An Unexpected Ministry: The Elisha Foundation

By Trillia Newbell

Mission work doesn’t always lead to overseas travel. That was the case for Justin and Tamara Reimer who founded The Elisha Foundation in 2005. After the birth of their son, Elisha, and his diagnosis of Down Syndrome, the couple knew that they had a new mission. The mission became The Elisha Foundation, located in Bend, Oregon, it’s one that would keep them in the United States and affect the lives of many children just like Elisha.

Get to know Justin, the Executive Director of the Elisha Foundation, and the ministry through this Q & A:

Q: Tell us more about your testimony of the birth of Elisha.

Reimer: When Eli was about 45 minutes old the midwife came to us and said that he showed signs of having Down Syndrome and that we would need to take him to Neonatal ICU immediately. We were surprised to some extent but God had so mercifully and sovereignly prepared us that the only tears shed were those of joy that God had chosen to give us such a special stewardship. We were sure of His goodness in our son’s diagnosis.

After we checked Elisha into the NICU and were able to head to our room for a couple hours of rest I opened my Bible and for the first time the story of the man born blind in John 9 hit me profoundly. We knew that God had graciously given us our boy with Down Syndrome and we knew He was purposeful in it all but to read the words “…that the works of God might be displayed in him.” stirred our souls to greater affection for Christ.

Throughout our experience raising Eli we have had various challenges and struggles particular to the uniqueness of the disability we live with. Time and time again God has brought His Word to bear on our lives and many a situation. There have been many encouraging verses and passages from Exodus to Psalms to John to Romans to Hebrews.

Over the last year 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 and the picture of the use for the “weaker” in the Body of Christ has been a deep challenge to us but also a source of great encouragement. Our son and those we minister to are a part of the Body not just a seat in the pew of our church buildings. These weaker, disabled members are functioning parts of the Body. We as the more fully functioning members need to recognize their gifts and make way for them to be expressed within the Body. We don’t do that very well and many churches struggle with this, but we must engage/enlist every member of the Body of Christ to serve and minister their gifts.

Tamara hasn’t wrestled with too many fears specific to disability but we have had to face some basic realizations that have life implications. Eli won’t leave home, he will live with us for as long as we are alive. That changes perhaps where we live or how we live once the other children are out of the house. Eli will likely outlive us both, we have to think about who will care for him next. That is difficult and emotional but we are grateful for these opportunities to lean more fully on our Saviour.

As for fears and perhaps a basic overall view on our family you could read a blog post I did on World Down Syndrome day that is in the “News” section on our website.

Q: How and why did you begin the foundation?

Reimer: Prior to the birth of our son, Elisha, Tamara and I were in pursuit of being missionaries to Russia. Shortly after Elisha’s birth we realized that God had sovereignly directed our steps to be on mission to the disabled community and had given us a deep desire to do so. Over the next 8.5 years we were able to be a part of the disabled communities in a few different cities. Being exposed to numerous families and children in the midst of disability helped us to see how absent of the gospel this population was. We witnessed deep struggles, broken marriages, hopeless people, and very little Christian outreach in the midst of this brokenness.

After years of praying and seeking the Lord’s direction with the desire to bring the gospel to families like ours, we were graciously given the opportunity to begin ministering to families experiencing disability. We started with a very small retreat for families with disabled children here in Bend, Oregon ministering to just 4 families. From that simple little retreat God has graciously expanded the reach and effectiveness of this ministry.

Q: Would you tell us a little bit about Elisha?

Elisha

The Reimer's son, Elisha, and the inspiration behind The Elisha Foundation

Reimer: Elisha is a freshman in high school and will turn 15 in June. He is a pure joy to be around! He loves music and Bibles. Since he was very little he has enjoyed all sorts of music. Right now he loves any music by Matt Hammitt, Lecrae, Shai Linne, Third Day, Sovereign Grace Music, and some of the sweet ballads sung by his close friend Pastor Paul Martin. He has a collection of some 15 Bibles and can tell you most Bible stories in detail with passion. He is particularly emotional and detailed in telling the story of Jesus betrayal, death, and resurrection.

There are so many things that we love about Eli. His love for Jesus, his kindness towards his siblings, his gentleness towards other children with disabilities, and his constant smile. Eli never forgets a name or a face. Once he has met you he will not forget you. This trait about him has encouraged so many people. He can brighten your day just be acknowledging you with his big smile and overly silly chuckle. In this he serves as an example to all of us of how to be selfless and loving.

His impact on our family in some ways is hard to gauge as he is our firstborn, but as our other 4 children have grown we do see the indelible imprint that the Lord has merciful placed on our children through the uniqueness of being raised with the experience of disability. Our children are quicker to notice and respond to others with special needs. Our children, even in their youthfully short attention span, are patient and considerate with those with special needs.

As Tamara and I have parented Eli we have learned a great deal. So much of what we have learned has come specifically through the challenges of disability. In this great learning experience we have continually been blessed with Eli’s strength and joy. No matter how painful a physical challenge he has or how much he struggles to speak clearly, he does not back away and will rarely give up. Even in his struggles his joy is right near the surface ready to overflow. We battle our sinful tendencies to become impatient or to want to bask in self-pity because of the struggles our son faces, yet the joyful resolve he displays humbles us and God uses to right out hearts.

Disability is a beautiful picture of the gospel. We are all disabled by sin and in need of divine, blood-bought “healing”. For our family to see this, feel this, and minister in the midst of this picture of the gospel has been a priceless education.

Q: Your mission statement says your goal is to bring “refreshment and encouragement” how do you that?

Reimer: In carrying out our vision to provide spiritual and physical refreshment for families experiencing disability we have three areas of focus: Respite, Retreat, and REACH.

Our Respite programs provide the needed and consistent support to families.  We work to help the local church engage the needs of those experiencing disability in their communities. In doing so we are responding to the needs these families have. Respite has varying forms, for example the first Friday of every month we have a “Night Out” for parents where they drop off their children at a facility with a group of our volunteers. The parents get that time away while we minister to their children.

Our Retreat programs provide three days/nights away for the whole family to be ministered too, loved on, and refreshed. We provide an intimate and restful environment. The Retreats are centered around focused times of teaching and worship as well as other activities designed to encourage and build up these families.

We recently began our REACH program which is designed to work cross-culturally with believers ministering to people with disabilities. We have begun work in Ukraine and our family will be spending the next three months ministering there to both orphans and families experiencing disability. Our goal is to provide local church ministry teams with biblical training on disability and to provision them more effectively work with the disabled in their communities.

In all of our programs local church support through resources and volunteers is critical. Each of these three areas are intended to draw local churches into mission to those experiencing disability.

Q: Is this a local foundation or national?

Reimer: As you can see above we have a local, national, and international ministry. Each of these programs can easily be fielded through local church involvement. If someone would like to know more or would like to be a part of what TEF is doing they can contact us directly through our website.

Q: Are the retreats local? What do you do for the three days? Is it the entire family, including the special needs children or for the parents only?

Reimer: Retreats tend to be local but we often have people from states surrounding the area of a retreat attend. They are designed for the whole family.

Q: There are three ways to get involved. Could you explain?

Reimer: People can donate through the website, by mailing a check, or by calling us to set up recurring donations.

There are different ways that churches have partnered with us. Some churches provide ongoing financial support, some have stepped up to sponsor part or all of a Retreat while at the same time providing the needed volunteers to execute a Retreat. Other churches want to begin to minister to their community through a Respite program.

Ultimately, it comes down to the church’s vision for how they want to impact the lives of the disabled community. We will help them do that!

 

Reimer Family

The Reimer Family

For more information about the Elisha Foundation, visit their website at http://www.theelishafoundation.org/.

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