CAN JOY COEXIST WITH AFFLICTION?

Introducing You to Chronic Joy Ministry

One of the “content categories” for my posts on depression and faith is to familiarize you with helpful resources: books, blogs, and organizations.

Today’s post is an interview with the President and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy Ministry, Pamela Piquette. The ministry includes, but isn’t limited to, persons who are chronically depressed.

Here’s their mission statement:

Radical Hope. Compassionate Change. Equipping Those Affected by Chronic Physical and Mental Illness through Community and Education Rooted in Jesus Christ.

 

  1. When and why did you launch Chronic Joy Ministry?

Chronic Joy began because we felt such a profound need to do something for those affected by chronic illness. In addition, there is a deeply personal connection that inspired those first steps. My daughter and I–as well as my ministry partner and co-founder, Cindee Snider Re, and four of her five children–have multiple chronic illnesses that dramatically alter our lives.

We all have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which by definition affects connective tissue in the body responsible for supporting and structuring skin, blood vessels, bones, and organs.  One result is a deficit in the protein collagen.

Categories of EDS, as well as the nature and severity of symptoms, vary among individuals. Symptoms may (or may not) include easily-bruised skin, muscle pain and fatigue, degenerating joints, and problems with heart valves or vessels.

Cindee and I know what it’s like to live and work with physical symptoms that limit our output and energy, plus we grasp the challenges of caregiving in relation to our own children. We aren’t strangers to the emotional, financial, and relational impact of ongoing physical affliction within our families.

Our struggles, combined with God’s sustaining grace, have convinced us that joy and purpose in ministry do coexist with pain. Our journey also informs our resources, making them more sensitive and practical for others who are hurting.

The ministry began with a vision and a call from God on New Year’s Day, 2016. At first, we thought we would start a Bible study or small group ministry in our church, but God had bigger plans. Within months, we became a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Our Board of Directors includes a pastor, psychologist, nurse, two retired CPAs, a long-time caregiver, and a physical therapist, each with a personal connection to chronic physical and/or mental illness. We also developed a vision statement, a mission statement, by-laws, a website and a growing social media presence.

By Chronic Joy’s first birthday, we had not only published the first book in the Chronic Joy Thrive series, but had done a podcast, a local TV public service announcement, two national radio interviews, and a two-page spread in an international magazine.

 

2.  What audience segments are you wanting to reach?

We started Chronic Joy to reach out and offer hope to all those affected by chronic physical and/or mental illness: not only those who have chronic illness themselves, but also their caregivers, spouses, children, families, neighbors, co-workers, friends, and pastors.

There are few ministries specifically serving those affected by chronic illness. Joni Eareckson Tada has a fantastic disability ministry, but disability is different from chronic illness. The term “chronic” in our name means persisting for a long time, ongoing bouts of physical or emotional symptoms.

 

3.  What challenges have you faced in starting and maintaining this ministry?

Probably the most significant challenge has been the scope of just how many people are affected by chronic illness: nearly 1 in 2, or approximately 155 million people (as of 2018), yet our focus remains on one precious life at a time.

The second challenge is that today, Chronic Joy is primarily run by Cindee and me, two women with significant chronic illness. Some days we’re too sick to work. The interesting thing is that as we press into Jesus, we often accomplish more than we would have thought possible. When we are most unwell, we spend more time in prayer and that’s when big things seem to happen, amazing things that even if we had been well and had worked really hard, we likely couldn’t have accomplished.

 

4.  Describe your website and its features.

On our website, you’ll find five key communities: Chronic Illness, Caregivers, Mental Illness, Marriage, and Parenting. For each, we offer a variety of engaging, inspiring and educational resource links to articles, books, blogs, podcasts, audio, video, downloadable pdfs, and websites.

Our blog posts are primarily written by our Chronic Joy community. Since we invite guest posts, you’ll find articles from published authors as well as heart-felt personal stories.

We also publish support materials for small group leaders, including our new companion resource book, Grace, Truth & Time: Facilitating Small Groups That Thrive, by Chronic Joy board member and clinical psychologist, Heather MacLaren Johnson.

But most exciting for us is our four-book Chronic Joy Thrive study series, which provides an opportunity for small groups to develop and for people to learn that they can indeed thrive in a life with chronic illness.  The first two books in the series, Discovering Hope and Finding Purpose, written by Cindee Snider Re, are available now. Embracing Worth and Encountering Joy will be published in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

 

 5.  How would you evaluate the work of local churches in serving people in your audience?

We’ve found that many churches are unprepared or not well equipped to meet the needs of those with long-term chronic illness. It’s not necessarily a lack of compassion, but of understanding, something outside the scope and sequence of their experience.

Those of us with chronic illness often don’t fit into existing programs, and because chronic illness is unpredictable, we might not be able to meet the expectations of a traditional small group or program. Many of us long to be vital members of the larger Body of Christ, but find ourselves unable to serve in traditional ways. So over time, many people with chronic conditions simply stop participating or stop attending altogether.

When it comes to reaching and involving those chronically ill, and persons who care for them, perhaps creative brainstorming is needed among church leaders.

For persons unable to attend, could the church live-stream the corporate worship service?  How can persons unable to attend services or programs still be utilized in ministry? Can we utilize technology for small group studies so persons not physically present can participate?

 

A Final Word from Terry

As I read the story of Chronic Joy Ministry, spawned by the painful experiences of Pamela and Cindee, I see living proof that God redeems affliction, even when He doesn’t remove it. Their suffering has spawned a ministry that helps thousands. They remind me of what late Pastor Ron Dunn said: “Your greatest area of ministry may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

*If you are affected by chronic physical or mental illness, you’ll find material on their website to encourage and to sustain you.

*If you’re a caregiver, click the “Caregiver” category in their “Resources” section.

*Check out the resources for “Parents” and “Marriage” for helps for family units.

*If you’re a church leader, click the “For Leaders” tab on their website and look over the books in their Chronic Joy Thrive series. Also familiarize yourself with all CJM resources so you’ll know what’s available when you deal with someone chronically ill, or with a caregiver.

 *Pause and pray for Pamela and Cindee, that God’s Spirit will keep expanding their borders of influence despite their illness.

*To access their website: chronic-joy.org (Also, find them on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.)

Chronic Illness Ministry

Chronic Illness Ministry

 

 

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