basis versus just one week in the summer.”
Unified by this same conviction, these three teamed to start a respite ministry at Freedom Fellowships about two years ago. The word “respite” means to rest or restore. Within the disability community, a “respite” is a program that serves those with disabilities while giving the parents or caregivers a time for rest and relief.
“The goal of respite is giving rest and restoration to families,” Carlell said. “With our respite, we wanted parents to get rest and restored from their sometimes hard duties of parenting kids with disabilities. And for the kids, it’s for having someone to be their friend, to bond and encourage them, even share about God’s grace.”
When Jamie, Carlell and Ted first partnered to start this ministry for Freedom Fellowships, the church did not have its own building. So, they reached out to another church in the Kent community to discuss using their facilities for this ministry.
However, in the spring of 2020, COVID-19 took its toll as the world shut down. Plans for a respite ministry paused.
But when Freedom Fellowships bought its building in Kent this summer, Ted saw an opportunity to host a respite program at the new building. Ted, Jamie and Carlell discussed this idea with the church elders, and without much questioning, they said the elders gave them the greenlight to start a respite ministry.
“With our own building, there was flexibility for this ministry. It was a much easier process than before,” Carlell said.
This past fall, these three workers rounded up more than 20 volunteers from both the Phoenix and Fusion fellowship groups to commit to this service ministry. Volunteers are involved in a variety of roles: setup and cleanup; a coffee shop crew to serve the parents; a check-in crew; a team of people to help with crafts and activities; a team of people to teach Bible lessons; and volunteers dedicated to be buddies to the kids who attend. During the respite, children who come are paired with buddies who listen to them and help them with activities.
The first respite ministry day kicked off Saturday, Dec. 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Freedom Fellowships Study Center. Two families took their kids to the respite and 18 volunteers helped.
The respite ministry leadership team said the first respite was a big success.
“A couple of volunteers were nervous to be buddies with these kids, but you could see the volunteers’ fears melt away as they served,” Jamie said. “And the moms served by this were so excited coming back to pick up their kids since they were rejuvenated from the time of rest. This is what we wanted: for the kids to have fun and want to come back and for the parents to be rejuvenated.”
The respite ministry plans to host one respite on a Saturday each month during the school year, and it will be focused on serving local families who have kids with disabilities ages 12 and under. Long-term, the respite ministry team hopes to have more people from the community bring their kids to the Saturday respites and that it can ultimately be used as an evangelistic tool to reach out to parents who do not know the Lord. The volunteers hope to serve those in and around the Kent community who are affected by disability.
The respite ministry team said they will not need additional volunteers currently, but they want to encourage all of Freedom Fellowships to spread the word about this new ministry with family and friends who have kids with disabilities.
“We know God has a heart for people with disabilities—and it’s one of the most unreached people groups in the world,” Jamie said. “We’re called as a church to go out and love, including the disabled!”
For more details about upcoming dates for the respite ministry, contact Ted, Carlell or Jamie.