46 Years in Ministry: Hugh and Di Willis

Hugh & Di sitting on their couch looking through a photo album, smiling at each otherThe EncouragerHugh and Di Willis have stepped outside of the spotlights, but don’t call it retirement. The couple is still very much part of the ministry. With Kirsty Armitage at the helm in the role as ‘National Director’ of Elevate Christian Disability Trust, Hugh and Di continue to give her their full support, with all the mana and aroha that this role deserves.

These two co-founders look back at their 46 years in the ministry. We gave them ten words to respond to. In a few lines, otherwise it would become another book.

The year 1976

Hugh & Di's living room. There is a fireplace on the left, a couch in the middle of the room and a cabinet between 2 large windows that look out on the garden.

“It all started very small. The Lord shared the vision with me (Di) to start a ministry with people with disabilities. A little later I connected again with my friend Margie Willers, who had just returned from a healing conference with Kathryn Kuhlman in the United States. Margie came with the hope of being healed from her Cerebral Palsy, but instead God showed Margie she should use her talents, just the way she was.”

The vision was to invite people with disabilities to come together, to run camps, to grow closer to God, and to be included into whatever churches were doing. “It all started here in our living room in Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore, in the same house where we still live.”

1 Samuel 16:7b

“This Bible verse is the absolute key of our ministry. That is what we always quote to new visitors. The Lord told Samuel: ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’. It’s an amazing scripture. God gives skills and talents to everyone, even if it is just the skill to smile at someone. There are no excuses not to use what you have for God.”

Elevate Christian Disability Trust

“It used to be Christian Fellowship For Disabled (CFFD), later Christian Ministries With Disabled Trust (CMWDT), as an umbrella organisation for all the different branches and ministries we do. People found that a difficult name to pronounce. So back in 2012 we were looking for a better name. One of the helpers mentioned how our ministry was about ‘elevating people into knowing Jesus and celebrating life’. That was well said and the verb ‘to elevate’ stuck.”

Evangelize, Equip, Educate, and Encourage,“those are ‘The four E’s of Elevate CDT’. Evangelize comes first. We talk about Jesus a lot. We love to see people grow in their faith. For many of our folks I think that encouragement is the most important. We all have the need to feel included in the Body of Christ, and sometimes churches and families find that difficult. We expect our folks to live their lives according to their capacities. That is where the education and equipping comes in. If I talk to one person, or to hundreds, I just ask God what it is He wants me to say. Sometimes we get new volunteers, who have no clue how to be around people with a disability, at the start. Their eyes are opened, and their hearts.”

The Elevate whānau

“The ministry is like family. We have met thousands of people over the many years. We loved their stories. Yes, it is all about people with disabilities, but in addition, so many other lives were touched. It is amazing, how hearts have been changed, how people came to faith. So many people have given towards the ministry, with their love, their time, their finances, it has been amazing. All glory goes to God. Elevate belongs to all of them. Mind you, we have the CFFD branches at eight different cities in the country, and Joy Ministries as well. The local committees are so committed and wonderful, they do deserve acknowledgements for many years of faithful services.”

“Many stories are very personal. We saw people meeting each other at the ministry and getting married. We saw miracles happen, and people receiving healing in other ways than they expected. I don’t use any names, there are too many that God has brought on our path. And yes, we have lost a lot of dear friends over time. What a grace to know that they are all in Heaven, living an eternal life without pain or sorrow.”

‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’.. 1 Samuel 16:7b

173 Mt Smart Road

“Our national office in Onehunga, with the Drop In Centre, is a second home to us. It was an absolute miracle how God led us to get it, over twenty years ago. God told me He would buy us a building, and He did. So many things happened in that building. We had so many visitors, students, politicians, some from overseas. We once had this guy from Romania. He only came once, but he was so touched that he promised to do something similar in his home country. The building had some alterations done to it, and more needs to be done, but it has been a huge blessing over the years. We couldn’t do our ministry without it, and God knew that from the start.”

Hugh & Di on their couch with a photo album open on their laps smiling at the cameraThe Knife Edge of Faith

“That book tells our story. It is such a testimony of how people made the ministry of Elevate to what it is today. The book is about faith, about perseverance, about not giving up, about trusting God to provide. We made lots of mistakes over the years, but despite that, God used our work. We just tried to do what we thought God showed us to do. Yes, we had to live our life with a faith that was on the knife edge sometimes. This is a ministry that totally relies on God, and on its financial supporters. That is not always easy. We experienced that even on the day that the book was launched at Elevate’s 30th Anniversary. We had a bit of a celebration organised, but up to minutes before the meeting would start, we still had not received any copies! Again, it was a last minute thing. We thought, God, do you really have to go to those extremes?”

Elevate National Camp

“Our camps are maybe the biggest blessing of all. Well, no, you can’t say that of course, but sometimes it feels like that. Words can’t describe how important camp is. People love to come. They make new friends and catch up with old ones. They learn more about how to live out their faith. People get saved, some get baptised, and lots of volunteers have an amazing experience in serving someone with a disability. New helpers often say how they learned that camp was not about themselves, it was about serving. So the camp is about learning, about acceptance, about fellowship and encouragement. It’s our favourite weekend of the year. Jesus is there.”

Encourager Magazine

“It started in 1977 as a two-sided letter; 40 copies, that Margie typed with her mouth. Look at it now. We print 5,800 copies; and they get send to 40 different countries. It is amazing how it came together. We asked many people to come up with a name for our newsletter, and the name Encourager is really suited. That is our main purpose. The magazine has encouraged its readers tremendously. It is often received at the exact right time. Other readers are inspired, as the magazine educates them how to engage. The magazine has been God’s work from the beginning. We remember the days we had 30 people coming to our home to fold and collate the pages. The electric stapler would go on for hours. Our dear neighbour heard that sound continue until the early hours of the morning. Rest assured, that work is now all done professionally, at the printer.”

Kirsty Armitage

“We are very, very proud of Kirsty. She is a God ordained person, very capable, very talented, the ideal person to take the helm. Kirsty has been around with Elevate for nine years now, and many people will know her from the camps and our communications.”

Di loves it that Kirsty is also an Occupational Therapist, just like herself. Di realises of course she is a different personality. “Kirsty is probably more orderly, a bit of a perfectionist. Her husband Brent will support her all the way.”

“The best advice we can give her is to put God first. He is still the centre of this ministry. Keep close to Him in prayer, and reading the Word. But also, stay in touch with the different ministries, enjoy the company of all these good people.

Have fun doing the role. A sense of humour is essential, but Kirsty has plenty of that.” Have you read Hugh’s book ‘On the Knife Edge of Faith: Stories Behind the Ministry’? Copies are available for purchase from the National Support Office.

Written by Onne Hiemstra


The Encourager Magazine 174



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What is in your hand?

So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” Exodus 4:2 (NKJV)

The Encourager

God had chosen Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt. But Moses immediately began to enumerate all the reasons why he was not qualified to assume such leadership. Then the Lord asked him, “What is in thine hand?”When Moses looked at his hand, what did he see? A rod – a dead stick. What could be done with it? It was only a rod in Moses’ hand, but when it was given to God it became a rod of power to deliver the Israelites.

Through the years God has challenged His people with the same question. “What is in your hand?” Many have answered and accepted the challenge. An inspiring example is David Livingston who came from the coal mines of Scotland. When God said to him, “What is in your hand? he offered him his heart of love for Africa and accepted His challenge to missionary service. Through him that continent was opened to the Gospel.

God is saying to you today – What is in your hand? He sees your talents and ability. Placed in God’s hand these can be a ‘rod of power’ for Him to use. Your answer to Him may be “nothing – nothing that you can ever use.” But little is much in the Master’s hand – He doesn’t look at our hands as we do. Lift your seemingly empty hands to Him – He will use you. He uses the weakest instruments to accomplish His mightiest works. When God calls, He enables!

The great violinist Paganini was to give a concert. As he was about to begin his programme, to the horror of those present, he deliberately broke all but one string on his violin. Then as he held up his instrument, he said, “One string and Paganini”. What indescribably beautiful music the great musician played on that violin with one string. What glorious harmonies the Great Musician can bring forth from a life – with its ability and inabilities – when it is completely yielded to Him.


By Margie Willers (Reprinted from Issue 26 Nov 1984)

Margie is co-founder of Elevate and lives with cerebral palsy. She has written two books and was a regular guest speaker before retiring.



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Hawkes Bay’s Hallelujah Lady

The EncouragerJoan Parker’s first introduction to Elevate was in 1986 when she attended our National Camp. Her church had heard about the camp and felt it would be good for her. It wasn’t a typical camp introduction though, as her buddy Ruth Jones (now Beale) had injured her back and Joan stayed with her in their accommodation for most of the camp. Despite this Joan became an avid supporter of National Camp and has only ever missed one since then, when she had her leg amputated.

Joan smiling and wearing a bright blue cardigan

Following her first National Camp she became involved in the local Hawkes Bay CFFD. The branch started in 1983 with seven families meeting for prayer and praise at the apostolic church, which is now Equippers. When the leaders, Ivan and Betty Northcott, stepped down 8 years after Joan joined, she stepped up and has been leading it with the help of the committee ever since.

Those who have met Joan know how determined, and dare I say fierce, she can be. But not everyone knows her story and the journey that molded her. Born with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, she faced challenges from day one. By nine years of age, she was also dealing with a significant effect on her intellectual development. These challenges were the cause of a lot of frustration for young Joan, who found an outlet in the use of swear words. Her grandmother would not allow her to use these challenges as an excuse and never let Joan say I can’t. This attitude has stuck with her through life and to this day she doesn’t allow herself to say I can’t.

Her father was given a scripture when she was born that promised she would be healed at the right time. He held onto this and would take Joan to many healing meetings. In 1966 they attended a healing service and while she was being prayed for, she had a major seizure. Miraculously this was to be the last seizure she had. Gradually she noticed her concentration and communication improving. Joan says that she finally felt she didn’t need to swear with every sentence. It took 18 months before she began to let herself believe that she was healed from Epilepsy.

One day in 1969, Joan became frustrated with people not listening to her. She left home and took a plane to Auckland, without even telling her family where she was going. Amazingly God’s hand was in this, working it for good. One evening from the accommodation she was staying at she could hear modern music coming from St Paul’s church next door, so decided to see what was going on. It was there she received the Spirit and became a Christian.

Encouraged to go home and begin attending church, she began a journey of inner transformation. There were those who even called the change in her miraculous. She became very involved in the Catholic Charismatics movement, leading many people to the Lord. The reality of what God had done, and was doing, in her life was something she could never doubt and had to tell others about. She became known as the Hallelujah lady. Such a contrast to the young girl who swore with every sentence!

… it’s important to allow people opportunities to participate and to try things they may not have before.

When she was 30 years old, while singing in a choir, someone noticed she wasn’t reading the words of the songs but had memorized them. This began an eight-year journey of learning to read and write, with the help of three school teachers. Joan still memorizes things but now it is purely due to convenience.

1993 was the beginning of her volunteer leadership with CFFD Hawkes Bay. Joan shares that she “wanted to see people with disability equipped not just spiritually but mentally and physically.” Her vision was to educate people to work with people with disability, as well as educate those who were disabled. Although she hadn’t had much opportunity to develop leadership skills before this, she was determined to help others, and that determination has taken her far.

A group photo of the CFFD Hawkes Bay members

Over the years Joan has led and organised many events and meetings with the help of the Hawkes Bay CFFD committee. She says an important part of leadership is not being afraid to ask people for advice and being willing to acknowledge when something is not an area of strength.

A few of the highlights over the years have included a seminar in Hastings for 50-60 church leaders, buying a bus, an operatic concert fundraiser with Chris Skinner, running two local camps, joint meetings with other branches, a dance outreach, and fundraising for Philippines CFFD (now Hebron Disability Service) run by CBM Philippines. Throughout all the events, meetings and fundraising Joan has always involved others. She feels it’s important to allow people opportunities to participate and to try things they may not have before. This is one of the aspects she says is most important about camps.

Joan was very behind the beginning of Hawkes Bay Joy Ministries in 1996, having seen the need for people with intellectual disability to have teaching in a way that worked for them. When the Joy Ministries leaders felt it was time to step down from their leadership roles this year, she didn’t want to see the group end so with the support of the CFFD committee they temporarily included the Joy Ministries group in their meetings.

With such rich experience, Joan has learnt a lot about leadership. She shared that patience is key along with learning to delegate, although she admits she isn’t always good at that. Another thing she has learnt is that sometimes you need to push ahead with something despite others not seeing the vision but at other times you need to be willing to let ideas go.

Are you interested in volunteering with one of our ministry groups or branches throughout New Zealand? Many of our volunteers find they not only have an opportunity to use their skills but also find a place to belong. Contact us at the National Support Office 09 636 4763 or info@elevate.org.nz

Written by Kirsty Armitage


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My First Encounter with Jesus

The EncouragerI was about 10 years old when I went to National Camp. My reading teacher, Cherry at my school in Auckland offered to take students to camp. I leapt at the opportunity to go on a weekend trip.

My best friend in primary school, Hudson, was one of the other students who went. That made me even more interested in going. It wasn’t just an opportunity to go on a long trip, but now I got to hang out with my best friend all weekend. There are many people that go to National Camp, and I didn’t know anyone. So going with someone I knew was better.

I was young and was still learning what it means to be a Christian. Going to National Camp felt like entering into a different world. I’d never seen so many people with disabilities who loved Jesus. Being in a Christian environment and listening to Bible teachings for a whole weekend was a new experience for me.

Meeting new people and having a buddy caring for me was great. I really enjoyed all the cool activities, especially the quad bikes, and spending time with my friend. It was also the first time experiencing the frequency of camp food!

I’d been to church, but Christian camps give you more time to really

open your heart to learn. Over the weekend I got to witness the love of Jesus through the people there. People who knew that Jesus loved them. Through seeing other people in wheelchairs who were Christians, I began to realise that Jesus can love me just as I am.

They had ministry time following the message on Sunday night and people were invited to come up for prayer. I asked for healing in my legs to be able to walk. I really wanted to walk. That was when I experienced Jesus’ healing power for the first time. I felt a surge of heat and new strength in my legs that Sunday night at camp.

I always knew God as a child, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Before that year I thought being a Christian only meant going to church on Sundays. I couldn’t go to church for most of my childhood until earlier that same year. Going to church taught me more about God. Then this experience of the Holy Spirit made God real to me. Even though I didn’t get the miracle I hoped for that night, something shifted in my heart. It was in that moment that I gave my life to Christ.

That was when I experienced Jesus’ healing power for the first time…

At breakfast the next morning, I was sharing the amazing experience I had with the people at my table. Across the table was a man with blond hair and glasses. In later years I learned it was Dave. He encouraged me that maybe one day God will heal me completely in this life. Or alternatively, I will definitely be walking and fully healed in heaven. This gave me hope.

Camp began my journey of discovering that God loves me and that He can use me even when I use a wheelchair.


Manuele Teofilo is Communications Coordinator at the Elevate National Support Office. He attends Gracecity Church in Auckland and lives with Cerebral Palsy.



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Volunteer Spotlight

Jan Bridgeman, Joy Ministries National Coordinator


Jan Bridgeman shares how ‘looking neither to the right nor the left’ has led to her remarkable 27-year involvement with Joy Ministries. My husband and I were at Bible college. We didn’t know why we were at Bible college; God had just sent us there. At the end of the first year, Di Willis came to speak to us about disabilities. Kevin and I both knew then that this was the work God was going to send us to do.

He said not to look to the right or the left, but to focus on His ministry that He had given to us. My husband has since passed away, but that focus is still there, and I know God wants Joy Ministries to continue.

The Encourager

The idea for Joy Ministries came from Joy Fellowship in Canada. This is a church primarily set up for people with disabilities. A lady named Debbie Kennedy did an internship there and came back with a vision for starting something similar in New Zealand. She spoke about it to Emmanuel Support group, and we took it from there.

The first meeting we wondered how many people would turn up and 35 came! We realised we would need to have more than one branch for Auckland. So, Kevin and I started the group in Central West Auckland and ran a group on the North Shore as well. That was 27 years ago.

Besides the Central West group, we now have branches in South Auckland, East Auckland, Hamilton, Whakatane, Hawke’s Bay, Taupo, Masterton and Blenheim.

Joy Ministries started off like a church service. It has basically continued like that. We begin with songs. We still use a lot of Scripture in Song because many of our people can’t read. This way the Word is getting into their hearts. I will say, “You know this song?” and they will say, “Yes,” and I will tell them where it comes from in the Bible. “Oh, we know some Scripture!”

We celebrate birthdays and people can share about what they have been doing over the month. Then we have a speaker for about 10 minutes. We always close the service with communion, which usually one of our folk will help with. Then we have afternoon tea.

You can’t help but be moved when you come to help at Joy Ministries. There is this air of excitement. Everybody loves you; everybody hugs you. It must have impacted our helpers because most of them have been there since day one.

You go into this type of ministry thinking you are going to be the servant. But you get so much more from the people you are serving. They bless you every time you meet. They have got the most simplistic wonderful faith. We have made everything complicated. Their love of Jesus is simple and that’s the way we should be.

How do I know Joy Ministries is God’s work? Let me tell you a story. We were ministering over on the North Shore at the time. We were feeling so tired and thinking we weren’t making an impact on anybody. There was this man who was essentially non-verbal. Rod, our musician, got up to play a guitar. This guy walked forward, put his head on Rod’s shoulder and said, “Jesus loves me.” To me that was fabulous. I thought, “Yes, Lord, this is where we are meant to be.”



The Encourager Magazine 174



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Giving Gifts Glorifies God

The EncouragerSometimes we think too easily about our inabilities, when actually God has given us so many abilities and gifts. If we leave them on the shelf we are not glorifying God. By taking them down and putting them to use we give Him praise. When we use our gifts we honour God, the One who gave us the gifts in the first place.

Two young women at a cafe chatting and laughing

It is so easy to think that we don’t have any gifts or talents, but God has given everyone some gifts. But before using them you need first to identify them. Don’t expect to be good at what your neighbour is. The Bible says that the head cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.” (see 1 Cor. 12:21) Different parts work together in different ways for the operation of the body. Just what is it that you enjoy doing?

The number of gifts is endless. Take, for example, the gift of encouragement. You can call someone up and lift their spirits by saying something nice to them. Even by just smiling at someone you can make another person feel better. Encouragement is a significant gift. Then there’s the gift of hospitality. Maybe you can invite someone over for lunch or coffee. Or you can ask someone out to a cafe. That’s a fun way to serve God.

The gift of prayer is essential to the body of Christ. Pray for your family and friends, for your church and your country’s leaders. Prayer is dialogue with God and really matters.

Two men sitting at a cafe. One of the men are playing a ukulele..

The gift of helping finds expression in so many ways. You can offer a person a ride. You can become a friend to a lonely person. Or you can teach Sunday School. Serve the Lord by serving others.

The gift of music is a lovely way to share the love of Christ. If you can play an instrument you can share your talent in a praise group. Or if you can sing you can join the church choir. And people are always needed to help with the sound system.

Two men, one of which has Down syndrome, sitting at the park talking



And then there’s the gift of listening. Often people in need are not looking for advice–they just need someone to be there and listen. In this way you show another person that she or he matters.

These are only a few of the innumerable ways you can share your talents and abilities. You can do so many things. Take your gifts off the shelf and start honouring God with all that He has given you!


Written by Carol Westerlund


Carol Westerlund is an author and journalist, living in Finland. Her writing is influenced by her faith and living with epilepsy.



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We Cannot Walk this Journey Alone

The EncouragerOne of the maybe less-known ministries of Elevate is our Emmanuel Support Group, currently run by Penny and Nigel Shivas. This Auckland couple in some circles may be better known as “the parents of Olivia and Benjamin”. Emmanuel Support seeks to give spiritual, emotional and practical support to parents and families of a child, from infant to adulthood, with any disability. Nigel and Penny have an understanding of the stress and pressure that occurs when you have a child with a disability. When they found out both their children had a physical disability there was a lot of unknown, as is the case for most parents. Penny says, “I was having a lot of questions about the unknown and what the future looked like for us. I couldn’t find anyone to talk to.”

They initially got involved in Emmanuel Support through a connection at church. “A lady from the church we were attending at the time, who was involved with Christian Ministries for the Disabled, told us about a meeting. We went and met Di Willis [one of the founders of Elevate]. She told us about Emmanuel Support.” Penny says “We then attended a parent’s retreat and really bonded with other parents there. There was a degree of nervousness at the start. However, we shared stories and started to appreciate each other. And we have been great friends ever since.” Often the bulk of child care and appointments may be the responsibility of one parent more than the other due to practicality of work commitments. This can mean that each couple’s experience of parenting is different, especially for parents of a child with a disability. Nigel says that, “As fathers of children with disabilities, we don’t always see the full extent of what our wives go through. Due to work, we are not always there for key moments of our child’s development such as their first day at kindy or first day at school. We are not always able to attend all the meetings with doctors, physio’s or occupational therapists. Many of these things can turn out to be watershed moments that wives carry unexpectedly alone at that moment. I was not there for my daughter’s first day at school. And as it turned out, it had a major impact on my wife. She saw all the other ‘normal’ children running around and our daughter not able to keep up or join in. These experiences build up and can then take a toll on relationships unexpectantly.’’

Nigel admits, “When we first got involved in Emmanuel Support, it was with some nervousness on my part. I had a wife that desperately needed more support and friendships from others in similar situations. But as men, we often feel if we can’t fix it ourselves, we are lacking. However, as a husband and parent to children with disabilities, I have learnt we cannot walk this journey alone. And to some extent I found as a husband, I needed to let go of trying to meet all these emotional needs by myself and put it out there that we needed help. Nothing prepares us for a child with a disability and for any relationship under strain we need others in our lives. It’s often others who have walked the same journey that are in the best place to ‘be there’ at the right time. Emmanuel Support was a really big part of that support we both needed at the time and still do.”

There are so many needs for parents of children with disabilities. But Nigel shares that both of them have found that “sometimes, what you really need, is just a listening ear from others who are in your same space. Someone who has lived the same experience being a special needs parent. Someone to pray with and lift our challenges before God. And Emmanuel Support provides that. We don’t have the resources to provide financial or physical help as such. However, we are a group that cares and listens. Just as a by-product of that friendship, people often find out about other agencies that can help. One of our Mums, Dorothy is great for that!”

Emmanuel Support was set up largely to provide opportunities for parents to get together and share freely without fear of judgment. As well as help families come to terms with grief, deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness, and find wholeness in Jesus Christ. “We do that through activities such as retreats and catchups,” says Penny.

“Although it’s been challenging with Covid, we try to run 3 retreats a year. One for parents, one for the women and another one for the men. We hold a children’s Christmas party and Parents’ Christmas dinner. During the lockdowns we have been having weekly Zoom calls.”

Those retreat weekends have been very successful. “At times, parents really need a break from the children they care for, to recharge their strength. At retreats, they can get away without having to do the day-to-day routine. This also allows connecting with a group of parents going through the same scenarios. Parents are able also to share without being judged. Emmanuel Support creates opportunities for networking with other parents that might have been through the same experiences.”

The next retreat is booked for the Easter Weekend, at the usual venue Peacemakers in Parakai (50km north of Auckland). If you are interested in finding out more about Emmanuel Support, please contact Nigel and Penny. All activities are communicated through newsletters, sign up by scanning the QR code below. “With the support of other parents, we become a bigger family, understanding and supporting each other’s journey.”




Image of the cover of the encourager magazine issue 173 March 2022


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Do Not be Ashamed of the Gospel

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” 2 Timothy 1:6-9 (NIV)

The Encourager

Paul suffered so much and still he’s able to say ‘No, don’t be afraid to share the Gospel, remember what God has done for us.’ Christ died for us! So, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gift that God has given us. Here in New Zealand, we don’t suffer for the Gospel as much as some who live in other parts of the world. So, we have less excuse to hide away and be fearful. At the end of the verse, it says God called Paul to be a preacher. God might not call you to be a preacher, but He calls you to be His hands and His feet. He will use you no matter your ability.

Kim Clark


Why would I be ashamed of exciting news? Think about it. We would not be ashamed to tell people that we’ve achieved something or something exciting has happened. We would be quick to tell people. When I got my job at Elevate, I was so excited! I told all my friends and family. I put a post on Facebook. I even wrote an article about it. But we aren’t always as enthusiastic about the Gospel and our relationship with Christ. We may mention that we’re a Christian or go to church, but do we share about salvation, Christ’s death and resurrection, or the transformation in our lives?

Sharing our testimony with others is powerful. It can be an invitation for people to know Christ and start a relationship with Him. As Paul says in Romans 10:13-15, how can they believe if they have not heard. We need to tell people about the Gospel in order for them to believe. We can’t afford to be afraid of sharing the Gospel and telling our testimonies. Take courage, use your gifts and share the Gospel.



Manuele Teofilo


A sound mind is knowing when a storm or problem comes my way, I am ready for it. Not because of me but because my God is for me. The Bible says that if God is for me, or for you, who can be against me. So, people take that and apply that into your life. Whatever situation, problem or storm that comes your way God is for you. So have no fear. Don’t fear the world or what’s happening around you.

Gods’ promises are yes and amen. So, when God says I’ll give you a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, then glorify and say, ‘Yes Lord, please, I receive that’. But to have that you have got to want it. You know it’s like serving God not because you have to but serving God because you want to. If you really want what God’s applying to our life, just open your heart, open your hand and say Lord I receive that.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for this reminder that your spirit in us gives us courage, love, and a sound mind. You give us the strength and the power to share the Gospel. That’s what you have called us to. Help us to be courageous and enthusiastic about your Word. Help us to tell our friends, family, workmates and those we meet about you. To you be all the glory. In Jesus name, amen.

Lani Va’a



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The Value of Inclusive Christian Camping

The Encourager

My journey with inclusive Christian camping began in Australia back in late 2007. I had finished school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Eventually my Mum saw an ad seeking cooks for a local Christian campsite – no experience needed. I enjoyed cooking, so, I applied. A week or so later I went in for an interview and hours later I was offered the job!

Every Autumn and Spring this campsite ran Camp David: a 5-day camp for adults with intellectual disabilities. I hadn’t worked with people with disabilities before, so I felt quite nervous before the first camp… and then I met the campers. By the end of the week, I was in love with all of them and saw what a blessing that camp was for both them and the camp helpers. Camp David became a highlight of my year!

I worked at that campsite for 5 years in various roles. Over that time I learnt the need for people with disabilities to experience the benefits of camp: the connections, the fellowship, and adventure-based activities; activities they would rarely do in everyday life.

In 2011 an opportunity arose that would change my life forever: Christian Venues Association Australia (CVA) and Christian Camping New Zealand (CCNZ), alongside Christian Camping International Canada (CCI/Canada) planned a 2 week study tour of 26 campsites in Canada. Part of the tour included Campfire Circle. Campfire Circle (formally Camp Ooch) provides camps for children and families affected by childhood cancer. Their facilities include all the typical camp activities that you would expect to see, but with some extraordinary additions, including a hospital wing so kids could receive chemotherapy during camp. But the one thing that stood out most to me was seeing this multi-levelled high ropes course with a wheelchair ramp towering over us leading right up to the start of the first level, some 10m above the ground! All the obstacles on that level were accessible to wheelchair users. Since then I have dreamed of seeing something similar in Australia and now New Zealand.

One member of our group invited me to come to New Zealand to visit a large weekend camp for people with disabilities: Elevate National Camp. Did I mention that the trip to Canada was life changing? Well not only did I meet the famous Di Willis, get introduced to the amazing work of Elevate (then CMWDT), celebrate their 30th anniversary and became enamoured by Totara Springs Christian Centre. That weekend was also when I first met my now-husband, Mark – talk about God’s blessings!

In 2013 I moved to New Zealand to work at Totara Springs Christian Centre as an activity instructor and host (which involved hosting Elevate’s Joy Ministries camp and co-hosting National Camp). In 2019 I completed my degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) through Otago Polytechnic (of which I enrolled in largely due to a very lengthy and persuasive discussion about OT with Kirsty Armitage at a previous National Camp). Although I no longer work at a camp, I’ve stayed heavily connected to the ministry through my husband (those who have been to National camp might remember him as ‘Mork’), who continues to work full-time in Christian camping, now in Nelson.

Over the years I’ve seen and heard many stories about the impact that camp has on people. Opportunities to be challenged and try new things increased campers’ self-confidence. The intense nature and intentional community of camp created deep and meaningful relationships. Camp provided people with the opportunity to re-connect with nature, break away from routines and offered rest and rejuvenation. Christian camps are places where people learn about and draw closer to God in a way that very few other types of ministries can provide. However, I’ve also become aware that people with disabilities are missing out on these amazing life-changing opportunities.

As you may know, approximately 24% of New Zealand’s population has a disability (www.stats.govt.nz). However, this is not often reflected in our Christian camps or churches. Although this is not an issue isolated to Christian communities (demonstrated by the findings that children with disabilities are less likely to participate in any social event) (www.odi.govt.nz), it should be seen as a red flag alerting us as Christians to a very real concern: people are missing out on hearing the gospel and fellowship.

In 2020 I enrolled in a masters of Occupational Therapy and proceeded onto my thesis. Delving into the literature, reading about the importance of healthy risk-taking and adventure, learning of the benefits of including young people with disabilities within mainstream social activities, and God’s desire for the church to be one body, has strengthened my conviction on the value of inclusive Christian camping. Offering the option of attending a camp including peers with and without disabilities not only provides the above benefits of camp, but also helps facilitate genuine relationships and develops a sense of normalcy for young people in interacting and making friends with people who are not like themselves. This helps decrease the ‘us and them’ divide that historical segregation has contributed to. This in turn will mean these young people, when adults, will have greater influence upon our world, transforming Christian communities until inclusion is the norm which, hopefully, will then transform churches and Christian organisations into places of belonging for all God’s children, regardless of abilities.

Throughout this journey, I can see God’s grace and guidance, leading me to where I am now. I am so thankful and privileged to now be working with Elevate where my life experiences and academic learning can be used to support and advance God’s kingdom on earth. I am excited to be a part of the new Nelson family camp, which we are opening up to all families affected by disabilities, be that a child, sibling, spouse or parent. I am also excited to potentially work with Christian campsites across the country to help encourage, train and support them to become more inclusive. I pray for more opportunities to run even more camps – maybe a week long summer family camp? Or a youth/young adults adventure camp? – Of course, none of this can happen without God’s grace and provision and volunteers and it will be certainly taking one step at a time, but I know that God has given me this passion for a reason and I’m trusting in Him to show me the way: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105.


Siobhán Jansen works for Elevate as the Training & Seminar Coordinator and the Family Camp Coordinator. If you would like more information on our camps or you/your church would like more information on becoming more inclusive, please visit www.elevate.org.nz. You can read Siobhán’s blog on inclusive Christian camping at www.siobhanjansen.wixsite. com/mysite.



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Our Family Story – Three Generations of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.” Psalm 78:4

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God.” John 11:4

Left to Right Standing – Sean and Cherie O’Sullivan, Heather, Brian, Jordan Linton, Karen Linton
Left to Right Seated – Ben and Joel O’Sullivan, Judah Linton

My journey with disability began in 1949 when I was three years old. Our family lived on a farm in the Waikato, where my dad was a dairy farmer. I was barely old enough to know what the word meant, but disability was to be part of my life from the day my brother was born. Peter’s birth was a difficult one for my mother, and she knew something wasn’t quite right with her third baby. He didn’t suck properly so took ages to feed and had poor muscle tone. He made slow progress physically and didn’t learn to walk until he was two years old. When he started school at five a local kindergarten teacher observed that he seemed much slower in his learning than the other children. As he grew older we noticed he gradually grew weaker. Peter was a happy child, so we called him Smiley Pete. My parents loved God and lived out their faith in their daily lives. While not knowing what his problem was, Mum and Dad believed God could heal him. When he was seven an aunty friend took him to Australia to be prayed for by the healing evangelist Oral Roberts. While he did have some improvements, sadly he wasn’t healed; rather he grew weaker as the years went by. He eventually ended up in a manual wheelchair and lived at home with my parents. After 2 years at school he took correspondence lessons at home, which I loved to help him with. The diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) wasn’t made until Peter was about nine. Sadly, he died just after his 16th birthday, in 1965, after increasing weakness and having difficulty with breathing.

While we grieved for Peter, each in our own way, our family went on with life in the years ahead. There was no indication that this disability would affect any others in our family. A few months after Peter died I became friends with Brian Vincent from the church we attended, Pukekohe Baptist. We married in 1968.

So, the years went by – we little dreamed that our lives were about to change dramatically. By the early 1970’s Brian and I had become the proud parents of three children, Cherie, Karen and David. I was finding fulfilment as a young wife and mother and God gave me many scriptures to encourage me.

However, as David grew, we noticed he couldn’t run or walk very fast or climb trees like his sisters. He was starting to remind me of Peter. After a series of tests and X-rays when David was four, he was diagnosed as having Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Yes, it was the same disability as my brother! This disease causes the muscles of the body to slowly waste away until even the muscles of the heart and lungs are affected. It is a genetic disorder, affecting only boys, and caused by the lack of a protein called dystrophin in the muscles. It is characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Being genetic meant I was probably a carrier, with the potential to pass this on to my children; a 25% chance of any sons to have it, or 25% chance of my daughters to be carriers of it. This was confirmed after I had a blood test and David a muscle biopsy. My mother must have been a carrier too, as both my brother and I were affected.

At back – Heather (me), Bruce (Dad).
At front – Peter, Steve, Flo (Mum), Kath

Up until then I didn’t know I was a carrier. We now knew Cherie and Karen could be carriers of the defective gene as well, potentially passing it on to any children they might have, but then only nine and seven, it was too early to tell. They became wonderful caring sisters to their brother, even though he needed extra attention as he grew older. He was a happy boy and we often said, “Keep smiling David, makes us wonder what you’re up to!”

While this was devastating news at the beginning, God encouraged me with the scripture, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” John 11:4. We believed God would heal him, and we took him to healing meetings for a while. But we reached a point where we relinquished his healing into God’s hands. As the years went by, he not only inspired us, but everyone he met. “It’s all right Mum,” he’d often say. “I know God can heal me – I just don’t know how or when.” He grew to be a young man with a strong faith, who seemed to take his increasing weakness in his stride, even when needing a wheelchair and unable to do much for himself. God encouraged me with the scripture in Exodus 2:9 (KJV) “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” And He has done just that. When David got his first electric wheelchair, he loved whizzing around Hebron School, to the envy of his classmates.

When they tried to stand on the back for a ride, it annoyed him, so he did a quick turn in the chair and flicked them off the back! David eventually attended Mt Roskill Grammar where there was a disabled unit. He did well there, and continued his education by studying architectural drafting at Unitech. This enabled him to design our new wheelchair accessible house with a harbour view in Te Atatu, which we moved into in 1994.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

When Cherie, and then Karen, got married they faced uncertainty regarding starting a family because of the hereditary factor. Cherie and Sean wanted to know if Cherie was a carrier, so when they married in 1989 she had a DNA test done. It was determined that she was a carrier, so they knew the risks involved. Cherie said at the time, “There is a 75% chance that our child will not have DMD, so this is a risk we decided to take.”

In 1995 Sean and Cherie’s first son Joel was born. A month later blood tests verified that he had DMD. We were devastated – this was not what we were expecting to hear. This disability was not going away, it was now affecting a 3rd generation. Joel, our first grandson, won his way into our hearts as he grew. Just a year later, Ben was born and he too was given the same diagnosis. This too was devastating news: it was too big for us, but not for our God, whom we believed was still in charge. We decided we’d trust Him with our future, as we watched Joel and Ben grow up; they were a double blessing. When asked what he thought about having two nephews with DMD, David was quite matter of fact. “They could find a cure for MD before they get too old and that would make a difference.”

Karen married Ivan in 1995, and soon she was pregnant. She and Ivan decided not to have tests to determine whether Karen was a carrier or not. They didn’t want the knowledge of a disability to potentially affect the way people treated their children – for as long as possible. And they knew God would be faithful whatever the outcome. Jordan was born in 1997 but as he grew showed no signs of muscle weakness, rather the opposite – he was full of energy and bounced all over the place. Judah was born two years later, and he too wasn’t tested. However, as he grew older Karen began to notice the tell-tale signs of DMD: muscle weakness, not able to run properly, or pedal his bike very well. So at nearly seven years old, (in spite of the doctors thinking he was a bit too average to have DMD) Judah was diagnosed with the same disability as his cousins and uncle! We were all in this together. And three out of four of our grandsons have the same disability. At the time it was mind-boggling to realize this and the implications for our family. But David himself became a role model for his nephews and was so proud of them. They loved having rides on the back of his wheelchair but he wasn’t quite strong enough to sit them on his lap!

Caring for David took its toll on Brian and I even though we had wonderful caregivers to help us. We were grateful for the support of the folk from Elevate, like our wonderful friends, Hugh and Di, and the many Labour Weekend Camps we attended. Eden AOG was our church then, where Geoff and Joanne Wiklund pastored us. They could see the tremendous stress we were under so Geoff suggested we take a ‘sabbatical’ break from David’s care. So in 2000, when he was 25, David moved into a supportive flatting situation in Mt Albert. This was not an easy decision: we had to let our son go to be cared for by others. However, some of his friends from Elevate lived here, including another young man with DMD, so after six months he was happy to continue. Two years passed and it became apparent that he needed more intensive care than the flat could give him, so he returned home. His weakness increased, affecting his breathing and eating. Finally in September 2002, aged 28, David passed away into the presence of the Lord he loved and served. It was his Nana’s 88th birthday (she outlived her grandson by five years).

Left to Right – Karen, Heather, Brian, David (seated), Cherie.

Our grandsons now became our focus as we supported them, enjoying regular family times like Christmas and birthdays together. We proudly watched as their parents cared for their sons and gave them great experiences. Karen even took Jordan and Judah to Rarotonga in 2008 for a year’s teaching position, while the O’Sullivans went to Bathhurst Motor Sports in 2007. The four ‘little’ boys grew to be handsome young adults, and have enjoyed getting together as cousins! Each one has unique gifts and talents in art, music, memory and computer technology, while they all love motor sports! Cherie’s family now live in Tauranga, as we do, while Karen and Judah live in Hikurangi near Whangarei, and Jordan lives in Palmerston North.

In 2018 Ben developed a serious heart condition which needed treatment. Miraculously he and the family were still able to take a ‘bucket list’ trip to the United States, with sightseeing, motor sports and a Church Worship School on the agenda. However, Ben’s heart condition didn’t improve and a year later in March 2019, he passed away. He’s now no longer confined to his wheelchair. Joel and his parents miss him very much.

It’s only by God’s grace He has enabled our family to live this big life. From my parents to our grandchildren, we as families have found God’s faithfulness and grace truly has been sufficient for all our needs. For His grace is made perfect in weakness, including the weakness of muscular dystrophy. When we are weak, He makes us strong. I wrote “It’s Allright Mum!” as a labour of love, but also as therapy as I worked through some of the issues that disability in the family brings. I wanted to encourage families who were living with a disability. I wanted say “It’s all right, Mums, and Dads, God’s got this! He’s in control and He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. He’s the God of compassion and He can comfort you like He has comforted us.”

“The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us with in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Heather Vincent lives in Tauranga with her husband, Brian. They have both been involved in Elevate since attending National Camp in 1985. Her book, It’s All Right Mum!, was published by Daystar in 2004.



Image of the cover of the encourager magazine issue 173 March 2022


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