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21 December 2018 | Binfield [Sophia Nicholls, Patrick Johnson, John Baildam]  

What is the difference between praying for healing and praying for acceptance? How do you see through a disability to the real person behind it? Why do special needs groups sometimes need special worship together within their special cultural identity?

Gifted, Needed and Treasured provided some of the answers during a Joint Special Needs Awareness Symposium, held at Newbold College of Higher Education, 14-16 December 2018.

SPC Group photoNewbold, the Trans-European Division and the South England Conference worked together to bring about this well-received disability awareness event. Throughout the weekend over 90 delegates attended to be educated, encouraged and empowered to lead in this ministry.

Opening the event, Dr John Baildam, convenor and Principal of Newbold College of Higher Education, welcomed all the delegates, introducing them to the inspiration behind the weekend symposium. On meeting Dr Larry Evans, Assistant to the GC President with responsibility for Special Needs Ministry, they developed a plan to bring ‘Possibility Ministries’ to the UK. Symposium organisers, Dr Patrick Johnson (TED Ministerial Director), Sophia Nicholls (SEC Disability and Diversity Director), Dr Baildam and Dr Evans, developed the training and awareness event with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for delegates to become educated and more aware of the possibilities and opportunities available in making the Gospel accessible for all.

SPC deafOne delegate expressed how happy she was to be at the conference and how much she gained from being there. ‘It was excellent’, she exclaimed. ‘I learnt a lot about reaching people with disabilities and about the Deaf culture. Another delegate said, ‘It was very enlightening and a blessing to experience’.

The Friday seminar, presented by Pastor Jeff Jordan, was inspirational. Many were heard to say that they wanted to become a conduit for the Good News message to those who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) as a means of communication. Pastor Jeff, who is deaf, related his journey from being a child who felt isolated and excluded because of his deafness, to becoming an inspirational teacher, preacher and educator. Speaking through his wife Melissa (Missie) Jordan, SPC interprethe encouraged the delegates to ‘use whatever the Lord has blessed you with for His glory’.

Sabbath morning focused on presentations and workshops. Pete and Christine Winmill from ‘Count Everyone In’, a Christian organisation working to bring the Gospel message to people with learning disabilities, admonished the delegates to develop ministry that presents the Good News in a simple and interactive way, enabling people with learning disabilities to better understand the message.

Dr Patrick Johnson shared a workshop on ‘The Image of God’ from Genesis 1:27. This developed the theme of God’s love for mankind, summarising the Image of God as being a gift of God’s relationship with man. Nigel Nicholls (Chair of the Adventist Special Needs Association) ended the morning with a seminar on thoughts from John 9: Who sinned? Nigel summarised his seminar by concluding that the historical and cultural milieu at the time of John 9 influenced the interpretation of disability and its relationship to personal sin. He concluded that sin has played a major part in distorting God’s intention, yet our Saviour is in total control and is sovereign.

SPC Larry EvansDr Larry Evans followed the theme of ‘The Image of God’ during is equally inspiring sermon. He admonished participants to see all people as made in God’s image and to see all ‘mountains’ as possibilities and ‘valleys’ as opportunities. Seminars in the afternoon included a thought-provoking presentation by the Samaritans, Jeff Jordan on Deaf Ministries, and a General Conference perspective of special needs ministry in other parts of the world. Dr Evans also expressed his hope for rebranding the special needs ministry as ‘Possibility Ministries to reflect the core focus of the work.

Sabbath evening focused on the ‘life journeys’ of people who have risen to the challenge of disability in their own lives or have focused on the lives of others through their ministry. The evening, hosted by Sophia Nicholls (SEC Director for Disability and Diversity), took the form of informal interviews.

SPC John AmyAmy and John Ainsworth shared their journey through the experience of living with epilepsy. Her story included a positive account of the support she experienced in her home church, but also some of the challenges where the church could do better. [Read more in ‘The beauty in brokenness’]

Tigger, an Autism Consultant, explained the importance of seeing everyone as people first before seeing their disability. Pete and Christine summarised their experience into ministry for people with learning disabilities.

SPC EspenEspen Johnson concluded the evening with an impact-filled presentation of his award-winning video,Fighting my Illness, produced under his label ‘Waist High View’. Many were heard to say how much they enjoyed the evening and felt connected and encouraged by the life stories.

Sunday morning concluded the symposium with three informative, interactive and instructional seminars: ‘Grief and Loss’, presented by Katherina and Sydney Gibbons; Ministry for People with Learning Disabilities, presented by Pete and Christine Winmill; and finally Dr Patrick Johnson summarised the findings from his recently completed Doctorate in Theology and Ministry (DThMin), which highlighted the ‘voices’ of people with physical disabilities and their experiences in the church.

SPC BaildamDr John Baildam closed the proceedings, thanking all those who had worked tirelessly toward the success of the weekend. We look forward to future joint opportunities such as this one to bring about awareness and lasting change in the life of people living with disabilities and special needs in the journey to the Kingdom.

Further pictures from the weekend can be found on the TED Facebook page. For more information or to make contact about this event, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, editor; Sajitha Forde-Ralph, associate editor
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