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From ever so humble beginnings, Embracing Ministries continues to expand in an effort to meet the very great and special needs of families who are affected by disability.

In 2015 The Reverend Andrea de Vaal Horciu was trying to follow the Apostle Paul’s example and be ‘all things to all people’ but was finding it increasingly hard to fit in her pastoral work with special families around her other demanding roles. As others caught her vision of inclusion, Andrea organised the first Christian holiday program for children with disabilities, and the Mentor program for training young people in inclusive ministry. With funding from Anglicare and a private charitable trust, a paid position as Director has given Andrea time to dedicate herself more fully to this project.

In 2018 Embracing Ministries will be adding the Little Treasures holiday program for primary school children with special needs and their siblings, plus  retreats for men, to the already busy calendar of women’s retreats, the Spring Christian Holiday program, the mentor program, inclusion training with CBM’s Luke 14 resources, disability chaplaincy and pastoral care. 2018 will also bring two more sessions of the popular Minnows Music program, where children with special needs and their parents or carers move to music and practice communication using Auslan signs and pictures.

The work of Embracing Ministries is only possible with the support of its volunteers, who embrace the concept of inclusion and recognise the face of Jesus in every person. Penny and Nikki are two such volunteers, and this is their story. My daughter Nikki and I (Penny) have been involved with Inclusion Ministries for some time now. We both volunteered for the very first Holiday program for teens with special needs.

The program is extraordinary for many reasons. We know that families with special needs children adore their children but are dehydrated on so many levels. First, there is emotional dehydration – most marriages fail, friends and families can distance themselves and the stress levels parents feel is akin to the post traumatic stress of veterans. Second, there is spiritual dehydration – where they can feel forsaken. Third, there is the financial dehydration – funds are very tight as many are single parents and there are those that are unable to work full time or at all given the high and intense needs of their children. Many would like to place their children into school holiday programs but are unable to find something that they can afford and in particular, that will truly cater to the needs of their children.

And so when I heard about Andrea’s free holiday program tailored to meet the needs of these families, I wanted to get on board. And what I experienced and witnessed at the holiday programs took my breath away. I saw vibrant Christian high schoolers who were willing to undergo carer training, in their own time, on how to best meet the needs of the families and children with special needs. A BBQ lunch was organised to enable a meet-and-greet between carers, children and families so that a rapport and understanding was developed well before the program even started. This enabled a seamless transition for the children into the program – such an important step that ensures their ability to engage and enjoy themselves.

There was also a careful matching of children with a carer. And during the program, I saw endless smiles and laughter from everyone involved. No child was ever left unattended. Christ’s love for all was brought to life for the children with interactive stories, play and joy. So many wonderful activities were provided, from animal petting to circus acts. The happiness on the parent’s faces when they picked up their children almost brought me to tears – they knew with every fibre of their being that their children had enjoyed a fantastic day provided by people who truly cherished them. And while their children were in the program, the parents also had the opportunity to relax and recharge their batteries – such a rare experience for many. This was truly faith in action and I pray that we can continue to be human bill boards that walk and talk the need to love and support others, especially the families and children with special needs. With one-in-four people now experiencing a disability, I also pray that we can continue to bless more families and children through the Inclusion Ministries programs. God bless you Andrea and the Embracing Ministries Team!

by Penny and Nikki Watts