We All Have Weaknesses. Some are More Visible

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My name is Sherri Swanson, and I’m the director of the 12nine Adult Abilities Ministry at Bayside Baptist Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, where my husband, Glenn serves as the senior pastor. Glenn and I are blessed with two sons and our beautiful daughter Anna, who has disabilities. Over time Anna aged out of youth group and moved into adult bible study class, but she struggled to belong. As I watched my daughter search for community and not fit in, God began to reveal a void in our church. There wasn’t a place for a person with disabilities to study the Bible on their level and have community with others.

Bayside Baptist Church’s 112nine Adult Abilities Ministry offers community and Bible teaching. (Photo courtesy of Bayside Baptist Church)

The calling to begin a disability ministry seemed overwhelming. Most churches today are not intentionally omitting classes and community for people with disabilities; they just don’t see the void, or they are honestly asking, “How do we begin?” Bayside was no different.

In the summer of 2021, Anna and I attended the “Everyone Belongs” Camp at Skycroft Conference Center in Middletown, Maryland sponsored by The Banquet Network, BCM/D, Cresthill Church, Bowie and The Gathering Place Church in Bowie. Anna had an amazing time learning on a level that was perfect for her and meeting other campers who were her peers. I was able to connect with staff and leaders to gain insight, advice and wisdom on how to be more inclusive at our church.

After much prayer and planning, our 12nine Bible study for adults with disabilities became a reality. 12nine is based on 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

12nine is not just for the students in the class, but also for their families. Parents are connecting with each other because they can relate to and understand the blessings and hardships that are a reality in each other’s lives. Though each student and family have their unique gifts and challenges, this group uplifts and supports in a way that wraps around the family and says you are not alone.

A 12nine Adult Abilities Ministry participant enjoys doing some art work. (Photo courtesy of Bayside Baptist Church)

So, what does a typical Wednesday night in 12nine look like?

• Class begins with a time of prayer requests and praises that are authentic and sincere. We take our petitions before the throne room of God, and we know He answers prayer.

• We worship and sing praises to our Savior with microphones and percussion instruments that are used to glorify God no matter the musical ability.

• We open our Bibles and read God’s Word, even when we are hard to understand because some of our speech isn’t clear.

• We memorize the Word using sign language and try to apply it to our lives.

• We break bread together and fellowship, sharing the struggles and blessings of the day.

12nine is a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, growing in our love and knowledge of the Lord and in community with each other, just like any other small group Bible study.

Reaching out and intentionally seeking those in the disabled community has been a true blessing to me and the church at Bayside. We are becoming a church that loves and accepts people of differing abilities, just like Jesus as he sought out the lame, blind, deaf, and mute. It is not always easy, and it can be messy, but isn’t every child of God worth the effort?

My prayer is that we would rely on Christ’s power and His grace as we share the love of Jesus with all people.

12nine Adult Abilities Ministry students show off their art based on the armor of God.(Photo courtesy of Bayside Baptist Church)

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 BaptistLIFE magazine.