Sustained by a Special Touch
Special Touch Ministry, the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries outreach to people with disabilities founded by missionaries Charlie and Debbie Chivers, is commemorating its 40th anniversary. But Debbie is carrying on alone as executive director after the death of Charlie last September from COVID-19 at the age of 68.
“It seems so strange not to have Charlie with me, but God knows the parts of the puzzle that need to be put together,” says Debbie, 66. “Widowhood is not a fun place to be and I miss Charlie very much, but I’m so cognizant of God’s strength, peace, guidance, and His tender hand every day.”
Debbie says the current situation is similar to a family scenario in 2004 when the couple’s then-13-year-old daughter Cassie survived an attempted kidnapping. Cassie escaped her abductor’s grasp, screamed, and fled.
“God was so near after that incident,” Debbie says. “I have that feeling all over again. When we feel inadequate and the situation is out of control, we can run to the Father.”
Special Touch has experienced an upheaval in the past couple of years with the deaths of 28 volunteers, staffers, board members, or ministry participants. Appointed U.S. missionaries Joe and Ann Trementozzi plus 14 U.S. missionary associates work for Special Touch, but the ministry is buoyed by hundreds of volunteers.
Although Charlie’s leadership is missed, Debbie says the ministry won’t be any less vital. Retooling efforts this year will include weekend summer get away programs rather than the traditional weeklong efforts. In addition, a long-delayed plan to construct a building to store equipment and supplies needed for Special Touch Blind Services is expected to be finished by summer.
Chivers is grateful for the presence of Nettamara Doak, who has been administrator of Special Touch Blind Services since 2019, when the ministry relocated to Waupaca, Wisconsin, from Springfield, Missouri. Doak, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree in special education, says she appreciates the coaching and encouragement Charlie Chivers poured into her.
“Charlie’s heart for people with disabilities, his experiences, knowledge, vision, and friendship are missed immensely,” says Doak, 35. “He mentored many missionary associates.”
As the vision-impaired ministry’s full-time director, one of Doak’s roles is overseeing materials. That includes producing a daily recording of God’s Word for Today available by phone; sending tracts to prison chaplains for visually impaired inmates; developing Radiant Life quarterly adult Sunday School curriculum in digital talking book format; and adapting the AG Youth Ministries’ Alive in 5 evangelistic tool in large print and braille book editions with funding from Boys & Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC).
The newest project involves producing tactile keychains of Alive in 5 from a three-dimensional printer paid for by Intercultural Ministries and BGMC. The keychain allows the visually impaired to make a gospel presentation by referring to five evangelistic symbols.
Doak, who has prayed with over 170 visually impaired people in her role, says Special Touch Blind Services has partnered with Accessible Hope International to hand-deliver embossed braille tracts to a woman in Sierra Leone who for the first time could read the gospel. The woman is now reading Scriptures aloud to sighted people.
Meanwhile, although a succession plan is in motion, Chivers has no notion of retiring.
“When Charlie and I were called 40 years ago, we didn’t put an end date on it,” she says. “The passion today is as strong as it’s ever been. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Lead Photo: Nettamara Doak (left) and Debbie Chivers are based in Wisconsin at the Special Touch Ministry office.