Showing the love of Jesus:

How God works through ability diversity

Ray W. McAllister, PhD, is an adjunct professor for Andrews University School of Distance Education, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

How can a blind person handle the rigors of pastoral ministry? The challenges of ministry are difficult enough for a normal person—but for one deprived of eyesight? Tough, challenging, and arduous. Nevertheless, there are visually impaired and blind individuals who have accepted God’s call to ministry, and they have been bold proclaimers of His Word and caring shepherds of God’s flock. God has clearly used them in significant ways.

Meet two of these amazing persons of faith, bold proclaimers of God’s Word, and confident conveyors of God’s caring ministry. Blindness may have erected certain obvious obstacles in their lives, but these pastors have learned, by God’s power, to overcome such hurdles and become effective ministers of the gospel.

Finding one’s potential in Christ

First, meet Matthew Baker. He pastors two churches in St. Paul, Minnesota—the First Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Eastside Seventh-day Adventist Church. For Pastor Baker, pastoral ministry is “centered on having people realize that they have a potential in Jesus Christ and [nurturing] them to realize that potential to its fullest in Jesus Christ.” Baker’s concept of ministry is that it works from the ground up, as the laos (people) of God are lifted higher and higher to see His holiness and reflect His character.

Pastor Baker has been listed as legally blind since his diagnosis in 1983 when he left the United States military. He is unable to drive. He reads print with magnifying equipment. He can see faces but cannot recognize someone by face.

He felt called to ministry in 2001 when, at the age of 40, he was converted to the Advent message. One of the great themes he first found when he accepted the Adventist message is the soon coming of Jesus and each person’s responsibility to be ready to meet Jesus and spread that good news to others. When he found that the spreading of the gospel was such a central theme and a commanding responsibility in the Bible, he knew he had to be an integral part of that work.

At the age of 48, he began serving in a nursing home. There he found opportunities to lead in Bible studies and share his faith personally, and eventually, he established a church. The more involved he was in sharing his faith, the more he felt that he needed greater preparation. So he left his work and went to college to begin formal training in ministry. Some people, such as the pastor in the church where he was baptized, thought it would be difficult for a legally blind person to be a pastor. But Baker persevered and got his training, and the Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists employed him as a pastor.

Pastor Baker has never regretted his decision to join the ministry. His life is filled with joyful and memorable experiences in ministry—events that make his life rich, relevant, and meaningful. One day Baker was visiting a hospital to comfort and pray with a man who had a second heart attack. The pastor was able to interact with the sick man, viewing him not so much as a sick individual but as a friend, and shared with him the assurance of hope and the comfort of God’s watchful care. Baker prayed with the man and shared God’s love and care for both him and his family. As a pastor with a cross to bear himself, Baker was able to share the grace that flows from the cross of Christ with this sick individual. Ministry occurs when there is total identification and empathy.

Baker finds his blindness an asset for ministry in many ways. He believes that having a limitation keeps him humble and helps him to identify with others in their struggles.

Such is Pastor Baker’s work. Not so long ago, five people were baptized through his ministry.

Pastor Baker’s day-to-day work has many obstacles. He has discovered many helpful ways to face them. For a sight-impaired person, transportation can be a tough issue. Baker relies on his wife and volunteers from his churches. He has mastered the streets well, and there are friends with helpful spirits who can lead him to public transit services. Effective preaching requires good eye contact, and Baker has mastered this technique well by utilizing the latent vision that he still commands so that he is able to simulate eye contact while preaching. Gesturing is not difficult, and whether preaching or engaging in one-on-one interactions, he often reminds people to verbally communicate their feelings to him since he is not able to recognize facial expressions.

Baker finds his blindness an asset for ministry in many ways. He believes that having a limitation keeps him humble and helps him to identify with others in their struggles. The process of asking for and receiving assistance gives him opportunities to interact with people and minister to them. He finds that working in spite of a disability can inspire others to attempt the same.

A long voyage and then ministry

The second minister, visually impaired though he may be, finds in the pastoral calling the greatest honor this side of heaven. He sees it enhances his spiritual gift to be able to form connections with varied people in various situations. In the joy of serving God and appreciating the privilege of sharing His Word with His people, this pastor’s diminished eyesight enables him to see the Lord without any distractions and see His people without any prejudice.

Meet Pastor Brandon Grady of the Black Rock Church of the Brethren in Glenville, Pennsylvania. Brandon’s journey began as a baby, when normal vision for him became a delusion and he was left to be cared for at Mother Teresa’s home in Kolkata, India. As he grew up, he studied music but became disenchanted with how competitive the environment was. Even so, he persisted and went to a seminary to study music ministry. There, during a ten-week stint as an intern in 2007, he preached three sermons. As a result of this experience, he was convinced of his calling to be a pastor.

But the path to professional ministry was not so easy. Grady faced much opposition and many difficulties in his path to professional ministry, but he was able to persevere by being up front and clear about his visual handicap and showed how God can turn even a disability into an asset. While he encountered many who approached him with condescension because of his handicap, others genuinely expressed their joy as he managed to do the things he has done. For him, there was only one explanation: the words of Jesus when He said, “ ‘With God all things are possible’ ” (Matt. 19:26).1

Brandon Grady’s most memorable experience as a minister was when he was installed as the pastor of the Black Rock Church of the Brethren, with 175 rejoicing members in attendance. Thus, began Pastor Grady’s joyful movement from being the director of caregiving to leading in professional pastoral ministry.

Pastor Grady has developed his own ways of handling obstacles. He is single, and his ministry reaches singles, families, and anyone seeking the comfort and blessings of the gospel ministry. He cannot drive but carefully plans his visitation schedule and pastoral appointments with the help of ride-sharing apps and a network of friends who drive him. He is most comfortable preaching behind a pulpit and faces different directions so as to create the possibility of face contact with the entire congregation. He uses gestures when he can, but often his hands are busy feeling the dots on his portable computer’s Braille readout. He sometimes has to remind people not to point to something they want him to know about. If he is not sure how someone understood something he said, he is not afraid to ask. He finds that if he handles himself in a way to “command respect,” people will respect him and take him seriously.

Pastor Grady finds his blindness to be a special gift—an extraordinary asset to his ministry through which God’s name can be glorified. In fact, he believes this so strongly that his blindness is discussed quite frankly and positively on his church’s website. He believes that his blindness enables him to appreciate music, an important aspect of worship, in a special way. His need to have assistance requires him to develop connections and relationships that might not otherwise happen. He uses these relational assets as ministry opportunities. He discusses difficult issues, such as loneliness, more freely with people. He has clearly been through struggles. Hence, people feel more comfortable having him enter their homes. Indeed, he sees his blindness as an “invisible lens God has given him to see His work.”

From the blind, what we can see

What can we learn from the inspiring stories of these two pastors who are sight impaired but have become instruments of God’s ministry—who share God’s Word and are the eyes through which their congregations see God’s grace and mercy?

Well, three lessons.

First, every blind or sight-impaired person is different. This is true for anyone in any disabled group and must be remembered when working with the disabled. Some blind persons learn techniques that others do not learn. Everyone with a disability comes to situations with a different skill set. This means that persons with physical deficiencies who wish to be involved in ministry should be considered as unique people with unique abilities, and the Holy Spirit will turn limitations into opportunities. As a blind person myself, I know this personally. I have learned skills that many other blind people do not have, and other blind people have skills I do not have.

Second, as time advances, the world is getting more—not less—accessible for blind and other physically impaired persons. Technology and skill-training methods are constantly improving. In the 1980s, one of the most significant advances for blind accessibility was the advent of scanning equipment that could read printed books with a synthesized voice.

In the last few years, a major development for blind people seeking ministry positions has been the work to make biblical language materials available in Braille formats. Those who hire pastors should be aware that what might seem to be a difficulty now could become less of an issue as technology develops.

Finally, it must be remembered that the One who calls is the One who enables. “He who has begun a good work . . . will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

  1. Scripture is from the New King James Version.

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