Who are Bible Friends?
Bible Friends is a Christian fellowship/Bible study group for people with an intellectual disability. The group meets on Tuesday nights through the school term-time in the Upper Lounge of Christ Church, Whanganui. Up to 16 people attend, plus leaders.
Although the leadership of the group mainly comes from Whanganui Anglicans, the group is non-denominational. Some members attend different churches on Sundays, while others see Bible Friends as ‘their’ church.
Each week we incorporate all the elements of church, with worship, prayer and teaching; and usually we also have an activity that reinforces the teaching. The focus is on fellowship, worship and getting to know God better, with ‘easy to understand’ language and ideas. Every member has a turn in ministering to others via such tasks as bringing supper and washing up.
In March, up to 15 of us go in two vanloads to the annual camp run by Christian Fellowship for the Disabled (CFFD) Wellington Region, at El Rancho in Waikanae. This is one of the highlights of the year.
Another highlight is a Christmas Pageant that we perform at the end of each year for family members, flatmates, friends, caregivers and church members. We view this as a fun outreach ministry opportunity, which is advertised in the newspaper to allow other people in the community to attend, too. The pageant is free, though we do take an offering, which goes towards our camp costs.
As transport can be a problem for some people, we are very grateful for the use of the parish minibus for bringing people every week and dropping them home again; as well as for use on out of town trips such as camp. Use of the minibus is crucial for enabling people in independent and semi-independent living situations to attend Bible Friends.
We have a fabulous team of helpers from rostered van drivers and musicians to a gifted and committed leadership team.
Louise Rostron – Bible Friends Coordinator
Bible Friends – Our Story
As with many good things, Bible Friends began with a conversation between two friends. In this case, the friends (both women) wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and they wanted to encourage each other in this.
One of these women has an intellectual disability and said, ‘I really want to be a Christian. I have tried going to different churches in town, but they use long words that I can’t understand. They do strange things that I can’t understand. The songs have big words in them that I don’t understand. I want to follow Jesus, but I don’t know how. Can you help me?’
This was a wake-up call for the other lady. She realised that there was a whole group of people in our community that our churches don’t cater for, because of the way we do things. In the same way that wheelchair ramps make churches accessible to people with physical disabilities, there was a need to make Christianity accessible to people who have intellectual disabilities.
As the vision for a Christian group for people with intellectual disability was shared, God put many things together and Bible Friends became a reality. Early on, we found out that two elderly ladies had been praying faithfully for over ten years for such a group in Wanganui!
We began by inviting people to a short course, which was an introduction to Christianity, and we called it ‘New Beginnings’. After the course ended, we invited people to keep on with the group and many of them stayed. We needed to find a name, and group members chose the title of ‘Bible Friends’ – a friendly group of people who are on a journey of discovery to find out what the Bible has to say.
We meet every week, on a Tuesday night, through the school term-time. Our meetings include worship, prayer, teaching and usually some kind of activity related to the teaching. Each term we follow a theme, which we plan during the school holidays. Some group members go to their own churches on Sundays, but many of them see Bible Friends as their ‘church’.
We have a wonderful team of helpers. We use the church van to pick up and drop off people who are living independently and who could not get there otherwise. We have people who play music, lead worship, lead prayer and teach, as well as general helpers. Group members are involved in using their God-given gifts in helping one another and in ministry. Each evening ends with supper.
One of the highlights of our year is at Christmas-time, when we perform a Christmas play for family, flatmates, friends and church family to enjoy. It is encouraging to be told by some people who come every year that for them, coming to our performance is the highlight of their Christmas.
Another highlight for many of our members is joining in with the Wellington branch of the CFFD in their annual camp; we have found many friends there.
Other special occasions have included baptisms and other celebrations – two of our group met at Bible Friends and got married!
We praise God for leading us week by week, and for supplying our every need. At times we have struggled to find van drivers, musicians, teachers or other helpers, but God always provides for us, though sometimes we have to be patient, and wait!
We learned about the Psalms and every member of Bible Friends worked on writing two psalms together. Here is what we wrote:
A Psalm by Bible Friends,
A Psalm on the letters A, C, D, E, K, Z, L, Y, R and H
Thank you God for daffodils,