The story of ABLE
A beautiful community for adults with special needs and their carers
“I had a very ‘selfish’ vision for ABLE at the time we started – that my son, Jerome, would know God. That was my simple wish and I prayed for that." – Vanessa Kwong
Words: Nikki Peck Published: 21 November 2023
You may not know it, but a different kind of church service happens at 3:30pm every Sunday. It’s not in our auditorium, it’s not live-streamed for all to see. There are no fancy lights or a stage for the leaders to stand on.
This church involves about seven families, including adults living with a disability and their carers, gathering for a bible study, songs, activities, and prayer time.
Vanessa and Gabriel Kwong started ABLE about 18 years ago so their son, Jerome, had a space to meet God. You’d probably recognise Jerome directing traffic at our zebra crossing on a Sunday with his dad!
“I had a very ‘selfish’ vision for ABLE at the time we started – that Jerome would know God. That was my simple wish and I prayed for that,” Vanessa shares.
“Many years ago, when he was six years old, there was a similar group running at a church in Inala. But they wouldn’t accept him because he was too young, so we had to wait until he got older. So, we waited until he was 13, and then we excitedly arrived as soon as he became a teenager, because his time had come. We were ready! But the group only lasted for about six months after we joined and then it stopped meeting,” she says.
The Kwong family started attending KBC in 2004 (Riverlife’s former name when it was based in Kenmore), and the family decided to start their own bible study about a year later.
The group was originally called Youth in Faith, but the name changed to ABLE, which stands for ‘Adult Bible Learning Experience’.
“We started with four people, not really knowing what to do!” Vanessa says. “We’d meet on a Wednesday and sing some songs. None of us knew how to sing, no piano, nothing. But everyone seemed to enjoy it. I also started using some material I had to teach the Bible,” Vanessa remembers.
“My simple idea was just for them to know God. But God has been so good, and He’s sent different people to come in over the years and add other ideas,” she says. They’ve had a speech therapist, volunteers helping with worship, activities, retreats, and people to plan social events, like concerts and dances.
One of those volunteers has been Lynn Anstey.
“I was working in the field of disabilities for about 30 years, and I could see there was a great need for social events and activities,” she shares.
Lynn had an idea to start a social dance on her own for people with disabilities, without knowing ABLE was already doing one. So, they decided to join forces and Lynn has been volunteering ever since.
“Sundays are a church service – we have singing, and we support them to learn basic Ausland signs. Vanessa always prepares and presents a story, and then we do craft or a skit relating to the story. They love those skits! It’s for them to understand what the Bible story is about,” she shares. “It’s always amazing to hear our friends praying and asking God to help their families friends and work colleagues.”
“Earlier in the year, we had an afternoon tea for the parents. I took all those with disabilities away for activities and the pastors were able to connect with the families and for the parents to talk about their own lives. It was wonderful and we need more of these kinds of connections! We have carers who come who get a lot out of our Bible Studies, sometimes more than our friends with special needs,” Lynn shares.
Gabriel agrees there is a major need to keep connecting with carers and family members. “The ABLE group not only caters for those with special needs, but is about connecting with carers, so they can be involved and find friendship. That’s why we have events like the Reach Out Dance and end-of-year Christmas performance. We want to let people know it’s a group for special needs people, as well as people in the community,” he says.
For Lynn, the mid-year Reach Out Dance is an important activity, not just for the people in the group and their families, but for the volunteers. “We ask all our friends and family to come and share time, having fun while dancing. It is a safe space. It opens the eyes of our community to friends with disabilities,” she says.
God has a beautiful way of bringing people together, at just the right time, to keep adding different layers to this ministry.
Vanessa has been holding on to a powerful picture she received from the Lord years ago, reminding her He has a plan. “Someone prayed for me many years ago and I saw a picture where I stood under a cliff and people with disabilities were walking towards me. There were people with crutches, people in wheelchairs, people holding umbrellas,” Vanessa says.
“One day, I was walking near Rocks Riverside Park, and I suddenly got goosebumps. It was the place of that vision I saw all those years ago, even before the church had bought the land here! People were walking up from the riverbank towards the cliff. I then understood that people were not walking towards me but walking towards the church.”
ABLE is a bible study group for adults who are either living with a disability or care for/have an interest in serving those with disabilities. It meets on Sundays, 3:30-4:45pm, during the school term.
Volunteers are always welcome! You will be blessed!