by Ella Roush, peacefulliving.org
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to pray, “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
These words guide Peaceful Living Executive Director Joe Landis in his work with people with disabilities and their families whose lives, when pushed to the fringes of society, often unfold as less than heavenly. He sees his job as “helping to build God’s kingdom here on earth” by reaching out to these families, congregations, and the community at large to join together to seek peace.
“The word that best expresses what peace can be for Peaceful Living is shalom,” Joe says. “It suggests a wholeness, a completeness in relationship with God, and with yourself as a person fully integrated with your group, your town, and the world. It starts with every individual and every act of kindness we do, regardless of how small.”
Those acts of kindness, or living shalom, are demonstrated through the nonprofit’s Friendship Connection Program that connects a person with a disability with a caring friend in the community. Friendship Connection director Loretta Moyer, Rockhill congregation (Telford, Pa.), has facilitated matches for 80 individuals.
One such friendship developed between Phillip, who is served by Peaceful Living, and Aaron Leatherman, Towamencin congregation (Lansdale, Pa.). When they had been friends for about three years, Phillip underwent major surgery. Aaron visited Phillip regularly while he was in the hospital. “It meant so much to me to have Aaron there,” Phillip told Loretta.
“When I visited Phillip in the hospital, he got tears when I arrived…,” Aaron commented. Aaron had never had a close connection to a person with a disability, but he noted that a short time after their matching they had established a “real” friendship. Aaron said, “We are friends now, and there is no going back.”
Everyone reached by Peaceful Living is continually giving and receiving these sometimes small, sometimes large, acts of kindness. Another way Joe Landis says his organization pursues peace is by listening to each other. He includes everyone: staff, people served and their families, board members, stakeholders, and community partners. Open-hearted, open-minded listening is a rare gift that Joe fosters throughout the organization. He believes careful listening allows us to uncover the God-given gifts in others and ourselves so that each person can feel the satisfaction of contributing to, as well as receiving the benefits of, an inclusive community.
Dictionary.com provides a useful definition of peace in the context of Peaceful Living’s work. It defines peace as, “a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.” The word, “mutual,” is crucial to the work of Joe and his staff. At the very heart of the organization’s philosophy lies the premise that serving people with disabilities and their families provides mutual benefit such that the line between the servant and the served becomes blurred. Another Friendship Connection story sheds light on this idea.
In 2008, Loretta Moyer shepherded a friendship match between Bob, a person with a disability, and Jeff Metz. Jeff soon made Bob a part of his family. Whatever fun activities Jeff’s family was doing – picnics, Eagles or Phillies games – Bob was right in the middle of things. Then came the bad news. Jeff had cancer. It was fast moving, and he soon passed away.
Jeff’s widow Janet confirmed her family’s desire to maintain their connection with Bob. So strong is their love for Bob that when Jeff and Janet’s daughter Elisabeth was planning her wedding, she asked Bob to walk her down the aisle in her father’s place. The wedding took place in 2011 with Bob fully involved in wedding party activities. As the planning was taking place, Janet said, “I am looking forward to Bob walking my precious daughter down the aisle…If Jeff can’t do it, then Bob is the next best person to do it.”
The beauty of this relationship is that both Bob and the Metz family mutually exchanged love and support for one another as equals – not as someone better than reaching down to help someone less than. True friendship, real harmony, living shalom emerges in the moment when we look into the eyes of another, and the Christ in them (regardless of religion) touches the Christ in us.
About Peaceful Living
Peaceful Living, a Conference Related Ministry of Franconia Conference, works to build lifelong relationships for individuals with disabilities within congregations and the community. Peaceful Living provides a Congregational Coaching program with area faith communities. The 12-year-old Harleysville-based nonprofit has grown from serving one person in 2000 to serving 75 people each day through in-home services, small residential homes, and the Creative Gifts Program. Creative Gifts gives individuals the opportunity to explore the arts as a vocation or a hobby. The Friendship Connection program has matched 80 individuals with disabilities with caring friends in the community. Led by executive director Joe Landis, Peaceful Living serves primarily residents of Montgomery, Bucks, and Berks counties. Contact Peaceful Living at 610-287-1200.