Over the past three months, U.S. missionaries Joe and Jen Butler, co-founders of Ability Tree and ministering under AG U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries, have found God not only answering their prayers, but answering them in a big way!
First, in September, Ability Tree was gifted $75,000 to purchase property for a future new home location. Then, it received an unexpected $500,000 grant in November as a lead gift in constructing the new facility!
Ability Tree is a multi-state program founded in 2010 and headquartered in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The program is a ministry to children with disabilities and their parents, providing recreation, education, support, and training. However, the need for a new home had become increasingly clear over the last several years.
When the Soderquist family told Joe about the half-million-dollar gift his response was relatively reserved — he admits he was in shock.
“I thanked them, of course, but at that meeting I was just expecting them to tell me a timetable of when they might make a decision,” Joe recalls. “I was overwhelmed. It really didn’t hit me about what had just happened until I got to my car and called my wife . . . that (grant) was a real game changer for our ministry.”
Ability Tree’s current home is located in downtown Siloam Springs in part of what used to be a theater, feed store, and grocery store. It occupied about 4,000 square-feet, or about one-third of the property. About three years ago, the Butlers started to try to acquire the rest of the building, but the effort fell apart.
Joe admits there were times of frustration, but he also recognized — and even more so now —that waiting on God’s timing may not always be the easiest way to go, but it is always the best way to go.
In another gifting to the ministry, the design rendering of the new facility was donated by Harrison French & Associates (HFA) as pro bono work. The one-of-a-kind facility will provide students, families, and faculty a spacious 10,000-square-foot “Rest and Recreation Center.” It will house a half-court gym with a retractable stage and seating for plays and training, a sensory gym, a multi-sensory environment room, soft-play equipment, trampolines, balance beams, a Lego room, an accessible tree house, a calming room, a craft room, and a covered outdoor play area in addition to administrative offices.
“This will triple the number of kids and families (currently about 80) that we’re going to be able to serve in Northwest Arkansas,” Joe says. “We’re also considering the possibility of buying the lot next to this one so in the future we could expand the facility to include a full-court gym, housing, therapy rooms, and possibly a conference center.”
Malcolm Burleigh, executive director of U.S. Missions, expressed appreciation for the Butlers as "faithful servants" through U.S. Missions the past 6½ years. "Their heart of service and compassion is a reflection of Christ's life in them, and their expertise in providing for the needs of person with disabilities is exemplary," he stated. "We rejoice and give thanks for those who have given to this ministry with a kind heart and generous hand. Their partnership with Ability Tree will refresh and encourage families, reaping many souls for the Kingdom."
The Butlers are hoping to break ground on the new facility by the end of February and be moved in by the spring or summer of 2019. They are also currently connecting with and applying for grants from other Christian-based organizations and foundations to completely fund the project.
The Soderquist family, which had 30 to 40 members of their leadership center come out for a workday at Ability Tree prior to presenting their grant, released a telling statement concerning the grant and the reason Ability Tree was a recipient of the generous gift:
The Soderquist family acknowledges that our wealth has been entrusted into our care by the Lord. We realize and accept the responsibility that God has given us as stewards of that wealth to be faithful . . . The focus of the Soderquist family’s giving is to invest in organizations and people that change lives.
The donation to purchase the land was a $25,000 gift in memory of Maryann McEachern, who served as a special educator for many years, by her daughter, Shelley Simmons. Simmons Foods also pledged to donate $50,000 over the next five years to Ability Tree.“For someone to invest in our mission — to come alongside families like our own — was just overwhelming,” says Joe, whose son, Micah, is autistic. “It confirmed this is God’s plan for our lives — He will provide and continue to provide as long as we stay on vision and on mission.”
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