The Ministry of Lisa Copen

Lisa Copen, Founder of Rest Ministries which serves the chronically ill, shares about mothering, illness, ministry and more.

Archive for chronic illness ministry

Joni and Friends Celebrates Anniversary

book-joniWhen I was young I read the book Joni and saw the movie. That this young woman’s life could be turned around in a second, all from a simple dive, was scary to hear. But to see her faith, regardless of her circumstances, was amazing and inspiring.

Years later, at the age of 24 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I looked for the chronic illness Christian organization for those with illness. I was familiar with Joni and Friends, her ministry for the disabled, but I didn’t feel like it “fit” what I was going through at the time.  I wasn’t in a wheelchair, after all. I just would never be able to wear high heels ever again.

But after searching Christian bookstores for a resource and scouring the Christian ministries I was aware of I couldn’t find anything. I was surprised! Where did Christians turn when they were told “You have diabetes” or “You have rheumatoid arthritis”? Yes, of course, God could heal me. But what if He chose not to? And what if it was ten years from now? I needed people who understood what I was going through- now!. And the secular support groups were just making me more depressed (too much venting and negativity and no hope at all…)

I started a little newsletter called …And He Will Give You Rest.  It was 1997 and I was just beginning to become familiar with the Internet. I built a little web site. People started to connect.

My husband and I went to hear Joni speak and I stood in line to have her sign my book but really just to talk to her. I told her about my ministry and asked if anyone else was doing illness ministry. She said “Not that I know of” and basically told me to “go for it!” Well… I did. I never looked back and always hoped I could somehow fulfill the vision God gave me.

jonisYears later I was honored to be on Joni’s radio program. She has her ministry send out our brochures when people call her ministry who have an illness. I served on the board of directors for an organization she had begun called the Christian Persons with Disabilities. A couple times a year I flew around the country and our board met to talk about disability and illness ministry in churches today and how we could make leaders more aware of the opportunities and joy people with disabilities can bring to a congregration. But Joni wasn’t there… Sometimes she had planned to be and her own health issues prevented her from coming.

At a christian book expo I found a copy of one of her paintings: Heaven. It is on the wall in my office. Her book When God Weeps is one of the best I’ve ever read.

One time I was exhibiting at a church conference where she was the keynote speaker. She zoomed by in her chair and said, “Hey, Lisa! How are you? I’m going to eat lunch over there. Come on over and join me!”

I don’t remember what I said. Nothing eloquent. My sister was standing beside me and said “She knows your name! She knows your name!”

I wandered over and had the joy of sharing a meal with her in a cafeteria setting behind the exhibit room, just her and I and her assistant.

And then one day someone from their office called me. (Me?) He had a chronic illness and had talked to Joni and thought Rest Ministries would be a good fit for an affiliate organization of Joni and Friends. I had assumed since we were more of an illness ministry and not so much a disability ministry, we wouldn’t be eligible. I attended my first meeting and the compassion of all of the staff was amazing.

A couple years ago I was to speak and exhibit at a conference organized by Joni and Friends. Days before we had to evacuate for about 5 days due to fires coming through our neighborhood. We packed 2 cars. One with our stuff. One with our exhibit stuff. I wrote my presentation sitting at a picnic table on La Jolla shores–the only place where one could breath a bit in all of San Diego county. I tried to concentrate on what I was to be doing in a few days and yet both my husband and I felt a sense that God really could take our home to make us have a spiritual lightening bolt moment in our lives. (Thankfully we weren’t right. God gave us grace and saved our home.)

But I remember my husband asking me… “What if we lose our home? Will we still go up to LA and go to Joni’s conference?” (Thinking, surely not, right?)

And without missing a beat I said, “There are no people I would rather be around after those at Joni and Friends those first few days.”

I don’t even know a lot of J&F staff or volunteers, but that’s how loved you feel. It would have been like being with my closest family during the most difficult time of our lives.


I hope you will celebrate with me this special time for Joni. Below is the press release I received today and wanted to share it with you. I wish I could say Joni and I just hang out, but that’s not true. Despite my involvement with her ministry I still stand in awe of her. When I am at a conference or her office building, she always is so busy and I know she is tired and don’t want to bother her. But her ministry and her message (through speaking, books, and sense of humor through anything) has been one of the joys in my life.

When I started Rest Ministries I had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes I think nothing has changed. I still feel in over my head, especially when my health issues mess with my schedule (I had to cancel participating last year in J&F’s conference due to having that bummer flesh eating bacteria). I will never measure up to Joni’s ministry, but is my hope that, by using it as my blueprint, I can bring glory to God.

jaf-rooms.pgA couple years ago I had the opportunity to go up and visit her new building (see right). It’s beautiful. You can stand in one place and sing and it echoes all over the building. The chapel is amazing. If you are ever in Agoura Hills, CA (north of LA) you can take a tour.

The whole building was designed for ministry (cute little places to sit and pray), comfort (it feels so light and refreshing) and to make anyone in a wheelchair feel normal (a building that makes the wheelchair ramps appear to be nothing but design inspired to add to the visual pleasure). A waterfall in the reception area immediately calms you and makes you feel like –for a moment– all is right with our world.

jonisdesk meAnd then I got to see Joni’s desks – one was spotless but the other one, the real working desk…? Let’s just say for a moment was thrilled because it looked as full as mine! It stands as a reminder to get back to work because when it comes to illness or disability ministry “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

If Joni has blessed you (as I know she has – many of you) remember to drop her a note or a birthday card in the next couple of months.



As Joni Eareckson Tada observes her 60th birthday in October, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the ministry she founded to provide support and outreach to individuals with disabilities and their families — inspired from her own experience as a quadriplegic trying to adapt and survive in an inaccessible world.

Tada became a quadriplegic at the age of 17 as the result of a diving accident. As part of her rehabilitation, she learned to paint beautiful pictures with her mouth, which she showed at local art fairs. She was featured on a local television program, after which NBC’s “The Today Show” booked her for an interview with Barbara Walters.

“After that interview, things kind of exploded,” Tada said. “A publisher asked if I would write a book (I did and its called “Joni”) and the Billy Graham film ministry did a story on my life.

“This resulted in thousands of letters from disabled people,” Joni continued. “These letters inspired me to begin this important ministry, responding to people seeking advice and encouragement.”

Joni and Friends was established in 1979, in Burbank, Calif., and Tada began the now- internationally-syndicated radio program “Joni and Friends” in 1982. The ministry grew and moved to a new location in Agoura Hills in 1986.

One of the ministry’s best-known programs is Wheels for the World, providing wheelchairs for individuals with disabilities all over the world. Family Retreats are another renowned JAF outreach, during which individuals with disabilities and their entire families are encouraged and given a real respite during a week-long “summer camp” atmosphere.

As JAF has moved from a personality-focused programming ministry to a vision-driven movement, it has engaged in the bio-ethics debate, with the establishment of the Christian Institute on Disability. This development has helped prepare JAF to lead the Church into the 21st century, as technological advances outpace Christians’ engagement in science and culture.

A critical development in this growth and transition has been the addition of Doug Mazza as president and COO (Tada continues to serve as CEO). Mazza came to JAF in 1999 as executive vice president, moving to his new role in 2004. Drawing on his years of corporate management experience, Mazza helped initiate the transition from “Joni” to “Joni and Friends,” and encouraged a more collaborative and integrated organization.

Billy Burnett, vice president and chief financial officer, oversees financial and administrative systems at JAF, and along with other ministry leadership, is amazed at how God has blessed and grown Joni and Friends. The organization recently completed construction on a large, new hi-tech headquarters building — a model of accessibility for the 21st century.

As the ministry turns the corner on this its 30th year, it continues to fulfill Tada’s vision of accelerating ministry to those with disabilities. “If churches around the world would grasp the revolutionary truth that Christ’s transforming power always comes through sacrifice and weakness, it would dramatically alter the landscape of the global church,” Tada said.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary, JAF has established a special gold seal for use in all literature and communications. It serves as a reminder of how far the ministry has come, Mazza said, but is just the tip of the iceberg in how JAF plans to continue to grow and serve in the future.

“While we pause in appreciation of the past, we look forward with more excitement than ever, as we continue to see so many opportunities ahead,” Mazza added. “Because of Joni’s vision and foresight, JAF is poised to lead the Church in meeting the challenges of a new era — a time when technology has advanced and life has been devalued so that those with disabilities and those without a voice need a champion more than ever.”

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ARTICLE: 20 Ways Your Church Can Minister to the Chronically Ill in 20 Minutes or Less


20 Ways Your Church Can Minister to the Chronically Ill in 20 Minutes or Less
By Lisa Copen

Rest Ministries, the largest Christian organization that serves the chronically ill, recently did a poll, asking “List some of the programs or resources a church could offer to make it more inviting comfortable” Below is a sampling of the 800+ responses.

1. Encouragement emails.

2. Make an effort to confirm that the handicapped stalls in the restroom are functioning and clean.

3. Add padded chairs or cushions to make church easier to sit through. Room for wheelchairs is always a need and don’t forget to include extra places for family members.

4. An open attitude for a support group like HopeKeepers. It would make me feel very special that there was an understanding of needs that are not always visible.

5. More disabled parking, even if they are temporary spots.

6. An awareness on the part of the ushers that those arriving late may have difficulty walking or getting out of cars.

7. Ask volunteers to call people with chronic illness just to check on them when they don’t make it to services.

8. When suppers are given, recognize that I may need help getting my meal–or at least understand that I won’t be able to wait in a long line.

9. Be cautious when giving people big hugs. It can topple over or hurt the person.

10. Video tape of the service for DVD, don’t just do a live web cast. My computer doesn’t work that well.

11. Check out the church doors. Can someone with an illness open them with ease?  If not, install a mechanical button to push them open.

12. Stop telling me that if I truly believed and had faith I’d be healed by now. Please don’t go on and on about how good I look even though I know for a fact that I look terrible and miserable that day.

13. Offer me ways to serve within the church that can be performed regularly, but not on a set schedule. I still want to contribute, but I need some flexibility so that I can do a job when I feel well enough to do so.

14. Make the sermon notes available to download and print out so I can listen later or even just review what I didn’t catch the first time.

15. Acknowledge National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. A selection of books on the topic in the church bookstore would be nice. Rest Ministries has a top 100 list of Christian books for the chronically ill for some ideas.

16. Just talk about chronic illness! Mention it in sermons as one of the challenges many people face just like unemployment.

17. Have Christian volunteers from church that will clean house for small fee.  Some have offered to clean my house, but I cannot accept charity yet, but neither can I afford to pay a regular house cleaning service.

18. Help even a fraction with the cost of encouraging books and resources for the church library for the chronically ill.

19. Remember all of the caregivers in the church–not just caregivers of parents, but spouses and ill children as well.

20. Have copies of sermon for free on CD or computer.

Get a free list of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen, just signup for to HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa founded of Invisible Illness Week

ARTICLE: 6 Things Churches Can Do To Really Help the Chronically Ill


6 Things Churches Can Do To Really Help the Chronically Ill
by Lisa Copen

1 in 3 people in the U.S. have a chronic condition. If it’s
not you, it’s someone sitting next to you or a friend who
has yet to reveal her greatest personal struggle.

Oftentimes a chronic illness, such as chronic fatigue
syndrome, or chronic pain like migraines or back pain, is
undetectable to those around them. It may surprise you to
know that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,
approximately 96% of the people who have an illness do not
use an assistive device, like a cane or a wheelchair. Pain
is nearly always invisible. Those that are ill usually do
everything that they can to get to church. They want to be
part of the church community and they appear to be healthy.
Still, just sitting through the service can be extremely

As someone who lives with rheumatoid arthritis, I remember
standing during worship and grasping onto the pew in front
of me to balance. My knees both need joint replacements and
my feet are somewhat deformed. And then the worship team
began singing a song that had the lyrics, “I will stand in
spite of pain.” I rolled my eyes and my husband said, “It’s
just an expression.” Of course, I knew this, but the timing
was ironic.

Even as I was surrounded by people in a church I loved, I
still felt as though no one understood what I was going
through-physically or emotionally.

It’s obvious that churches already have an overwhelming
amount of needs that must be fulfilled. Some of these needs
are obvious and they often rise to the top of the priority
list. So when people don’t even verbalize about their pain
level or illness symptoms that change their lifestyle, it’s
hard to understand where a church could begin to help.
Pastors ask, “If they aren’t speaking up, then doesn’t that
mean they are coping with it fine? They believe in God and
we have a healing service every six months. Isn’t that

Let’s look at some staggering statistics:

– We usually assume the chronically ill are the elderly, but
60% of people who live with illness or daily chronic pain
are between the ages of 18 and64. – 75% of marriages where
one of the spouses have a chronic illness end in divorce –
When you are chronically ill, depression is 15-20% higher
than it is for the average person – Many studies have found
that physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are
major factors in up to 70% of suicides.*

Whether the need is obvious or not, we should be concerned
because our churches are filled with many people who are
living with chronic pain. And when chronic pain exists,
broken spirits are also there. People are hurting silently
and need help and encouragement. These are the
broken-hearted that Jesus says he will give comfort.

But the question is, if people aren’t talking about their
pain, how do you know how to reach out to them? How can you
understand their needs?

(1) First, do a survey in your church to find out what some
of the needs are that people may not be talking out loud
about. This is particularly important if you are in a large
church; this is because a recent Barna group study
discovered that larger churches were the least likely to
mention congregational care ministries as a priority (Church
Priorities for 2005 Vary Considerably). When people don’t
feel a personal connection to the church staff or others,
they are less likely to share their vulnerabilities. Too
frequently, they are given a list of healing scriptures and
sent on their way.

Ask, “If a van was provided, would you be able to get to
church more easily? Would you listen to church on the
internet if you were too ill to attend? Do you feel you can
call and ask for occasional personal assistance (especially
if the illness is chronic and not acute)? Do you know who to
call? Would you like the worship song lyrics in the bulletin
and not just on an overhead? Are the seats comfortable or
would you prefer a few rows be saved for you with cushions?”
Brainstorm with a group of people who have a chronic illness
and ask them for a wish list. Then sit down and prioritize.

(2) Organize a care group, similar to other small groups
your church has, for the chronically ill. For example, Rest
Ministries, the largest Christian organization for those who
live with chronic illness, has a small group program,
HopeKeepers. They have a great selection of resource
materials, Bible studies and support for group leaders. A
group like this can be a turning point for people who really
need the hands on support and understanding. Talking and
praying about one’s illness week after week in a regular
small group can feel like you are a burden to others. But
having a small group environment that is a “safe place”
where everyone “speaks the same language” and even laughs at
the same silly stories can be refreshing. The group doesn’t
need to be large. Even just having the chance to hand out
with one other person can be life-changing. Be a church that
recognizes the struggles of chronic illness and provide an
oasis for people.

(3) Have special guest speakers encourage your church body.
There are dozens of people who have physical disabilities
that go to churches and share their testimony about what God
has done in their life. Allowing them to be at the pulpit
and share what God has done in their lives, despite physical
challenges and set backs, sends a message to those that are
ill that you recognize their needs, you care, and most of
all, that you believe they are still worthy to be used by
God. People such as Dave Dravecky, Renee Bondi, Joni
Eareckson Tada, and many others, minister to the masses, not
just those with disabilities.

(4) Consider adding a parish nurse to your staff, especially
if your church body has a lot of seniors. According to the
Marquette University College of Nursing, the number of
parish nurses in United States is estimated to be about
6000. Many retired nurses are finding this area of ministry
appealing and parish nurse certification can be found at
most hospitals. The parish nurse position description can
include anything from going to homes to monitor diabetes or
high blood pressure of church members to organizing health
fairs, screenings, and walking groups. The role of the
parish nurse may cover the needs of your illness and
disability ministries, depending on the demographics of your
church. A parish nurse would also work closely with the
congregational care pastor.

(5) Be a clearinghouse of helpful resources for the ill that
are available for borrowing. Many people with chronic
illness are on a fixed-income and yet they are trying to
find encouragement. Stock your church library with books on
living with chronic illness such as “Why Can’t I Make People
Understand?” or “Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a
Chronically Ill Friend,” by Lisa Copen or the exceptional
book on suffering, “When God Weeps” by Joni Eareckson Tada.
Buy a few subscriptions to magazines such as “HopeKeepers”,
“Guideposts” and even “Arthritis Today.” Remember to have
books on tape, audio presentations and large-print materials
whenever they are available. Post flyers or have brochures
available about chronic illness or disability ministries,
such as Joni’s “Wheels for the World” program or Rest
Ministries’ annual outreach, “National Invisible Chronic
Illness Awareness Week.” A volunteer could collect materials
of local and national ministry resources for a binder; items
could include lists of local resources and national
ministries and put them in binder; lists of organizations,
magazines and newsletters on topics for Christian seniors,
those with disabilities, caregivers, and assisted living to
name a few.

(6) Lastly, and most importantly, remember people with
illness want to serve. Not just be served. This is because
“He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed”
(Proverbs 11:25). For example, when a woman tells you she is
resigning from working in the nursery, let her know that she
is welcome to serve in other ways when she is ready. She may
find she enjoys writing encouragement notes to people who
have an illness. A man may find he can mentor another man
with a chronic illness one-on-one rather than leading a
Bible study. Let them know that you value wounded healers
and believe that God comforts us “so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have
received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

About twice a month someone tells me that they went to their
pastor with a request to start a chronic illness HopeKeepers
ministry and they were told, “Come back when you are healed
and then we will talk. You can’t very well minister to
others with illness when you aren’t even healed yourself.”
The broken hearts that arise from these comments is
unbearable. It’s devastating to feel like God is using your
illness for His glory and then be told you are no longer
useful to the church-or even to God-until you are healed.

In the parable Jesus shares in Luke 14:21, a man asks his
friends to come to a great banquet he has prepared. But his
friends turn him down. Upset with their lack of graciousness
he orders, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of
the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and
the lame.” This is still a directive to us today. Too few of
our churches have recognized the needs of the chronically
ill in their own church, much less their community. We must
focus on providing a place where we offer unconditional
hospitality. We need to “go out” into our own pews and ask
the chronically ill to help us provide a place of refuge.
And then these people will become the comforters, who, with
the support of their church, will be able to go out into the
community and offer to walk alongside the hurting with

Be prepared for the hurdles. Read Lisa’s book, ‘So You Want to Start a Chronic Illness Pain Ministry: 10 Essentials to Make it Work” at The Comfort Zone Bookstore or

Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you subscribe to HopeNotes ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the coordinator of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and host of Hope Endures Radio Podcast.