Disability Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church

How to Start a Mentoring Program at Your Church

You might not think finding the right crayon for someone or carrying a person's dinner tray to the table is a ministry, but Joanne Partch would disagree. For the past three summers, Joanne has watched her husband Jim "blossom" as he does these simple tasks for people with disabilities at Camp Hope in Washington State. Joanne had already experienced the joy that comes from being around people with varying abilities. She taught special education music for 20 years. But Jim, a lifelong farmer, admits he was always a little uneasy around others, and felt more comfortable tending to plants!

This summer will be Jim's fourth year volunteering at Camp Hope, a ministry of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. Joanne says the experience has changed Jim and they've both been blessed by it. "He lost that uneasy demeanor and began to laugh, smile, even giggle with the campers, feeling their love and joy of his friendship. One of the woman campers who had a room down the hall from ours, would call out as she passed to go brush her teeth in the restroom, 'good night Jim Partch, I'll say a prayer for you tonight.'"

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urges us to be "imitators of God," and to "walk in love just as Christ . . . " (Ephesians 5:2). As United Methodist Men, there is an opportunity for ministry by following Paul's urging and "walking in love" as mentors to people with disabilities. In the United States alone, 19% of the population has some type of disability.

Take a moment and think about some of the life stages that can be challenging for a person with mental or physical disabilities. Consider the 21 year old with Down syndrome who has just graduated from high school and is ready to leave home. A mentor might help the young woman achieve independence by helping her set up an apartment and pay bills on time. A mentor would also be beneficial to the 10 year old who navigates life in a wheelchair. A dependable presence in his life might help make the transition to middle school a little easier.

When you mentor, you open the door for discipleship as well. A Christian mentor, actively claiming the promises of God, is a powerful force in the life of a person whose world is clouded with impossibilities instead of possibilities, whether that person has disabilities or not. We all need to know we are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27) and that our creator has a perfectly good plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11).

Sharing your faith with another is a powerful reason to mentor, but don't be surprised if your faith is also transformed and renewed by this rewarding experience. Jim and Joanne Partch say, people with disabilities have taught them to appreciate the smallest things. "I think these dear people are so loved by God that he allows them to find joy in the simplest things and then pass it on to the rest of us if we will but accept it," said Joanne.

Is God calling you to personally mentor someone with a disability or to start a mentoring program in your church or community? If so, accept His call with confidence. God will equip you for whatever He asks you to do. Jim encourages anyone who is interested in mentoring to start slowly. You might simply sit next to a person with a disability at church and then introduce yourself. You could also go watch a sporting event where people with disabilities are playing. Jim suggests visiting a camp at meal time and staying a few hours afterward to observe. As Jim can attest, finding the right crayon for a craft project is a valuable service, especially when the person you're helping is not able to see.

Myra Monroe, January 2010