Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Disability Ministries

“Who Are You!”

Today’s blog post comes from DeAnna Quietwater Noriega.

A picture of DeAnna Quietwater Noriega and her guide dog from her book "Fifty Years of Walking With Friends"

 

DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa. She is the mother of three, two daughters and an adopted blind son. She was the eldest of five children in a close–knit American Indian family. As a result of congenital glaucoma, she became totally blind at the age of eight.

DeAnna was mainstreamed in public schools in Texas, Michigan, and California. She completed a bachelor’s degree in social science and did a year toward a master’s in social work at California State University Stanislaus. While attending college, she taught independent living skills to the blind for the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. She worked as a caseworker in Santa Clara County, California, before joining the United States Peace Corps. DeAnna and her sighted husband met while attending college, and Curtis joined her in the Peace Corps. They worked together to establish a school for blind children in the independent nation of Western Samoa.

Upon her return to the U.S., DeAnna spent the next seven years at home, raising children. During this time, she became active in the American Council of the Blind and in Guide Dog Users, Inc. She taught braille, instructed breastfeeding mothers as a La Leche leader, was a friendly visitor at nursing homes, and worked as a volunteer intake clerk at the welfare office.

DeAnna and her husband opened two Papa Murphy’s pizza franchise stores. She served as operations manager, doing inventory, ordering, supervising staff, and handling the cash register and phone during late afternoons and evenings.

After 14 successful years, they sold the restaurants to move to Colorado, where their two daughters were enrolled in college. DeAnna kept busy working as an instructor of braille and independent living skills with an adult education program in Colorado Springs. She remained active in many organizations of the visually impaired, serving as an officer at local state and national levels. She served as a founding board member of a nonprofit organization that opened a blind center in Colorado Springs. She established The Braille Books to Keep project for blind children in both Oregon and Colorado.

DeAnna has been a guide dog user for over 50 years and has taken an active part in passing legislation protecting service animals.

 

Who Are You!

By DeAnna Quietwater Noriega, an excerpt from Fifty Years of Walking with Friends

My uncle always described us as assimilated traditionalists. Men in our family went in to construction or the military. These were acceptable choices for warriors. Those who worked in construction usually left their families during the months when the building trades had work. They returned home in winter. Military families went with their men when possible and returned to the reservation when they weren’t allowed to go to posts in war zones.

My father was a master sergeant in the army and a full blooded Apache. My mother was born on the Isabella Reservation in Mount Pleasant Michigan. She is Ojibwa. My grand father was a six-foot 8-inch Full blooded Ojibwa who left the reservation to find work. He and my grandmother lost two of their 8 children to malnutrition and disease as toddlers. My mother was their first surviving child. She married my father at age fifteen and followed him to California where I was born when she was seventeen.

When I was four, I was living in Louisiana and had a black baby sitter. I asked her why her skin was such a pretty dark color. She said that god had made her with chocolate. White people were made with vanilla. I asked what flavor I was and she said a ginger snap.

When I was in the first grade living in San Antonio Texas, my teacher went around the room using last names to illustrate emigration. When she came to me, she said “Your ancestors probably came from Mexico.”

I shook my head and replied, “No, I don’t think so, I think we didn’t come from some other country but were always here.” I told her we were native Americans. My classmates asked if my parents wore paint and feathers. In all innocence I answered “Only on Sundays.” My mother wore a hat to Church with feathers on it. She used makeup then too.

When we were away from the reservation, people assumed my mother was Hispanic and tried to speak Spanish to her. My Apache grandparents spoke Spanish. I learned a little as a preschooler. I was lighter skinned than my brothers, favoring my maternal grandmother.  I often confused people who weren’t familiar with my Apache face. I have been mistaken for someone from the Philippines, or asked if I were Caribbean, Samoan, or even Eurasian. Until the flower children began viewing all things Native American as mystical, it wasn’t popular to be thought an Indian. People living near reservations held negative opinions of us, believing we were all alcoholics, came from broken families and obstinately held to beliefs that were little better than ignorant superstitions. Children were placed in schools where they were forbidden to speak their native languages. They were shipped far from home and forced to conform to mainstream religion and cultural beliefs. If we wanted to learn more of our culture, we had to make an effort to seek out elders who would teach us.

This has led to a gradual decline in the numbers of native people who remember who they are. Somethings I have learned by watching the adults in the family are:

Babies and young children are people too. They should receive the love and attention of the family. Native American babies aren’t left to cry but move from loving lap to lap. Small children are encouraged to master tasks to add to the well being of the family because all hands can make contributions.

Elders are to be respected and listened too. They have survived many things and can offer much wisdom.

If you have something and another doesn’t, then share. Gifting your little extra will come back to you someday when you may need it.

You are as the great mystery has made you. Value the gift of life and make the world a better place for having been born in to it.

Don’t fear death, it is just another change like birth. Just because we don’t know what to expect doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

We aren’t superior to our brothers and sisters who walk on four legs or swim in the streams or fly. All living things are equally the children of the maker. That is why we owe them respect if we take their lives to live.

These are the gifts I carry in my heart as I walk the world and they define who I am as much as my dark hair and high cheekbones or the fact that I became totally blind at age eight.

Spina bifida awareness?

Today’s blog post comes from Rev. Lisa Heffernan, ELCA Disability Ministries coordinator

I’m just going to be honest here. All month I’ve been procrastinating on writing this blog post. Why? I’m not sure, I guess. Perhaps it’s because it asks for a bit of vulnerability on my part. You see, it’s October, and October is spina bifida awareness and disability awareness month. Spina bifida is the neural tube disorder I was born with, so I can tell you all that I am intimately “aware” of it every day. Do I hate it? No. Not at all. Are there challenges/frustrations that come along with it? Yep. Has spina bifida shaped how I live and move in a world that was not created with me and others like me in mind? Absolutely.

Before I get too far down a rabbit hole of rambling, here is a bit about this spina bifida that approximately 1,400 babies are born with each year. It comes in several different forms, some of which are occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele. On the whole it means that there’s an incomplete closing of the spine and the nerves of the spinal cord in the early development days and weeks of pregnancy. You can look up all kinds of information on the different forms, but I have myelomeningocele which is the most “severe” form. I was born with some nerves exposed on the lumbar part of my spine and had to have that patched up and a shunt put in right after I was born due to swelling of the brain. Oh, and I use a wheelchair full time too. My current one’s a bit worn and weathered, but I like it and the independence it gives me.

So, the question I’m not sure how to answer is this: Why does anyone, why does the church need to be “aware” of disabilities like spina bifida? I don’t want people to feel bad for me because I don’t (and I say “don’t” intentionally here) walk. What I want is dignity, respect, and an equal, equitable place in society and at the Table with my siblings in Christ. I want to encourage people to try and understand more about the things that make each of us who we are; spina bifida in so many ways has made me who I am. I want for the wider Church to be “aware” and repentant of the ways in which it has intentionally and unintentionally excluded disabled people and told us we don’t matter to anyone—not even to God.

I also pray that this body of Christ can come to understand that our world needs more reforming. That the time is more than past for attitudes and harmful theologies to be challenged, and for us to care more about our ministries to all of God’s people than what shortening a pew might do to the aesthetics of a sanctuary. That we can come to some collective understanding that a disability isn’t an obstacle to a person being a fine pastor or deacon. Instead, what is the or an obstacle? Attitudes of scarcity or lack of holy imagination, and a hesitancy to find out what it might take to make our churches and places of fellowship barrier free.

For me, this awareness month/s isn’t about simply learning what spina bifida is or saying how “inspiring” disabled people are. (Just don’t say that…seriously. We’re human. Just as faulted, sinful, loving, and capable as you.) It’s about making we who follow Christ aware of the beauty in this diverse community.  All so that we can strive together to share the love and grace of Christ with one another, seek justice and equity for one another, and live out what we mean when we say “all are welcome at the Table of our Lord”.

Mosaic: A Ministry of the Church

by

by: Rev. Dr. David deFreese, Vice President of Church Relations and International Programming, Mosaic

 

“Embracing God’s call, Mosaic relentlessly pursues opportunities that empower people.”

Mosaic’s mission statement encapsulates the ministry of this serving arm of the Church.

Born out of the Church, Mosaic’s two legacy organizations–Bethphage Mission, founded in 1913, and Martin Luther Homes, founded in 1925–came together in 2003 with the purpose of greater impact for those who are often excluded and marginalized by society.

Lifting up the values of belonging, connection, faithfulness, and grit, Mosaic is relentless in our pursuit of opportunities that enrich the lives of people with diverse needs. Entering our second century, we are reinventing whole-person health care with our person-centered approach. Mosaic is mission-driven and values-led.

Our purpose may sound easy–“to love and serve”–but it is a conscientious and consistent effort to help those who have often not been heard have a say in their own lives. Mosaic listens to the wants and needs of the people we support and custom builds programs to make those things a reality.  We tune in to what truly matters to people and honor individual choice. Our person-centered planning approach brings together family members, trusted friends, professionals, funders and, most importantly, the person served to figure out which combination of services will be the right fit.

Mosaic provides services in 13 states for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental and behavioral health needs, autism and other diverse needs wherever they are in their personal journey. Our direct support professionals and in-house team of board-certified behavior analysts find inventive ways to empower people to live the life they choose. Mosaic partners with families, schools, and other providers to collaboratively build support plans that promote positive outcomes. Mosaic also helps aging adults maintain independence through programs in Arizona and Wisconsin, and our Mosaic International outreach currently partners with the Northern Diocese of Tanzania, where we’ve created the “Building a Caring Community” program to serve children with disabilities and their families.

Providing a wide range of truly personalized home- and community-based services, we enable people to push past real and perceived barriers to achieve their goals. Three objectives direct our efforts in serving more than 4,800 people: that each person supported by Mosaic 1) lives in a caring community, 2) experiences meaningful days and 3) is given a voice.

Believing that no church body is whole unless everyone is welcome and included, we seek to bring Mosaic’s mission to life every day by working with churches and pastors to help all people meet their spiritual needs and desires. While faith communities and leaders often are called upon to help others, Mosaic asks, “How can we help you, the Church?” Endeavoring to create inclusive churches, we offer support in a variety of ways:

 Rejoicing Spirits celebrates and values every person’s talents and gifts, offering people of all abilities an opportunity to lead and serve in their faith community. This ministry provides congregations a model of worship that has a hallmark rule of “no shushing.” People with disabilities can be themselves and this has enabled many families to worship together.

Seminary partnerships provide educational courses to help faith leaders-in-training create welcoming, affirming places for people of all abilities and their families. This is done through hands-on immersion experiences and seminars exploring theological and pastoral insights of disability.

Behavioral education and curriculum adaptation are gifts Mosaic offers to the Church. Expertise around mental and behavioral health and autism is used to enhance congregational programs as well as adapt educational curriculums so people with disabilities can continue to explore their spirituality.

Socialization and friendships are fostered between congregants and people served by Mosaic in an effort to inspire meaningful connections for all involved.

Disability awareness and social justice efforts awaken others to the realities of living with disabilities and the attitudinal barriers that can confine people from living a full life. We offer many educational and inspirational opportunities for people to gain a deeper perspective of living in community. Advocacy in giving a voice and helping families navigate a harsh society are important to Mosaic’s ministry.

The priority of Mosaic, a ministry of the Church and an affiliate of the ELCA, has been and continues to be, meeting the needs and desires of the people Mosaic supports.

Update: Grant proposals

Hello!

The time to receive grant proposals is on the way! Thank you to those who have reached out recently to ask this very question. 🙂 My answer, in short, is soon– right at about the end of September.

After some more work with the Grants Management team we will send out details regarding the kind/number of proposals we will consider, and the time frame in which we will be accepting and approving them.

You can come here for those details, and please know that other communication will be sent out as well. For now, you may direct questions to me at lisa.heffernan@elca.org or disability.ministry@elca.org.

Have a great week, and be thinking about how your ministry may benefit from this grant opportunity.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Lisa Heffernan, coordinator, ELCA Disability Ministries

Total Inclusion!

Today’s blog post comes from Josiah Benedict, the Program Coordinator for Total Inclusion: 

Total Inclusion was launched in 2020 after some lead up work by the ELCA and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (LOM). An ELCA program with a deep partnership with LOM, Total Inclusion is completely funded by a grant from the Margaret A Cargill Philanthropy (MACP) organization. The goal of Total Inclusion is to enrich the lives of youth from traditionally marginalized groups by creating a welcoming and safe experience for them at ELCA affiliated camps.

Total Inclusion identified three main groups to focus on: People who identify as LGBTQIA+, People of Color, and People with Disabilities. Total Inclusion has furthered these goals by creating materials to educate and prepare camp staff, hosting symposiums aimed at camp leadership to affect camp programming and culture from the top down, and giving out over a half million dollars in sub grants to camps so that they have the resources to move forward with their goals. To make sure that this program is properly guided, we have included representation from all of our target groups in our advisory committee, speakers/presenters, and in the future will include a diverse team looking over our grant awards.

Total Inclusion has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Disability Ministry advisory team, using members and recommendations from the team as speakers and committee members throughout the life of the program. Our symposiums for camp leadership and board presidents included a workshop lead by members of, or people recommended by, the Disability Ministry team, and brought a voice and perspective to the table that can sometimes be missed. Topics and grant ideas included many suggestions and changes to the physical space of camps, as well as adaptive equipment, sensory aids, and a broader look at the attitude and approach that camps have when including people with diverse abilities and needs.

Even despite the pandemic, many camps have moved forward with Total Inclusion related changes. Around a dozen camps in the LOM system have made adaptations or changes to their camps to make them more accessible for people with mobility challenges. This has included more accessible ramps, bathrooms, and updates to medical centers. Total Inclusion has been thrilled to hear about projects such as Camp Lutherlyn’s Universal Access Trail, a boardwalk style trail that allows more people to experience a larger part of the camp.

As Total Inclusion moves forward with its program we will continue to work on making camp accessible and welcoming for all people, with a key focus on programming and accessibility that allows all campers to be included, rather than separated out.

“Our Wholeness Is In Jesus Christ” by Rev. Peter Heide

I remember a particular Sunday in October 1962. It was the first anniversary of me being blind, and I was pretty proud of myself. I had made the transition from sight to blindness with some degree of competency. I had learned Braille well enough to continue with my class. I had learned how to write with a slate and stylus, a process of writing Braille that requires learning how to write from right to left and backwards. I was adjusting to living in a residential school during the week, only coming home for weekends, and I was learning to live in the world of sound with its many mysteries and delights.

I remember this Sunday so specifically because the sermon text was on the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, and the import of the sermon was, “If you believe strongly enough God can do anything.” After worship, for the first time I remember, but certainly not the last, I remember the man who came up to me and said, “I know that if you believe enough God will heal you.”

The beginning of a life-long consideration by me was suddenly forced on me.  “How much faith is enough?” “Can faith be made a commodity?” and “Is there really anything that we can do to merit God’s favor?”; these were huge questions for me, a ten-year-old. I was so proud of my accomplishments as a blind person, and I felt guilty because I wasn’t being faithful enough to even want to see again. I was having too much fun in my new life adventure.

Later, in 1968, when I was kidnapped, or maybe coercively persuaded, to be healed at an Oral Roberts rally. There I was asked, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ can heal you?” I said, “Yes, if he wants to.” When someone put their hand on my forehead and pushed be back into the arms of the people behind me, the declaration was, “In the name of Jesus, be healed!”

Then, because I wasn’t healed, I was told that I really didn’t have enough faith. On the trip home, I proudly told the people in the car that I wasn’t healed because God had things for me to do as a blind person. When I did get my eyesight back two years later, one of the people came to me and said, “I knew it could happen. It just took longer than we thought. All things are possible for God.” (Ironically, getting my eyesight back initiated the worst time of my life.)

Today, I am blind again. In many ways it was like going home. I am happy with my world of sound. I am pleased to read Braille again. I am somewhat frustrated by the world of technology, but grateful and excited by the possibilities it offers too. In many ways, this is the best time in history to be blind, and I am excited to be part of the blindness movement working to make life better for other blind people and all people living often inconvenient lives.

It is paramount for me to say to you today, “Our wholeness is in Jesus Christ. Whether one is blind, deaf, or otherwise living with a perceived disability, with that wholeness, our lives have wholeness in themselves.” Our faith is not lacking. Faith cannot be a commodity. Faith is something that can only be expressed from the places where we live. In that place of faith and centeredness, we can say, “We are not broken. We are not pitiable accidents. We do not need to be healed. We have gifts to share with the world because of own world understandings.” We have faith enough to forgive the fears of able-bodied people when they see in us their greatest nightmares. We continue to remain strong in faith—strong enough to continue knocking at the door of blessing and equity. We are uniquely created children of God, in God’s own image. Get used to it!