Elaine Bennett has been teaching the adults with special needs class, Joy, for 32 years. Her partner Mary Artman has been serving alongside her for 27 years. Can you imagine volunteering in one ministry for that long?
I asked them to fill me in on how they got involved in this ministry. Elaine began by saying she graduated from CSULB with an M.A. in Communication Disorders and became a speech and language specialist. She had been working as a specialist for a few years when the need arose for a new teacher in Joy. She said, at the time, there was a high burnout rate for volunteers, but Elaine took her experience and began to teach and develop a curriculum for the class.
Mary got involved almost the moment she started attending Arbor Road. She was drawn to the class because her daughter is developmentally disabled and this class was an answer to prayer. She had been praying that God would bring her a like-minded person with a similar passion for the disabled, and the Lord answered her prayers by guiding her to Elaine and the Joy class.
I thought that leading such a unique class must be difficult and draining at times, so I asked them what has encouraged them to stay in tough seasons? Mary said, “It is a joy for us to be in this class, we celebrate the tiniest steps that are taken.”
Elaine said she loves to “see their growth in being comfortable with the Lord.” She shared a story about a woman in their class who initially would not make eye contact and didn’t know how to pray at all. As they consistently met in their Sunday school class, this woman was able to make eye contact and she even prayed for the first time. Elaine reflected on that moment, “When you hear someone who has never prayed before, you know the Holy Spirit is there.” It’s the small moments of growth like this that remind her, “the Holy Spirit far exceeds man’s expectations.” She and Mary have witnessed the men and women in Joy grow in ways which no one ever expected and both of them consider this experience and responsibility a gift rather than a chore.
Another story Elaine shared was about an autistic man whose mother would take him to the class and go to first hour service. Elaine said that she was glad the class could bless the mother by giving her an hour of rest and worship, and she wants to bless more people in that way.
Both of these women share a passion for telling more people throughout the community about Joy. They want to bless as many people as possible, whether it’s the developmentally disabled or their families. Their vision is to create a safe environment for the developmentally disabled.
Mary added that part of what makes this environment possible is the faithful service of the other volunteers. Although it can be harder for people to stay because they burnout, Elaine says that all a person needs to serve with them is a love for the students and a willingness to help.
Maybe we aren’t all called to volunteer in Joy, but we are called to serve. If you’re on the fence about volunteering in a ministry, remember the words of Elaine. The Holy Spirit far exceeds the expectations of man. Wherever we volunteer we should remember that our responsibility is a gift and not a chore and when we faithfully serve, even the small moments of growth become a huge joy. As Elaine and Mary have shared, we should take delight even in the smallest steps because that means the Holy Spirit is working.
How do you view your service to the Lord? Are there ways in which you could better appreciate even small areas of growth?\
Written by: Robert Heckert