Long before being targeted by hate, Grace Chinese Lutheran Church, Seattle, was demonstrating through a life-changing outreach program that “all you need is love.”
Continuing to live that motto through its Love Me Ministry for children with special needs and their families helped the congregation heal after anti-Asian slurs were found written in chaff in the congregation’s parking lot late last winter.
“Grace Chinese Seattle was determined to continue this vital ministry of love for some of the most marginalized people in our society,” said Herb Shao, director for evangelical mission with the Northwest Washington Synod. “The long waitlist to attend the ministry’s events is a testament to how they are valued by these families, who can connect and also serve in ways they may not otherwise be able to.”
The weekly ministry’s premise is powerfully simple: Take up to 20 Asian children with autism, ages 5 to 13, and pair each one with a high school-aged partner for the day’s activity—art, music, sports and more. While the children are engaged with the teen volunteers, families have an opportunity for respite, fellowship and Bible studies.
“We hope to stimulate the children’s creativity as well as [provide] a safe environment for parents to share their struggles with one another and find healing in God’s word,” said Wendy Cheung, a pastor of Grace Chinese. “It is a community that strives to mimic Jesus’ teaching of loving one another regardless of who you are. All you need is love—these five words capture the heart of the ministry.”
Shao added, “It’s an expression of God’s love. Many of these people have never even heard the story of Jesus before. The ministry invites people to a conversation about God’s love.”
Love Me Ministry began to take root a decade ago after a child in one of Cheung’s church families was diagnosed with autism. “I, and several sisters in Christ, spent time praying for and with the family,” she said. “We stood beside them as they began to find resources to help them cope with the reality of having an autistic child. A lot of effort was put into this endeavor, but in the end we felt frustrated.”
Then a revelation came to Cheung early one morning after she had finished her daily devotion. “God plants the seed of dreams into our hearts,” she said. “The Holy Spirit reminded me that we don’t need anything but love. We would care not only for the special-needs child but also the parents, because they need to be loved and supported.”
The ministry didn’t start overnight, but the seed germinated a few years later when the prayer group met an art teacher who shared their vision. In December 2017, Love Me Ministry hosted its first art workshop.
“Soon we found a young couple with musical talents as well as the heart for God’s ministry,” Cheung said. “With their musical and mission development backgrounds, we began to find more ways to expand.”
The expansion has included what Jimmy Hao, also a pastor at Grace Chinese, called “healing services,” which focus on the children’s parents and other family members.
“A lot of the families don’t go to church but are open to what the church is doing,” Hao said. “They hear the good news, learn about love, have a place to belong.”
Cheung said the ministry’s volunteers also receive a lot from the experience. “The high school kids are learning how to love, how to take care of someone, and [they’re] learning about life—that it’s not always peaceful and happy,” she said. “We’re hoping to recruit more high school students, and then we could open the ministry to more children. And if some other church would like to join us, that would be wonderful.”