For most of my teenage years, I felt like I wasn't serving in my local church. I even thought that I couldn't serve in any of the ministry team. I didn't know what skills I had that could be used in a ministry team.
Let’s see… Having limited music skills meant that I couldn't join the worship team. For a youth leader, if I couldn't run around and play highly active games for fun, then I won't be able to do so with the younger youth. There was the welcome team on Sunday mornings greeting people as they enter church, but I didn't think people would understand my speech.
A teenage Christian in a wheelchair
I was a teenager, which meant that my self-confidence was low. Being a Christian made me want to serve in a church ministry. Like my peers, they were in the music team, youth leaders or serving some other way in church. However, almost all the ministries they served in involved practical tasks.
I was a teenage Christian in a wheelchair, so I was usually on the receiving end of practical love and care of others. It was difficult to think of times when I showed practical love to others or think of ways I could practically fill a need of another person.
As a teenager, my understanding of serving and showing love was limited to practical actions. That’s how Samoan culture and how I thought NZ society defined love and care. So, helping set up and pack down at church events and serving food and drinks are things I saw as serving.
Forms of showing love
I placed a lot of weight on “hands on” services. I was naïve in my thinking that just listening to people and speaking words of encouragement doesn't have much significance. Something effortless to do but it can still have a great impact on people.
These are things I'm able to do and love doing. However, I belittled these acts of love and didn't count them as ways to serve the church. I was too focused on trying to fit into one of the “practical” ministries in my local church.
One day in my late teen years, I had a catch up with a mentor. I shared with him the frustrations I had earlier that day. My mother was cooking a Samoan dish which is very laborious to prepare. I felt helpless and guilty sitting in my chair wanting to provide extra hands but the most I could practically do is watch.
As mentors often do, he pointed out my blind spots and offered a different perspective. My recollection is that he told me about how standing by and watching can be an important task. When I just watch I can spot minor details people may not be aware of or miss. Then I have the responsibility of, for example, pointing out that it's time for a batch of Mum's cooking to come off the stove.
I felt encouraged by my mentor’s response. It was then when I started to put more weight on the small ways of showing love and serving the church community. By small ways, I mean non-practical forms of love.
Loving in ways I can
“You can't give what you don't have”, is a phrase you hear when having discussions about donating money. But I didn't grasp the concept of the phrase as a teenager in a wheelchair.
The phrase implies that I should focus on the skills that I have and serve in ways that I can. In ways like, offering to pray for people. Praying or spending time with people are some things I can do to show love and care for people in my community.
My way of showing love to family, friends and the church community may not be the typical way, but it is my way. Life is different when you're in a wheelchair, so I have different needs. Likewise, I have different skill sets that I can use to bless others, if people allow me to.
What we have to offer
We all have skills, talents and abilities that we can use to serve our neighbours. But it isn't just our skills and resources that we offer to others. Rather, it is the gift of God’s love in us that we offer through our acts of kindness.
No matter what we do to serve people in our lives, we all do it for the same reason. It is because we are excessively loved by God who created us and saved us.
So, instead of getting caught up in figuring out how I can serve my community. I can allow the love I receive from Christ to drive me to love people. Letting Him lead me in how I serve. At the end of the day, the best thing I can offer to anyone, is His love.
Manuele Teofilo lives in South Auckland with his parents and siblings. He has graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Human Services and plans to work in the disability sector. He enjoys getting around in his electric wheelchair and having fun with people.