Elevate History

The Vision and the Birth of the Ministry

In 1976, the first official meeting for "Christians with Disabilities" (in 1981 changed to "Christian Fellowship For Disabled" -  CFFD) took place in the Willis family home on Auckland's North Shore. Little could anyone imagine that this meeting would have such a huge impact on their life.  Let alone the lives of the thousands of people changed in some way through the ministry that is known now as ELEVATE Christian Disability Trust. Margie Willers, then a young woman, who has Cerebral Palsy, shared the vision that God had given to her.  This was to be the seed for much greater things. (Hugh and Di Willis had taken up the ‘Call’ some years before and began hosting unofficial meetings, but from that point, joined forces with Margie in the Vision God had laid on their hearts). Around 20 people attended that meeting. However within two years, the numbers had grown to over 80 (20 of those being in wheelchairs). The ministry grew at a great pace and people’s homes couldn’t contain the numbers attending. It was time to find a more suitable place! Over the next few years, many venues were made available for meetings to be held, however, finally in 1989 we were able to move into our own rented place in Balmoral, Auckland. It was our first Drop In Centre and place of work. What a milestone!

Within five years, God had opened the doors for us to be able to purchase our own premises at Mount Smart Road, Onehunga. It was with great excitement and trepidation that we took on the opportunities and challenges that our new home would bring.

The first CFFD Committee
The first CFFD Committee
Hugh, Di & Margie
Board of Trustees

The Ministry Expands

1981 was a significant year; it was the International year of Disabled People. Margie and Di were invited to speak all over Auckland and beyond, in interest groups and churches, and soon the word had spread throughout the country. This was to be the catalyst for the first branch to be established in Rotorua. Soon after, other branches were started, and in 1996 the first overseas branch was opened.

We now have over 25 different branches of ministries here in NZ and overseas. They include the ten branches around the country primarily for people with physical disabilities which are still called by the old name of Christian Fellowship for Disabled (CFFD)  but it also includes many other ministries (including Joy Ministries and Torch Outreach) all under the same umbrella of ELEVATE Christian Disability Trust.

A New Season begins

In 2012, the Trustees made the decision that the timing was right to move into the next season for the organisation. Along with their newly acquired building and renovations to their existing building, they felt the need for a fresh look to go with it. The name change from Christian Ministries with Disabled Trust to ELEVATE Christian Disability Trust, along with the new logo was just what they were looking for. It reflected the growth and change that had been happening within the ministry (while still holding to the core values of the Trust), as well as the sense of anticipation of what God was moving the ministry into. A new season was about to begin...

The Encourager Magazine

In 1977, the first newsletter was produced, 40 copies of a double sided, black and white foolscap sheet which Margie typed slowly and labouriously by mouth! The Encourager is now in A4 colour, 16 pages long, and has over 6,000 copies printed for people in New Zealand and around the world. It is now also available in audio and electronic format.

One of the earliest CFFD newsletters
One of the earliest CFFD newsletters
Jun 2002 The Encourager Magazine front and back cover


We stepped out once again and decided to have a camp for people with disabilities. It was with great trepidation that we had 26 people come along, this was held at Huia. In 1981, we had our first National camp at Totara Springs in Matamata. We continue to have our National camp there, and in 2023 celebrated our 40th Anniversary (we missed a couple due to Covid) – what a milestone! From 26 people at our first camp to over 350 from around the country and beyond, volunteers and people with disabilities alike are touched by the very unique environment we share together on this very special weekend.

National Camp group photo
Camp dining hall at a CMWDT camp in the early 80's
A younger Ross Bay & Margie Willis driving around in a go-kart at camp

Overseas ministry

After a visit by Joni Eareckson Tada in 1988, we extended our vision to overseas, starting in Fiji. Years later, the Fiji ministry is going well and maintains its own ministry. We are very much involved in the Philippines Christian Fellowship For Disabled. We sponsor children and support them in other ways also.

Helpers seminar when Joni Eareckson Tada visited NZ
Helpers seminar when Joni Eareckson Tada visited NZ
Disability Awareness Sunday Logo

Disability Awareness Sunday

The 3rd Sunday in June is recognised as Disability Awareness Sunday around many parts of the world. We have a special service in churches around the country to celebrate people with disabilities and how they can contribute in the things of God. We often have preaching, singing, dramas and recitals – it is a wonderful day for us to come together.


We have been hosting training seminars for many years now. Students and carers, helpers for the camp and many others come along to learn new skills in practical care and also communication, enabling them to better assist a person with a disability. We have been involved with many Bible Colleges over the years, going in and training their students, while others come to us for their practical work experience sessions.


With all the knowledge we have gained over the years, we felt it was important to write down what we had learned to assist others in their ability to help and care for people with disabilities. As well as helping them to recognize that people with disabilities are PEOPLE above all, just like anyone else. We have developed many resources that have assisted thousands of people over the years, and we continue to update and promote ideas, skills and techniques – no longer just through booklets and leaflets, but also through our website where many of them are now downloadable.

Philippines CFFD

In 1992, while on a visit to the Philippines, Mr and Mrs Morley who were the Directors of CBM International met Briccio Aguilar who had been disabled through Polio. They encouraged him to attend training in New Zealand at the Trust under the directorship of Hugh and Di Willis. In 1993 Briccio came to NZ. During his time here he met Ruth Jones (now Ruth Beale)  a Bible College student who had a real interest in missions and in particular for the Philippines. Briccio returned to the Philippines later that year and started Philippine Christian Fellowship For Disabled (PCFFD) in Hebron. As part of a Missionary Orientation Course, Ruth was able to go to the Philippines and observe the work first hand as well as to encourage Briccio. With the help of other staff workers, Briccio gathered the local people of San Rafael with disabilities, forming a group called Association for People with Disabilities. This opened up opportunities for PCFFD to be involved in different government and non-governmental organisation programmes and committees for people with disabilities.

In 1995, Ruth went to the Philippines to work full time in helping set up PCFFD. She linked with the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and visited many people with disabilities. She was involved in the setting up of the Livelihood Projects but realised that the need was much greater than the resources available. A plea to others back in New Zealand made it possible for PCFFD to have a vehicle which enabled them to reach out to the more remote areas. It also made it possible for people to attend Bible studies and meetings. They realised that people needed more than just friendship and fellowship and so, the Sponsorship Programme was developed and put into place. Due to health issues, Ruth had to return to NZ. This did not stop her from her vision, however. She still runs, from right here in NZ, the Sponsorship Programme along with fundraising and other means to bring awareness and support to PCFFD.

Hugh & Di Willis in a group photo with Hebron staff
Hugh & Di Willis with 2 Hebron staff outside the Hebron Centre

In 1996 Miriam Watson went to join the PCFFD team in the Philippines. She continued to work with Briccio and a team of Filipino Volunteer staff workers. The sponsorship programme grew and now included finding sponsors for the staff workers as well as the children. Miriam also helped to establish other ventures.

In 1997 Hebron (the headquarters for CBM and PCFFD) was completely destroyed by fire. PCFFD and their workers lost everything, they only had the clothes they were standing in. Fortunately, Briccio had driven to Manila that day which meant, the vehicle was not engulfed in the fire. This would prove invaluable in the days ahead. Once again, the plea went out to New Zealand and around the world, asking everyone to help in raising funds for a new building to be established.

In 1999 after an answer to prayer and a lot of hard work, a new two-storied building rose from the ashes and became the Hebron Centre for the Disabled that you can see today.

To date, there have been 90 children and 24 staff workers that have been or are currently in the PCFFD sponsorship programme. This is a far cry from small beginnings in 1995 where there were two children and two staff workers who lived by faith and who didn’t receive any funding from PCFFD.