Communication Department, ATCU
During the weekend of March 13-15, 2015, the Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists (ATCU) held its first Special Needs Summit at the Maranatha Seventh-day Church, in the South Bahamas Conference. The theme for the three-day event was “Jesus’ All Inclusive Kingdom.”
During the Friday night opening session, Mr. Leonard Cargill, assistant director in the departmental of social services, highlighted the Bahamas Government’s commitment in this area. He announced that the Bahamas Government would be building a school, on the island of New Providence, dedicated solely to children and adults with special challenges. He also commended the Seventh-day Adventist Church for hosting this event. “The church has an important role to play in creating awareness in this critical area for our nation,” he remarked.
The guest presenter for the event was Dr. Elvetha Derrick Telemaque, an adjunct professor at Herbert L. Fletcher University, the Inter-American Division’s online university. Throughout the meetings, she covered various presentations such as mental disabilities in adults and children, creating a disabled friendly church, nurturing a special needs culture, and ministering to families with autistic children. She indicated that the IAD is focused on taking this special needs seminar to all the unions within its territory.
Elder Allan Smith, the first elder for the Maranatha Church and a retired occupation therapist shared with the members how to create a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities. Each church should have appropriate ramps for wheelchair access, and bathroom facilities that that can accommodate a person in wheelchair. He further explained that people with disability challenges want to be able to function with as little assistance as possible.
Pastor Andrew Burrows, the Personal Ministries director for ATCU, and the facilitator for the summit, challenged the church to be inclusive in its ministry. During his Sabbath morning message, he utilized the story of the man who was blind from birth as recorded in John chapter 9. He emphasized that, like Jesus, we should see everyone as a person first. He said Jesus saw the man as a person, but the church leaders back then saw the man’s blindness as a problem and a stigma.
The meetings featured testimonies from caregivers who have family members with special needs such as autism, Downs syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Desmond Brown, who is blind, demonstrated how he uses technology to find apps on his phone and to teach the Sabbath School lesson. “I am happy for the church’s emphasis on special needs at this time,” he beamed. “Our disability does not limit our ability to be used in God’s church,” he added.
At the conclusion of the meetings, Pastor Burrows outlined that the next step is to establish a Special Needs Committee in each of the fields within the union and also at the local churches. He said that this is something that was recommended some time ago. This summit was to sensitize and encourage us to go back and implement the ideas and suggestions. Pastor Burrows also recommended that each local field should host a similar event, utilizing the many persons who have expertise and experience in this area.
Communication Department, ATCU
Under the caption "Special Needs: A Ministry Whose Time Has Come," the Inter-American Division (IAD) held its first Special Needs Summit at the IAD headquarters in Miami, Florida during January 13 -16, 2014. The purpose of the Special Needs Ministry is “to bring all members into the work of Christ and to encourage church leaders worldwide to give special attention to individuals with special needs…"
During the summit, personal ministries directors from the various unions and persons involved in special needs ministry received vital information on how to implement or improve special needs ministry in their respective territories.
In addressing the summit participants, Pastor Israel Leito, president of IAD, declared, "Our meeting here is not for us to learn how to assist those who are disabled but to assist us how to live, accepting those who perhaps cannot do the things like we can."
One of the keynote speakers for the event was Senator Floyd Morris, president of the Jamaican senate. During the Wednesday morning devotion, Senator Morris shared with the participants his journey of becoming blind at the age of 20 to presently being the president of the Jamaican senate. Using Philippians 4:6 as his inspiration, he said that "we can do anything in this life irrespective of the challenges or the situation we find ourselves."
The sessions highlighted the seven major special needs grouping: cognitive, hearing, hidden, mobility, psychiatric, speech, and visual disabilities. Participants also were told about some of the words or phrases that should be avoided: handicapped, afflicted or less fortunate, retarded, sick and shut-in, stroke victim etc. Better choice of words or phrase would be disabled, has a special need, congenital disease, in the hospital or at home, or has a stroke.
As this was the first special needs summit for IAD, it is anticipated that all the unions, fields, and churches in the IAD will appoint or assign persons to oversee the development of a special needs ministry in each entity.