As the recently named Faith-Based Program Coordinator at Children’s Therapy TEAM, what do you hope to achieve?
I have a lot of goals for these programs, but ultimately I want to see all families in Northwest Arkansas whose lives have been touched by disability actively thriving, knowing that they are loved and supported, being earnestly embraced by the community, and also having avenues to actively participate and contribute back to their communities as well. I would love to see Northwest Arkansas become a landmark area of the world in regards to disability awareness and ministry.
How has your past missionary experience overseas served you in your current work?
I think a big way that my time overseas is playing into the present is that I don’t fear taking risks – even if sometimes I fail. I’m not afraid to run really hard after things, even if I don’t have all the details worked out yet, or even if I know I’m not the most gifted at it. If there is a need, I want to do anything in my power to try and meet that need (while at the same time actively recruiting someone who might be a better fit than me). I was thinking about this one morning while leading “The More” open worship set at the Fayetteville Prayer Room. I’m not the best guitar player, I’m certainly not the best worship leader, but I wanted there to be a designated time and space for families, therapists (OT/PT/DT/SLP), and individuals to come and lay down their burdens to the Lord and to hopefully be filled with His presence, hope, and peace. So I started this worship set. One morning I couldn’t get the sound equipment to work. So there I was, singing raggedly into a microphone that I couldn’t get to turn on, and I thought, “I’m kind of failing at this whole worship thing today… and that’s ok because the Lord is still present.” Failure is just an opportunity to learn, and it doesn’t define who I am. Taking risks, whether they work out or not, is such a reminder of how shame, and placing our identities in what people think of us, is not from the Father. Because we are gathered into His fold, because He loves us, because He only has good plans for us, and because nothing is impossible for Him, we can – with full confidence and abandon – be obedient to Him and take risks when He asks us to. Because of our love for Him and by our faith and trust in Him, we are to risk for His Kingdom. Shame doesn’t allow for risk. Saving face or fear doesn’t allow for risk. But without risk, rarely does greatness happen.
While overseas I also really experienced the joy of being so completely dependent on Jesus – and how having that close of a relationship with Him is better than anything else. It leads us to wholeness and healing. This is a foundational driving force in all that I do. There is probably nothing I love more than seeing people grow in healing – having past hurts, disappointments, injustices, etc. mitigated by the love of Christ and the identity He has for them. I’m not sure people really believe that He can do this, that He can make all things new again, but I’ve seen it both in my life and in the lives of others. It can take time and effort, and sometimes it is very much darkest right before the dawn, but it’s so worth it. Fighting for your heart, fighting for your wholeness, knowing that God is good and because of that we can dream big and take risks – it’s so worth it. And once you’ve glimpsed even just a piece of this, once you’ve seen Him come through in impossible situations or break through what feels like an indestructible barrier in your heart, you’ll never want to go back to anything less than complete dependence on Him.
As an Occupational Therapist, you are obviously well grounded in medical science. What is your understanding of the role that faith and spirituality has in medicine?
A big theme in OT is holisticness. I believe that spirituality is a piece of being holistic. For me personally, it is my faith in Jesus that brings me peace, comfort, joy, perseverance, compassion, and so much more. For me as a practitioner, it is what pushes me to pray for the kids that I see, to constantly try to see their inner value – the gold inside of them – and bring that gold to the forefront. It is the identity that I have in Christ and the confidence that this brings that causes my heart to break for any child who says, “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t have friends.” My job is not just a job to me – it is the platform that gives me access into loving children, their parents, and their siblings to the best of my ability. My faith is what keeps me grounded in knowing that I alone can’t fix everything, but I believe in a big God who can.
What tips do you have for families and faith communities?
I think there are several faith-based communities within Northwest Arkansas that are striving to provide better support and awareness through various types of disability ministry. If I were to give one tip to both families and to these communities, it is to create an atmosphere for open dialogue. To the families I would say – for those of us attempting to love you and support you, we are going to make mistakes. You might walk into a church and have someone stare at you. You might have someone approach you and ask a really ignorant question. But choose to be unoffendable. Instead, help us. Communicate with us on what your needs are, how we can better meet those needs, and what is helpful or hurtful. To the churches and other faith based communities I would say – stay humble. It is really difficult to be criticized when you are just trying to do the best you know how, but this is going to happen. So keep asking questions, don’t make assumptions, ask for forgiveness when you inadvertently offend, and pray without ceasing.
What are some local outreach programs that you are particularly excited about?
I literally get excited about whatever program I’m working on in the moment. I honestly think each one of them, in different ways, has the potential to truly change lives. I get excited about the Tuesday morning worship because I believe in the power of prayer. There are various summer fun events coming up that I am hoping will help to connect families who are wanting/needing community. We had a pool party at the Boys and Girls Club on June 25th, which was fun and so encouraging. Cross Church graciously supported a sensory-friendly tent at their Fireworks at the Crosses event this weekend. I am networking with various local churches to begin community groups and parent encouragement groups. Children’s Therapy T.E.A.M. has partnered with Potter’s House and New Heights Church’s All Abilities Ministry to form a mentoring program for the summer, and it is my hope to eventually develop a year round program. There are various projects in the works that are providing older children with special needs work training and volunteer opportunities. And Children’s Therapy T.E.A.M. is working on a partnership with the Joshua Center, a local counseling center, to provide counseling for families, children, and therapists. These are all steps towards community, healing, and wholeheartedness. Sometimes it seems a little overwhelming how much God has done just in the past couple of months, but I think it is truly evidence of His heart for these families. He desires for them to know that they are seen and that they are loved.
How can families learn about opportunities in our community?
Children’s Therapy T.E.A.M. has a Community Calendar. As events develop, I’ll post them there – along with more detailed descriptions of the various programs as they launch. This is definitely still a work in progress, so keep checking for updates.
Amanda Wherry is a local and international advocate for individuals and families with disabilities. She spent nearly 7 years in a remote area in inland Asia developing a hospital pediatric therapy program with teaching in physical, occupational and speech therapy as well as NICU therapy. read more
About the cover art: Whose hands are pictured? The picture shows Amanda Wherry (right) giving Dimitri Clark (left) a high five. Dimitri is a TEAM kid with Cerebral Palsy who serves as the spokesperson for Heroes for Kids. The picture was taken at the 2016 Heroes for Kids Run. The non-profit awards adaptive recreation equipment to kids with special needs so they can enjoy the natural beauty of the outdoors in Northwest Arkansas.