Making Jesus Accessible
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Butler learned what it means to be impacted by disability 22 years ago when his son was diagnosed with developmental delays and multiple disabilities. He is now founder and executive director of Ability Tree, a ministry devoted to making Jesus accessible to all. Since its creation in 2010, Ability Tree has worked to come alongside families touched by disability and to equip churches to welcome, include and support them.
“Making Jesus accessible” is Butler’s ultimate mission with Ability Tree. While consulting with and resourcing local churches is the primary way Ability Tree lives out this mission, it is not all they do. Ability Tree also provides annual retreat-style camps for individuals with disability, operates day and afterschool programs, and has opened a R.E.S.T. (Recreation, Education, Support and Training) Center in Northwest Arkansas, consisting of a sensory playroom, a basketball/volleyball court, and an outdoor play area.
Particularly passionate about the R.E.S.T. Centers, Butler hopes to continue to build more across the nation to provide restful and engaging places specifically for people impacted by disability.
A few years ago, Butler began a conversation with the father of Alex, a nonverbal boy on the autism spectrum, at a birthday party. While his dad and sisters attended the party, Alex stayed home to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Butler told the dad about Ability Tree and invited him to come check out the special needs ministry at his family’s church.
The man was hesitant, “I am an atheist, but I know my wife is looking for a church to take our kids. Would Alex be welcomed?” Butler assured him that yes, Alex would be welcomed and soon after, he, his mother, and sisters began attending services. Before long, Alex’s dad joined them!
Butler received a call from Alex’s mother one Sunday after church. Excitedly, she told him that she had instructed Alex to get dressed, something that he had never done alone. Twenty minutes later, she went into the foyer to find Alex dressed and ready to go. Confused, she thanked her husband for dressing Alex, which he said he did not do. He had dressed himself because he was excited to go to church.
The family piled into their car and were on their way. As soon as they parked, Alex began pulling his mom toward the church doors, barely able to contain his excitement. “She was in tears as she told me the story,” Butler says. “She was so thankful that a church would welcome and minister to their entire family, including Alex.
“Our greatest victories come from hearing the stories of individuals and families impacted by disabilities, coming into a relationship with Jesus and finding a welcoming church home,” Butler says.
LANCE AND LORI
Both living with cerebral palsy and wheelchair users, Lance and Lori have been attending an Ability Tree summer camp geared toward adults with disabilities for approximately 13 years. The married couple does not allow their disability to stop either of them from praising God and using the gifts He has given them in great ways.
Butler explains that Lance has the gift of prophecy and Lori is a songwriter who uses her gift to write songs based on the theme of the camp every year. “We have seen people come to faith in Jesus and being encouraged by Lance. When Lori performs her songs during the camp talent show, there is not a dry eye in the room!”
Moving forward, Ability Tree hopes to continue to expand their reach to equip, resource, and train local churches and communities to know how to best minister to those impacted by disability. “Our goal is to annually plant one or more branches of Ability Tree and to consult and work with local churches in all fifty states by the end of next year,” Butler enthuses.
“Including people with disabilities is not rocket science, but it takes intentionality,” Butler says. “They are people made in the image of God. They are human. They have needs. Who better to meet those needs than us, the Church?”