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Church of the disabled

"Church of the disabled" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

Anderson visits about 50 group homes on varying schedules. One day, late in June, Anderson sat in a sunny living room with big bay windows showing grass and trees outside. Four frail older women rested in big armchairs with their feet propped up, next to little tables with birdhouse knickknacks scattered about. The mood was subdued due to a recent death and their caretaker kept brimming over with tears.

He played his guitar and sang old hymns-"How Great Thou Art," "I've Got a Home in Glory Land," "There's Power in the Blood"-in a smooth voice that people have compared to James Taylor's. The music unlocked wistful memories. Ellen, who used to be a Sunday School superintendent, said, "I can see myself standing in front of the church, in front of the kids singing that song." He told her, "You sang that song like Doris Day!" Ava remembered her grandfather singing "The Old Rugged Cross" for a church solo. Suddenly a woman who spent the afternoon in an empty doze woke up and quoted a line to an old Kenny Rogers song.

The next group home took Anderson back to Mt. Olivet Rolling Acres, where he first started out at the age of 13. He pointed out a black-and-white photo of children he knew then and has since seen grow old. Matthew, a new resident who hadn't said a word last time, asked for prayer for his mom and said when he prayed to become a Christian, "I got a good feeling in my heart." Anderson told him, "It means you're forgiven," and counseled him to do God's work. At the third home, Mike belted every line of every song a moment after Anderson sang it. Anderson high-fived him and drew out a quiet resident: "You're being too serious, Stephen! Gotta lighten up!"

Anderson always closes his church services with the same song: "Bind Us Together." At the end of the picnic, everyone-from parents to children to the woman who has spent her life caring for disabled foster siblings-joined hands and swayed unsteadily. Someone blew tunelessly into a harmonica. Everyone was off key, not everyone knew the words or could even say them, but they all knew the ritual.

People always mention this as a moment that moves them. One dad said he whispers this song to his autistic son to calm him. Volunteer Jim Miller said, with some wonder, "It doesn't matter who they're standing next to. They'll hold their hand. They'll put their arm around them. I see a gentle acceptance in that community that we don't always see in the 'regular culture.'"

He laughed: "Then we go wolf down cookies. They like that, too."
For more information on this year's Hope Award for Effective Compassion and to read profiles of other nominated organizations from this year and previous years, click here.

Christ for People

• 500 disabled people served

• 20 volunteers

• Serves in seven counties

• Enlists support of 10 churches

• Helped build a church and orphanage in Haiti, sponsors Haitian children, and donates Haitian Bibles to pastors and prisoners.

2008 expenses: $98,691.15

2008 income: $104,856.19

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