By Noel Marquis
Pastors Bob and Cecile Barnhart of the Church of God at London in London, Ontario, are making a major difference in the lives of disabled people in their community. Though the Abilities Outreach ministry was officially launched in September, Pastors Bob and Cecile were inspired to reach out to the disabled before they began serving at the Church of God at London in 1999. The passion was sparked when Cecile began working at the Oxford County Branch of the Canadian Health Association.
“Many churches struggled with how to serve our clients with mental health issues,” Pastor Cecile says. “I would pray for churches that would welcome our clients and who would work with us to integrate them successfully into their fellowships.”
Accessibility for the disabled was on the Barnharts’ minds when their daughter was unable to enter their house or church after undergoing major surgery on her foot. The event brought to light the lack of accessible ramps for the disabled in public places.
The Barnharts also served to guarantee disabled students in London, Ontario, safe rides to school for over fifteen years; Pastor Bob drove a school bus for the disabled while Pastor Cecile worked as the bus monitor. “We feel that God has been preparing us for this ministry through all these events,” Cecile says.
Six years ago, the Barnharts decided to take action at their church to raise awareness for, and to embrace those with, mental and physical disabilities. The Abilities Outreach Ministry was largely inspired by the Abilities Ministry in Toronto. “We sent a delegation to visit the Abilities Ministry in Toronto and we have raised funds to transform our church into an accessible facility,” Cecile says. “We had setbacks with lots of red tape, but this September our dream became a reality and we launched our Abilities Outreach Ministry.”
The Abilities Outreach Ministry is a church-wide effort to invite and reach out to those with mental and physical disabilities in the London community. The ministry is also working to improve accessibility and to promote education on the topic in the surrounding area. “What we seek to do is meet the spiritual needs of those within our community who have various levels of disability, and encourage them to use their God-given gifts, abilities, and talents for the glory of God,” said Pastor Cecile.
The Abilities Outreach Ministry is already off to a positive start. During the ministry’s official launch, the church was attended by someone who had been unable to access the church previously due to lack of wheelchair accessibility. The ministry has also inspired various people with disabilities to become members and even leaders of the church.
Pastor Cecile believes that the introduction of the ministry to the church has allowed for incredible spiritual growth. “I think one of the biggest differences is we are looking out to see who we can bring and who we can serve, and we know that God is in it,” Pastor Cecile says. “God kept hope alive and we believe with our whole hearts, minds, and spirit that God has called us to this ministry.”
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