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Spirit to Spirit

by Kristel Zelaya


“Were it not for the Holy Spirit, we would simply be floundering in a sea of good deeds that hold no eternal value whatsoever,” say AG U.S. missionaries with Intercultural Ministries Joe and Ann Trementozzi. “He has placed in our hearts that it is all about souls, including the souls of those who have disabilities. If they have an adequate witness of Jesus, they too can have encounters with their Savior.”

 

Since 2007, with Special Touch Ministry (founded in 1982 by U.S. missionary Debbie Chivers and her late husband, Charlie), Joe and Ann have served on the front line of missions to those with disabilities, a marginalized group of nearly 60 million souls across the United States. This number does not include the families of those with disabilities, which notoriously struggle with divorce, maladjustment in siblings, and separation from Christ and churches of any kind. 

 

The vast majority of those touched by disability have not had adequate witness of Jesus and what He represents in their lives, Joe shares, leaving enormous spiritual fields waiting to be seeded, watered and harvested.

 

“Just because someone looks like they cannot understand what is being said to them, please do not assume that they cannot,” say Joe and Ann. “Just because someone has moderate to profound physical disabilities does not mean they have moderate to profound intellectual disabilities. Someone’s eternal life can most definitely be affected by that kind of false assumption.”

 

THROUGH ANY LIMITATION

 

A Florida pastor named Tom sensed the Lord impressing him to become involved with a Special Touch Get Away camp, which are designed to provide “camp-style retreats for people with intellectual or physical disabilities to experience God and fellowship with others in a Christian atmosphere.”

 

Tom called Joe to volunteer at an upcoming camp but was nervous as he had never cared for a person with disabilities before. Yet Joe and Ann sensed the Lord’s direction in Tom and prepared to surround him with help and training as he cared for a young man named Scotty who experiences moderate to profound disabilities, uses a wheelchair, and is nonverbal, using only a few gestures to communicate. One of his gestures was to tap his hand on the side of his head, meaning “yes.”

 

Ann says, “Tom was an amazing caregiver and made sure Scotty experienced the best week he possibly could have. They were even some of the first ones seated for the morning and evening chapels.”

 

During the Thursday evening service’s altar call, a question was asked: “Does anyone want to come forward to accept Jesus?”Scotty began to rock in his wheelchair with such force that the chair began to shake. He rapidly hit his hand to his head, saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” 

 

Following his salvation prayer, Scotty was asked if he had accepted Jesus. He smiled radiantly, tapping the side of his head and pointing to his chest.

 

“This brings tears to our eyes,” the Trementozzis say, “as it proves the Lord can break through any limitation or anything we call a disability, speaking Spirit to spirit.”

 

IN THE FACE OF APATHY

 

For Joe and Ann, one of the most difficult and painful aspects of ministry has been church leaders and officials who exhibit no comprehension of the importance of reaching those with disabilities, and who refuse to become involved in any capacity.

 

Yet they rejoice as they recount seeing the Holy Spirit moving across the nation in new and special ways, both in churches and schools, stirring people to seek out those with disabilities, bringing them the opportunity to know Jesus. They also observe a new awakening in the hearts and minds of those with disabilities and their families, a new interest in spiritual matters.

 

“When those two elements meet — an alert Church and seeking persons with disabilities and their families — it is an ordained spiritual moment orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.” Joe says.

 

The Trementozzis recall numerous pastors who, upon hearing them share about the need and their ministry, come alive in their hearts and minds, actively involving themselves with Special Touch and serving as caregivers, speakers, advocates and more.

 

“We must have the same urgency to reach those who have disabilities as those who do not,” Joe says. “The difficulty has always been that it is harder to reach this marginalized group. But it is exciting that more churches are standing up, desiring to do the hard work. Please pray for more open doors to share about how Jesus loves those with disabilities and their families, and how we can help the Church to reach them.”

 

LEARNING FROM LYDIA

 

Lydia (name changed for security) endured physical and sexual abuse as a child. One occurrence was so severe that she was left deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, and paralyzed on one side, needing to use a wheelchair. While attending a Special Touch Get Away camp, Lydia basked in a special ladies’ spa day — having her hair done, getting a makeover, and being wrapped in a fluffy white shawl and hat.

 

Ann recalls that when told how beautiful she looked that day, Lydia was shocked. “Really?” she asked. “No one ever told me that before!”

 

In that moment, Lydia’s heart opened, and after hearing about Jesus and His love, she immediately accepted Him. That evening at the chapel service, after hearing a message on forgiveness, Lydia asked her caregiver to wheel her to the front of the sanctuary, where she forgave her abusers and asked Christ to forgive them as well. The next day, Joe and Ann were able to baptize Lydia in the lake.

 

“May we all learn from Lydia’s example of unconditional love and forgiveness,” Ann says.

 

BECAUSE OF DISABILITY

 

Many years ago, Joe and Ann went through a long season of personal struggle with their daughter, Beth Ann. A series of medical challenges for Beth Ann, who faces disabilities, brought the family to a breaking point.

 

Ann says, “All families with disabilities face breaking points, the vast majority do not make it past them.”

 

During a moment of deep pain, Joe’s brother and former AG World Missions Europe regional director, Paul Trementozzi, encouraged his brother and sister-in-law, “You are a blessing to many, and one day you will be a blessing to many more.”

 

Joe confesses that at that time, Paul’s words fell on hurting ears and hearts, and were difficult to understand. Yet eventually, they would prove not only kind, but also prophetic.

 

Attending Brockton Assembly of God in Massachusetts in the 1970s and 80s, the Trementozzis listened to visiting world missionaries, hearing about work overseas sensing the Lord calling them to something too. But it seemed impossible because of the level of care Beth Ann needed at home, as well as care for her two older brothers, Bernie and Matthew. 

 

In the 1990s, Joe and Ann cheered Beth Ann on from the stands as she participated in the State of Florida Special Olympics. They remember it as a priceless, special weekend for their family, but they were also surprised by the lack of presence and participation from other athletes’ family members. When they got home, they began to explore the impact of disabilities on families, discovering what they call the obscene divorce rate, pressure on siblings, and financial, physical and emotional stress. 

 

Joe and Ann felt their eyes were especially opened to what their two sons may have been going through due to the extra care needed for their sister. They say that it took years of learning about family and disabilities before the Lord called them to minister directly to that community. 

 

Later, the Lord assured Joe and Ann that it was “because of” their child with disabilities and her two brothers that they would eventually become U.S. missionaries to persons with disabilities and their families. 

They believe the phrase “because of disability” has two different meanings. One means, “because of disability, we cannot answer the call.” The other means, “because of disability, we simply must answer the call.”

 

In 2006, Joe and Ann were officially appointed as U.S. missionaries. They say, “We now find ourselves among those who related to the old saying that ‘God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.’ We get to reach this community with the love of God and with our daughter, Beth Ann, alongside us. We think it’s pretty cool.”

 

MAKING THE CROSS ACCESSIBLE

 

As Joe and Ann press forward in service, they are driven by the belief that Jesus is returning soon, and that before He does, the salvation He bought with His death on the cross must be made accessible to all — including every person touched in any way by disability. 

 

“There is so much to do,” they conclude. “Our hope is that the Church will make a conscious effort to do something of value for this marginalized population, listening to the Lord as He calls workers into this harvest. He has been so faithful over the years, and He will finish what He started.”

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