By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN Jesus Cares Bible Study of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Delano recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The goal of this group is to share the gospel with teens and adults possesing developmental disabilities.
Chad Hoppe, a lifelong member of the church, started the Bible study a year ago when the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) came to Mt. Olive last spring.
“Actually, one of our churches is a member of the WELS synod, and they have a program similar to this one,” Hoppe said. According to Hoppe, at least 25 churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the surrounding area have programs for individuals possessing developmental disabilities.
Volunteers from the WELS synod came to Mt. Olive last spring to describe their Bible study program. Hoppe was intrigued by the idea of starting a new Bible study from the start.
“Right away, I said, ‘Hey, we can do that here.’ We just got a new building that is handicapped accessible,” said Hoppe.
Hoppe’s vision soon became a reality as the new program emerged at Mt. Olive.
Hoppe is an active member of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, and he volunteers frequently in a variety of events.
Currently, he is in charge of the church youth group, and coaches basketball at the school. Now, Hoppe occupies a great deal of his time managing Jesus Cares Bible Study.
According to Hoppe, anyone can be a member of the Bible study. While there are no members who belong to the church itself, most group members come from local homes for disabled individuals.
Currently, Jesus Cares Bible Study includes homes from Watertown, Buffalo, and Delano.
“We’re a Lutheran church, but the group is non-denominational,” Hoppe said.
The individuals who are involved in Jesus Cares Bible Study possess a wide range of disabilities.
“It’s pretty easy to reach the group homes in Wright County, but there are other people in the community that are hard to reach,” Hoppe clarified.
“There are a couple of core group homes that are easy to get to and communicate with. Then, it’s outreaching into the community to find other students.” Hoppe said.
This is only one of the many Bible studies that are made available by Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. Usually, classes for Jesus Cares Bible Study take place the first and third Tuesday of every month in the church fellowship hall.
According to Hoppe, the study begins at 6:30 p.m., and typically lasts until 7:30 p.m.
“On average, we get about 10 students, but there can be up to 20,” Hoppe said.
The Bible study usually begins with a gospel lesson followed by music. Arts and crafts take place for students to interact with one another. Hoppe explained that classes are often ended with a round of bingo if there is time left.
“Our main focus is the Bible study, but we also want to form a social community for them to feel a part of the community,” Hoppe said. “Not only is it a Bible study, but we try to do social programs, as well.”
Jesus Cares is planning several social events for students of the Bible study. According to Hoppe, volunteers are planning a bingo night, a Twins game in the fall and a bowling outing for members of the group.
“We bring everyone from the separate homes together so they have that fellowship and time to be with other people with developmental disabilities and with volunteers,” Hoppe explained. Volunteers want to see the students grow and interact with one another in an open environment.
Volunteers of Jesus Cares Bible Study are specially trained to share the gospel with members. Hoppe said that there are at least 15 volunteers from Mt. Olive Lutheran Church who assist him in planning and maintaining the program.
According to Hoppe, they often have more volunteers than students at the events.
“Everyone really enjoys it, so that’s great,” Hoppe said.
Generally, each home comes to Bible studies with one or two staff members. This allows group members to commute easily to Bible study and provides additional help during the program.
Jesus Cares affects not only group members, but also volunteers like Hoppe.
“We have a very committed staff and everyone just enjoys it immensely. You have a bad day at work or with kids and then volunteer at this class,” Hoppe said. “It is just hard to not be uplifted by being with these people. Sometimes I think the volunteers are more excited to come than the members.”
Jesus Cares celebrated its one-year anniversary last Tuesday night at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. Members of the group, as well as volunteers, enjoyed a bingo and bonfire night. Hoppe said that at least 30 volunteers and 16 students attended the celebration.
Fundraising for outings and social events can be difficult, according to Hoppe. The children at Mt. Olive Lutheran School have an offering once a month to raise money for the program.
Donations are also collected from members of the church. Hoppe said that additional funds will need to be raised once more social events are held.
Hoppe and other volunteers of Jesus Cares Bible Study want to impact the community of Delano.
“Hopefully, it is reaching out to people with developmental disabilities and giving them more social opportunities,” Hoppe said. “Basically to make them feel more welcome in the community is a strong goal of ours.”
Forming and maintaining Jesus Cares Bible Study has greatly influenced Hoppe.
“It is such a joy to share my faith in Jesus with those of special needs,” Hoppe expressed. “Before this program started, I had no idea that there were so many great people in our local communities with developmental disabilities. Now, after one year, I have met 20 new friends and all of their great caretakers.”
For more information about Jesus Cares Bible Study, contact Hoppe at (612) 716-5174 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.