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Beth Kraiss: A Voice for Those with Special Needs

"Hi Beth. My name is Kim," a hopeful voice resonated from the phone. "I just moved to town. I have severe rheumatoid arthritis, so I can't drive. I heard you have a bus ministry to help people get to church."

Beth Kraiss, director of the special-needs ministry at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, lowered her voice and gently spoke. "Okay, sweetheart, I want you to know that Jesus wants you to be in church more than either you or I. But, I don't have room on any of my routes right now. Maybe we can work something out in the next couple weeks so we can pick you up. We'll pray, okay?"

"Okay," Kim replied, "I'm not very big and my two children wouldn't take much room." It was clear she was desperate for an affirmative answer.

After several moments of conversation, prayer, and an offer for free groceries and a new wheelchair, Beth hung up. A shadow of concern darkened her eyes.

"I constantly get calls like this and turn down people almost every day. I just don't have enough room. You would not believe the number of special-needs people who want to get to church to hear about the Lord."

Beth poured out her heart as she shared about the over one hundred-sixty folks her drivers pick up every Sunday, and how, upon arriving at the church,  participants are treated to lunch, a Bible study and lots of hugs from Beth. Some she's been ministering to for years, and others for only weeks, but she loves them all.

And, it shows. But, Beth didn't always have a passion for helping those with special-needs.

A New Heart

During the 1950's, Beth believed the social rhetoric of the day—that special-needs people were "non-persons." So, when her high school psychology course required an internship at an institution for the handicapped, she was horrified.

"I couldn't stand them because of what I was told," she said. "I didn't want to be around them. I really hated them."

But then, Beth said God changed her heart, when she was asked to help teach the residents of this institution a lesson in disappointment. 

One day during her internship, a staff member at the institution told the residents,  "I'm going to teach all of you about disappointment." Following this announcement, the residents were told with every passing day that they would be having an ice cream party very soon. As days passed, their anticipation and excitement grew. But the staff knew something they didn't—there was never going to be an ice cream party. The ruse was finally revealed to the residents. "We told you we would teach you about disappointment. This is disappointment," a staff member finally told them.  

"I couldn't believe it," Beth said. "My heart broke. These people had no voice, no one to speak for them."

Through her internship, God prepared Beth to be a voice for the blind, mute, deaf and for those with physical, mental and developmental handicaps.  

A Call to Formal Ministry

Beth moved to Colorado Springs, became a Christian and attended a local congregation. For a while she and her husband shuttled people back and forth to church in her personal vehicle. Then, in 1972, she acquired a bus and transported special-needs kids to church. A few years later, Beth's transport-to-church ministry expanded to those in group homes.

"I didn't have a call for a formal ministry," says Beth, "but I just loved them."

Then she got a formal call.  

"One day, my pastor announced a need for someone to teach a class for what he called the 'mentally retarded,'" Beth said.  "God said 'Beth, I want you to teach the class.' I knew God wanted them saved so I said 'Sure!'"

"It was 1982 and financial and instructional resources were limited. I didn't know what I was doing. So every time I thought about the class, I'd cry. I thought 'God, this isn't funny—I don't have a curriculum!' So, I just decided to teach the Bible."

When God Shows Up

The first Sunday, six students sat around a circular table in a small classroom. Beth chose Isaiah 53 as a starting point and spoke encouragement to her students. "Jesus loves you. He made you. You know, He wants to heal you from all your bad memories."

Then  a young man with downs syndrome enthusiastically exclaimed, "Jesus say 'Sins forgiven! Healed! Hurt no more!' See! Jesus right there!" His outstretched arm pointed near Beth across the room.

God showed up.

Beth hadn't even spoken of the forgiveness of sin for this young man to understand. She didn't need to. God filled in the gaps by speaking to his childlike heart, which was ready to receive. 

About this experience Beth recalls, "The Lord was trying to show me 2 Samuel 14, 'I make a way for the banished to person to come to Me.'"

Beth is amazed at the spiritual sensitivity of her special-needs friends. "Their minds and bodies may not work like yours or mine, but their spirits are whole."

Beyond Humble Beginnings

When Beth began ministering in 1972, she had little. Today, God has provided eleven vans and buses so His people can get to church each week. Her ministry has also expanded to include at-risk teens and to those in nursing homes.

Through much prayer she's received many resources. On one occasion, after asking God for more vehicles, a man Beth knew called her. "Beth, God wants me to give you my Viper."

"Heck!" says Beth, "I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought it was a snake!"

The "snake" turned out to be an expensive Dodge sports car that, once sold, produced enough income to purchase two new vans and a bus.

God will do amazing things to defend those He loves. He makes many ways for the banished to come to Him.

And, the young woman looking for a ride to church? Recently Beth said, "We figured out a way to make room for her and now she comes every Sunday in her new wheelchair, with her two children."


Shana Schutte is an editor at Focus on the Family in the Internet department

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