I am a transplant into the Church of the Nazarene. While growing up, and even as a young adult, I heard about the Church of the Nazarene but never really knew much about its beliefs or history. I came to the church through a variety of circumstances, the most recent being an interview for the special needs pastor position at First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena, California (PazNaz).
Since high school, I have been involved in some kind of ministry to individuals with special needs, as well as with their families. Prior to coming to PazNaz, I was serving at a church experiencing financial problems. I believe God used this set of circumstances for me to discover the church I now call home.
Pastor Scott Daniels shared the history of the church during my initial interview. He shared how Phineas F. Bresee, the first general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, wanted to do more for the poor, the addicted, and the marginalized in society. Of course, individuals with special needs are still marginalized in the world. As I listened and learned how we obtained our denomination's name, I knew the position was a natural fit and I had come home.
"The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.' Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see!'" (John 1:43-46 NRSV).
Can anything good come from Nazareth? These words were the foundation for the name "Church of the Nazarene." Nazarenes are named after Jesus the Nazarene. Our church has, at its core, the belief that something good can come from Nazareth. Nazareth was considered the pit of the earth (my definition). No one believed anything good could come from Nazareth. The same is often said about children, youth, and adults who have varying kinds of disabilities and special needs.
The majority of the people in our world do not truly believe anything good can come from individuals who have special needs. While there are more programs and services becoming available in the U.S., individuals in other places around the world with special needs are kept hidden. They are not allowed in schools and typically not in places of worship. The work that is being done to make an impact in the lives of the countless girls, boys, men, and women is largely being done by the community of faith.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go to Romania on a mission trip to provide training and education to local churches and Christian organizations to better equip them to reach those with special needs for Christ. The second part of this trip was to go into the orphanages and provide training and encouragement to the staff who were providing care for orphans, many of whom had severe disabilities.
One particular day stands out in my mind as we were visiting a state-funded orphanage. None of the orphans had anything that belonged to them. On community outing days, the staff would go to the store closet and pull out clothes that were appropriate for the children to wear on outings to the community. The next day we saw some of the exact same clothes on different children.
We then had the privilege of visiting an orphanage that was funded by a local church. The contrast was amazing. In this orphanage there was a row of wheelchairs. Each child had his or her own wheelchair. It was nap time so most of the children were sleeping. The facility was clean and attractive. Children who were there had been rescued from some of the orphanages because if they had not been moved to this facility they would have most likely died.
After that visit, I was impressed with what happens when the people of God truly live into God's Kingdom and reach out and believe that something good can come from Nazareth.
This past June, at the Los Angeles District Assembly, we were reminded again of the call God has placed on us as the Church of the Nazarene.
It is our call to reach those from whom the world thinks nothing good can come.
Who are the children, teens, and adults in your life who have special needs? What is God calling you to do? What can your church do to begin to dream and plan to show God's love and compassion to these individuals?
Begin to seek God's face about how to reach out to those who are marginalized in most societies.
No matter where you live, there is at least one child or teen or adult and their family who needs to know something good can come from them.
Live out the words of Isaiah 58:5-11 (NRSV)
- Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house| when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
- Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
- Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
- The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Julie Keith is special needs pastor at Pasadena, California, First Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2010. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.