Shining Like the Stars
By Constance Fink
The greatest need of the disabled is the same as for all of us – to know Jesus Christ as Savior and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. With a heart for missions and a degree in physical therapy, Dawn Clark proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed to those with disabilities and their families in her church. The STARS program is for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are a vital part of the church, actively serving the Lord.
JBU: Did you create the program or was it already established?
DAWN: The STARS program (Seeking To Always Reflect the Savior) was started in the 1960’s by a woman who wanted to teach a Down Syndrome child about God. She started a class and by 1970, there were 10 students. The class grew into a program and, in 2002, I became the director.
JBU: What events are provided?
DAWN: We have Bible classes, music programs, retreats, a 5K run, and summer programs. (www.college-church.org/disabilities). For the families, we have a monthly parent support group, respite care, practical help in the home, camp scholarships, and financial support and counseling through our church.
JBU: What are ways to keep the church on board with the program?
DAWN: It is important that the disability ministry fits into what the church is already doing. When I first came, our mission statement was, “God’s People Joyfully Proclaiming God’s Glory Among the Nations.” We focused on the disability community as one of the “nations”— an unreached people group. Another way is through our annual Disability Ministry Sunday where the STARS lead the congregation in worship through music and personal testimonies.
JBU: How would one start a program in their church?
DAWN: Look for creative ways to come in contact with people with disabilities. Talk to the individuals and their families to learn the needs and concerns. Work toward meeting those needs and involving the people in the life of the church. There are many organizations that have resources for starting programs:
- STARS Disability Ministry Model on our website (see below)
JBU: Prior to this, you were involved in Bible translation work. Describe your daily life in a third world country.
DAWN: We lived among the Sio people in Papua New Guinea for 11 years, spending time with them to learn their language and culture. I assisted Sio church leaders in developing a Sunday school curriculum and prep school. Since I was a physical therapist, I provided basic medical care in the village.
We lived in a simple house where we collected water off a metal roof. Drinking water was obtained from a well a half mile away. Communication was through a radio. Mail came once every 6 weeks. We had a solar panel to run a few lights and power the radio. We lived on the coast with a beautiful coral reef and enjoyed snorkeling and swimming. On weekends, we walked to the foothills to wash our clothes in the river and bathe. Life was simple, but relationships were deep.
JBU: How did you make the switch from foreign missions to a ministry to the disabled?
DAWN: Upon completion of the Sio New Testament and Psalms, my husband, Stephen, was asked to teach linguistics at Moody Bible Institute. We thought the position would be for 3 years and then we would return to foreign missions. However, family needs and Stephen’s desire to train the next generation of Bible translators led us to stay in the U.S. That left me in a quandary. I loved missions and it was a great disappointment not to return.
Living in the States, our expenses had increased, so I went back to work as a physical therapist. At the same time, I longed to get back into full-time ministry. Then the Lord opened my eyes to see the burdens carried by parents with special needs children. I remember sitting on the mat doing physical therapy on a girl. Her mother, a Christian, asked me, “How can God be good when things like this happen?”
The question stuck with me. Yet God had been preparing me for a ministry like this from childhood. I remember one of my 3rd grade Sunday school classmates had a developmental disability. The teacher often asked me to help the girl and I became Miriam’s peer buddy. As a teenager I attended a church where residents from Shepherd’s ministries were an important part of our church family. The seed was planted for what I am doing today.
JBU: Where would you like to see STARS in five years?
DAWN: We want to continue to minister to the needs of the whole family, with STARS and their families more committed to Christ and equipped to serve others. This past summer we took our first STARS short-term missions trip to France. Check out our trip blog: www.starsstampfrance2011.blogspot.com . We recently started an organization called STARS Family Services to provide housing for the adults in our program (www.starsfamilyservices.org). We are excited to see how God will use it in the lives of the STARS families.
Favorite Scripture: Romans 12:9-16
Favorite song: A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Her hobby: gardening and refinishing furniture
One fun thing she likes to do with her husband: kayaking on rivers and lakes
To contact Dawn or view the STARS newsletters and resources: