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My Little Souvenir - What I Took Home From Inclusion Fusion

By Barb Stanley

This weekend, my Wonderful Works Ministry co-leader, Leah Whicker, and I were part of the Inclusion Fusion Live Disability Ministry Conference hosted by Key Ministry and Tim Tebow Foundation. It was a weekend that I had been looking forward to for a long time because I knew that during this two day ministry extravaganza I would be filled with innovation, inspiration, and new connections. I expected that I may come back even more passionate (if that were possible) about our mission. And I was hoping that somewhere along the weekend, I would be able to find a little souvenir that I could take with me and keep forever. Or, in other words, I wanted to find one special moment that would really capture why our mission of creating accessible churches matters that I could tuck in my heart forever.

Now, I am happy to say that the first two things were easy. I was inspired and encouraged and met more great folks than I can count. But the third one, finding just one special moment that represented our mission, that turned out to be pretty tough. With so many passionate people presenting their hearts out, I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to choose just one. In fact, by the middle of the second day I had all but given up, and had decided that this was going to be impossible. But then, the Meekins family stepped up to the microphone, and proved me wrong.

Tom, Julie, and Amy Meekins are the family behind Champions 4 Parents, an organization that supports parents of children with disabilities. They were speaking on A Chord of Three Strands, which was about the importance of the church, the family, and the individual with a disability all working together. I was excited to come to this breakout session because Tom and Julie are part of my “Zoomies” crew, which is the group of disability ministry leaders that I have been virtually hanging out with via zoom twice a month since the pandemic started back in 2020. I was thrilled to finally meet these friends in person. And so that you all can also share in my excitement let me fill you in a bit. Julie is the mom and the Chief Vision Officer (that is not her official title, but should be), Tom is the dad and in charge of making sure that those visions become reality. Amy, age 27, is their daughter. Amy has CHARGE Syndrome.

CHARGE Syndrome is a rare, genetic condition that is extremely complex. Many people with CHARGE Syndrome are born with life-threatening birth defects and life long challenges, including distinctive facial features, vision and hearing loss, growth issues, heart issues, breathing, swallowing, and speech difficulties, and other things. And while, each person who has it will be affected differently, new parents are often given little hope when their child is born. This was also the case when Amy was born. Her doctors had told Tom and Julie that their daughter would most likely never walk, talk, or eat by mouth. Now, apparently Amy did not agree with this prognosis, because today she can do all that and more - much more, and today she is a vibrant young lady, who has published a book, is starting to do some public speaking, and has her own youtube channel. In a nutshell, Amy is awesome. BUT none of that is why Amy’s talk was the most impactful moment of the conference for me and such a great reminder about why our mission matters. It was because of this.

When Amy got her turn at the lectern, she began to talk about her love of Christ and how she strengthens her faith by reading the Word and living it out in small ways everyday. In fact, she has written a Devotional, Heart Recharge, so others can do that too. She spoke about the encouragement she got from her friends to publish her book and how much that gave her courage to keep going. She told us about her deep love of acting and how much she enjoys being in her church’s plays and productions, as well as some other ways she serves there. And then, she began sharing about her youtube channel. It was here when something in the room began to change. Amy, as it turns out, is quite the character. Not only does she create deep thinking devotional videos that go along with her book, but she also creates short, funny skits that are as clever as they are entertaining. It was when she asked us to turn our attention to the screen and she hit the play button that I realized what the change in the room was. It was joy.

Joy was radiating out of Amy as she watched us watch her videos. She was almost shining with it, and that joy was spilling all over us. In fact, it was impossible to be sitting in that room and not feel a little more joyful yourself. It was impossible to be there, basking in that glow, and not be reminded that God wants each of us to have that same joy, the kind that comes from deep connection and surrender to His will. And I knew that this was the type of joy that Amy had because as I watched her I recognized it - Amy was glowing with the special joy that only comes when someone uses the gifts that God gave them to fulfill the plan that God has crafted for them. And it was then that I knew I had found my moment, the one that had captured the reason why creating accessible church matters:

Accessible church matters because everyone deserves the chance to find that joy.

I left that workshop inspired and encouraged, not because Amy is a young woman who has beaten the odds, though she is. But because she is a young woman who has been poured into with the love of Christ and is now pouring that out on to everyone else. And I believe that when churches welcome all families, including those who have loved ones with disabilities, churches have the opportunity to pour in the love of Christ to all people and then watch them pour it back out into the world. I believe this is how world changers, like Amy, are made. And I believe this is how we live out the Great Commission. If you are part of a church who also believes in the power of the Great Commission, then you should also believe in the power of creating accessible environments that welcome all people in to keep growing in faith.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you… Matthew 28: 19-20

And so it was Amy’s joy that I will forever keep with me as a souvenir from the conference. I hope a bit of it will stick with you too. I also hope that if you were able to go to the conference you had an impact moment too. Though to be fair, choosing just one, does still feel like a pretty impossible task. Thank you to Key Ministry and Tim Tebow Foundation for the conference and the great work you do. Thank you to my “Zoomies” for being even more awesome in person than over my screen. Thank you to Amy Meekins for making my day a bit more joyful. And thank you to each person who supports our mission of making church inclusive for everyone. That brings me great joy!

If you attended the IFL 2022 conference too, please share one moment that impacted you in the comments.

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