Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#accessibility’

Fear of Disabilities

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Photo from http://www.lancslearningdisabilityinstitutions.org.uk 

In 1985 I went on a college visit to a ‘mental institution’ called Brockhalls Hospital in the beautiful Ribble Valley, near Whalley.  It was part of my Preliminary Certificate in Social Care course and we were doing a topic on learning disability.

It was the first time I had ever met any adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or adults with physical conditions like Cerebral Palsy.  There were about a dozen or more adults, propped up in chairs or wheelchairs, arranged in a semi circle around a large day room.  It was sparse and clinical, like a you’d expect a hospital to be.  What they thought as a dozen young students piled in to look at them I don’t know.    I know most of us were caring types and so we plucked up the courage to sit beside one of the residents and try to communicate with them.  I sat by a lady, who to me looked elderly and who was rocking gently, staring into the distance.  I said hello, my name and stroked her hand for a few minutes.  Then we got up and left.

I cried when I got home.  Part of it was the shock.  The shock of seeing people so disabled was one aspect, if I am to be honest.  These people were not part of my everyday experience.  It was also the shock of realising that people had been shut away in this institution, away from the rest of the world.  It was then I began to ask what I could do about that.

This was the mid 80s and things were about to change.   By 1992 the hospital had been closed and most of its residents moved to community homes.  Some of them moved not far from where I was eventually going to live.  And my town is still well serviced by group homes for adults with learning disabilities.  “These people” are part of our community and a meeting people with learning disabilities during a trip to the supermarket, or in the town centre is daily life.   It’s one reason why our Good News Group is so well attended.  It is part of our community, for those who live in our community.

I’ve been reading about the old hospitals. There is a community exhibition that I’m going to see next week and a website to go with it.    I remember my fear on the way to visit Brockholes in that college year.  The 17 year old me was more worried about how I would be able to communicate with the residents, what I might do to offend them and whether I would look stupid in front of my classmates.  Fears my classmates probably shared.   But this visit had a profound effect on me.  Not yet a Christian at that age,  God was already preparing and teaching me for my future.

I learned that fear was born out of my ignorance.  I didn’t know these people I was meeting, I didn’t know about their conditions.  But I also learned that making that first step, of going to sit with that lady and to say hello, took away a lot of that fear.  I’ve always, ever since, made a particular effort to speak and say hello to anyone with disabilities that I meet.  A fulfilling life, an invitation, an offer of help, an opportunity  to join in, a chance to share their talents and serve others – these are all things that people with learning disabilities are prevented from by our fear.  The Church of England are currently debating the value and place of people with Down’s Syndrome in our society and Churches.  What’s the biggest problem they face? – not things they can’t do – but other people’s fears.  These fears are always wrapped up in political language…the scarcity of resources,  quality of life and ‘their own good’.  When what we really fear is the challenge to us in making a more inclusive society, sharing our resources more evenly and putting the systems in place to help those who need better accessibility.

I know people fear what they don’t know or understand.  I know we fear embarrassment, or offending someone or not knowing what to say or do.  We fear having to be challenged out of our comfortable ways that only make comfort for certain people, and make barriers for others.

Imagine being the one who no-one talks to, or no-one bothers to try to communicate with, the one other people think is worth less than others?  We have to take God’s words to our hearts and “Do not fear”.   Because our fear is causing too many people to be excluded, bullied, exploited, abused and ignored – and that IS in our churches as well as in society.

God took the initiative in communicating his love for us.  If he’d not bothered, we would truly be lost.  His son Jesus communicates the same message to everyone.  So my plea is please ‘do not fear’ and make the effort to find out, welcome and include people with learning disabilities and other additional needs into your lives.

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picture from http://www.google.co.uk stock

(Note: This post came out of a conversation I had some time ago with a friend who had spent his early life in one of these institutions and had moved out in the 80s when he was about the same age as me at the time.  He had a lot to say about being ignored by society and I said I would try my best to communicate the things we had talked about.) 

 

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A great visual resource for teaching the Bible…

Matthew 4:4 (NIrV)

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man must not live only on bread. He must also live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

In our Good News Group we try to make the Bible as accessible to everyone as possible.  We have people who are blind or visually impaired, who read, who don’t read, who have hearing impairments, physical disabilities, health conditions, and people who have intellectual disabilities.

We use a variety of communication methods and one of these is pictures.  We like to use pictures to sequence and illustrate the story we are telling. I remember at the beginning spending hours trawling through google to find images that we could use and then we found www.freebibleimages.org  and our planning was transformed.

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Image from:  http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/jesus-water/

You can download powerpoint or other presentation formats of Bible stories.  We like them because the images are not childish.  We don’t want to patronise our adults in the group.  When I’m preparing a talk I find them easy to edit so that they fit the text I am speaking.  They follow the Bible accounts accurately.  Usually we use the Accessible NIrV Bible or we might use a shorter version of the story so it is good to be able to make adjustments.  Then I can add the slide numbers to a copy of my talk and the person operating the computer display can put up the right picture as I speak.  Or sometimes I’ll take charge and use the ‘clicker’ so I can move the images on myself.

Easy peasy…

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John is a whizz on the computer.

2 Timothy 3:16New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

“16 God has breathed life into all Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right.”

I can see how these images would work on an I-Pad, laptop or if you printed them off and either used them as a wordless book or put some simple text with them.  Then you could use them with a child or adult at home on in a Sunday School class, church service or house group so that they could follow the story that everyone else might be reading from the Bible.

Alternatively –  you could use the pictures as a stimulus for a sensory story at home or in a small group.  I would usually cut down the amount of pictures for this so that we didn’t have too many sensory experiences and overload the person.  But it would make a lovely support for a sensory story.  Again you can add key words or simple sentences as the powerpoint’s are editable.

We might use these pictures with the puppets, so the puppets might be talking about an experience they had (for example, The women talking about their visit to the empty tomb) and the picture can illustrate what they are talking about.

Luke 24:45 (NIRV)

“45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

The Good News Group exists to share the Gospel and the Scriptures with the people who come to the group.  It is our joy to communicate in ways that opens up God’s Word to them.  In fact, it helps us all understand Scripture better too.

I’m sure people can think of other ways to use these pictures.  Do share your ideas in the comments.  Thanks to @FreeBibleimages, our preparation for our teaching sessions has been greatly improved and we have some consistency of style when different people are teaching.

When you can’t do it all and God brings others alongside…

I’m going to be blogging less.  I’ve been struggling to maintain writing this and my autism teaching blog because of other commitments.  I have eventually realised that I don’t need to feel so stressed or guilty – that the Lord is taking me on a different path for now.  I also have a job which is ministry in itself, the Roofbreakers Network to organise and my educational writing projects.  I need to be kinder to myself and take a break now and again, as well as realising God isn’t asking me to do any of this alone.  Only in his strength but also with the teams of people he is connecting me with.  Thank you Lord!

What’s happening?

  1. Since I wrote this blog about putting together an “Included by Grace” book   that work has been steadily going on in the background.  I’ve enlisted my daughter and my dad to help me and we are putting the content together so I can edit it.  images
  2. But also there’s another couple of projects starting to take form.  One of them is a long held vision I’ve had to share our Bible teaching materials online so people with learning disabilities themselves can access the teaching and people who want to plan for groups like ours can also access that teaching and planning.  Well, despite being terrified  (of all the things I don’t know) God has brought alongside me people who get it,  people who are doing similar things and people who want to help.  So our plans to have an accessible Bible teaching website are in the early planning stages but at last seem to be a possibility.   One real encouragement recently was to be put in contact with two other women doing something similar.  One is doing this for children, one for teenagers.  That fits in perfectly with my plans to do this for adults.   Thanks to Mark Arnold from Urban Saint’s Additional Needs Ministry for connecting us!     4 pieces
  3. Finally, it is also a dream to enable the members of our Good News Group to share the gospel with others and we are going to try putting a team together to do assemblies in some of our local special schools.  It would be great for our members to be role models for the children in those schools.  Again, God is good,  I have people who get it, who want to help and even some links with people who have done this before and will share ideas (If you know of anyone else who has done this please ask them to get in touch with me).

All that and it’s the Christmas season so our group is gearing up for it’s annual outreach Christmas service on Wednesday.  They are all so excited.  And then on the following Wednesday, 5 of the group have been learning a puppet dance to “Celebrate the Child” by Michael Card.  I led a workshop about teaching puppets to adults with learning disabilities at the One Way UK European Puppet Festival in October.  This is us putting our words into practice… I might write a post about how we did it and what the challenges were another time.  I know its going to be fabulous and everyone will enjoy it.

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So for blogging…

I hope if you follow my blog you won’t forget about us.  I will repost some of my old blogs, especially the practical advice ones and share them on FB and twitter.  Includedbygrace now has a FB page if you’d like to follow it.  You can comment on there and keep in touch.  And I’m on twitter as @includedbygrace   And pray.  We’d appreciate that a lot.

If you will share includedbygrace blog, FB and Twitter pages on your own network it will help me build and audience for the book, website and whatever else comes from this.  I’m still available for training in churches across the North West and the Additional Needs Alliance Network can find you trainers elsewhere.

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Looking at another Group for Adults with Learning Disabilities – Part 1.

Helen Philip SHINE group

Photo from Helen Philip: The Shine Group

When I went to Keswick, one of the joys was meeting people who went to other Prospects (now Livability) groups and talking about how we all do things similarly or differently.  So I thought that you all would like to hear what goes on in other groups too.  We at the Good News Group have developed our own way of doing things but anyone who runs a group or wants to set up their own can develop their own routines and styles.  We all use accessible communication, inclusion and Bible discipleship as our basis.

Our first interview is with Helen and her team at the group, called SHINE, that meets in Worthing on the South coast.

  1. Who are you and how did you come into this role of supporting adults with learning disabilities in church?
    I’m Helen – I first came into this role when I was part of a church in Milton Keynes. I returned from 3 years away working for a Christian organisation in another part of the country and found that we had been joined by a lady called Debby with a learning disability who had recently moved to the UK from South Africa following the death of her father, to live nearer to her mother. I noticed that, while Debby had been welcomed into the church she had no Christian friends who shared her challenges, while having many friends at College who did not share her faith. I knew about Prospects, having prayed for many years right from the time when David Potter was setting up the charity, and contacted them to see if there was a group in our area. The nearest at that time was in Bedford, so for ten years Debby and I commuted each month to their meetings. I had the joy of seeing her grow in her faith and in her confidence as a member of the church, meanwhile I was learning how to support people in church, and in particular helping to lead worship in the group. After ten years of prayer, we were both part of the team which set up a group in Milton Keynes – still going strong today. I went on to be involved in Prospects team at Spring Harvest, and in the team leading the weekend at Highleigh every other year. So naturally when I moved to Worthing on retirement, I became involved in the group here, and now lead the team.
  2. What is your group called? How long has it been going?  When, where, how often does it meet?  How many people come?
    Our group is called Shine. It has been going for 13 years and meets monthly at Worthing Baptist Church in Christchurch Road, usually on the 3rd Sunday afternoon of the month, at 3pm. Around 20 people usually come, most with some form of learning or other disability, others just wanting to support us while enjoying an accessible meeting.
  3. What do you do in a typical meeting?

Our meetings take the form of a simple service, with the format having changed little over the 13 years. We start each meeting with the lighting of a candle and singing our “theme” song Shine, Jesus, Shine. We sing other songs through the meeting, including at least one which those who wish can do a simple dance to, and also sing the Lord’s Prayer each time using Ishmael’s version “Dear Lord, our Father who’s in Heaven”. As well as an opening prayer, often led by a group member, we have a time for members to share news or concerns and to be prayed for. We have a reading – if from the New Testament, we now use the new Accessible NIrV version, bought for us by a group member. A recent “innovation” for us is the introduction of an offering – the group have really appreciated the opportunity both to give as part of their worship and to play a part in the support of the activities in this way. Teaching may take the form of a short talk, a drama, or a combination of the two and, following a relevant song, we will then take a few minutes to consider how we can all apply what we have learned in our daily lives – this may take the form of a short talk, or interactive whole group discussion, or where appropriate there may be an active response such as bringing items symbolically to the Cross. Before our final song we celebrate any birthdays happening that month with a card and a song. Our meetings finish with afternoon tea together – our sandwiches and cake are legendary!

  1. How did you or others go about starting up the group?

The group came about when Marilyn Reading (now Marilyn Yarwood) moved to Worthing on the appointment of her late husband Samuel as Minister of Worthing Baptist Church. Having worked with Prospects at Spring Harvest and Keswick, Marilyn was keen to get involved with a local group and asked Tony Phelps-Jones and Pete Winmill if there was a group in Worthing. There was not, and so the suggestion came back – “why don’t you get a meeting together to see if you can start one?”. So Marilyn wrote to all the local churches to ask if anyone would be interested in starting a group. The Minutes of the WBChurch meeting of July 2003 record that she had been asked to call a meeting – those of September 2003, that 20 people attended, and a training day was to be held, and in early 2004 it was recorded that this had also been well attended and the group was to start that year (it started in May 2004).

  1. How do you enable people with learning disabilities to understand the gospel / Bible?

Simple teaching, aiming at short, clear and specific delivery of talks; drama; use of relevant songs; clear reference back to the reading – and encouraging people to ask questions both in the meeting and one-to-one afterwards.

  1. What can you tell us about the faith of PLD in your group? Are there examples you’d like to share?
  • Growing! As we have over the last couple of years encouraged more of the members to play a bigger part in aspects of the meetings “delivered” by the team, so we have seen them spontaneously gather round someone who is distressed or concerned about something and pray for them, rather than call one of us over to do it. We also hear reports of them praying for each other when they meet at other groups!
  • One member, who has severe dyslexia as well as other learning difficulties, and fragile mental and physical health, spent two years working through the Salvation Army’s “Battle Orders” course (challenging for anyone!) in order to qualify to become a Soldier (full member). She achieved this this year, and was commissioned in a wonderful service attended by our team, and by Pete & Christine Winmill. Already a member of the local Night Shelter team, she has now become a member of the Shine team, having met all the criteria of our safeguarding policy as well as clearly being a great role model and mentor to others in the group.
  1. How does your church family support the group?

The group is not formally part of any particular church family as team members come from a number of local churches, as do those members who are part of a church – most are, and we are encouraging the rest as they become more confident to link with a church near them. Having said that, Worthing Baptist Church, our host church provides meeting space, and all other facilities we need free of charge (we do make sure we give them a love offering each year!) – and the support for myself as leader, and the other team members and group members who are part of the church is fantastic – we ask for prayer through the church news sheet each month, and many members ask for prayer needs in between, group members who attend the church are specifically encouraged in their faith, and the ministers seek to make their preaching accessible to all by keeping terminology as simple as possible, and explaining clearly when less clear terminology is needed.

  1. What could your church do to support your group further?

We do hope to have some younger team members join us – most of the team are over 70 years old, so the question of succession is a real one! Our church is very open to encouraging those who sense a call to join us, and we hope over the next year to have the means in place to seek the same support from other churches in the area – while not wishing to lay ourselves open to the issues which can arise from launching a “recruitment campaign” of any sort! We believe our safeguarding policy will help in this – and here I must pay tribute to help received from the local Baptist Association safeguarding Lead who has been incredibly supportive and helpful.

  1. What is your church like for accessibility? What are they wanting to improve?

In terms of welcome, support, care with language etc very good. Physically we have issues in that our halls are not accessible to anyone who cannot manage steps, and so activities are limited to the sanctuary and welcome area (which thankfully does include loos!). This is an issue for the church as a whole and one of many building-related challenges we are seeking to address as a church.

  1. What advice would you give to someone wanting to set up a Livability type group in their church or area?

Based on my earlier experience, I would definitely advise visiting other groups in your area – at least one, but if possible more than one to get a sense of the range of approaches out there. Indeed, if you have the patience and the ability to travel, it is good to get involved in helping with another group for a period – particularly if, like me, you have no previous experience of interacting with adults with learning difficulties (you don’t have to do it for ten years!)

Thank you Helen and the Team.  We pray that your group will grow in love and fellowship, knowledge and grace.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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Photo from Helen Philip – Some of the SHINE Team

A Team of all Abilities.

Here are some of the team as we played a new game I took along with me called “Linkee”.

I was thinking today about the amazing team that I was part of at Keswick.  Thirteen of us were in the team of all backgrounds and abilities.  We were from Glasgow in the North to Worthing in the South, and came together for just one week.    Straight away, on the Sunday afternoon when we all got together for the first time there was a lovely feeling of being in a family.  People who knew each other made sure that people they didn’t know were made to feel welcome.  It was a great start.

For the rest of the week, each person took up their role.  Whether it was welcoming, playing music, leading, signing, computer or serving tea –  I there was no fuss, no power struggles, no moaning.   We shared, laughed and encouraged one another.  Wearing the same T-shirts, who could know what our backgrounds were?  We were a doctor, care workers, unemployed, volunteers, retired, business people, teachers.  It didn’t make any difference.   Nine of us shared the accommodation and cooked, ate and cleaned up together.

I want to use my blog this week to say thank you to this wonderful team.  Thank you for making me feel so welcome and part of things from the start.  Thank you for making me laugh, asking about my life and sharing our needs for prayer.  Thank you for your prayers for the week, for the guests who came and their families and challenges.  Thank you for serving faithfully and joyfully.  Thank you for giving this week of your life to serve and enable people with learning disabilities to access great Bible teaching.  I know we learned from the Bible together.  I saw how all of you sat with, listened and prayed for the guests who came.  I know you will go home with them still on your heart and in your prayers.  I loved how you threw yourself into the week, never minded looking silly or doing something different.  You encouraged and supported, laughed and enabled all to join in.  Thank you.

As you go back to your lives I pray you are blessed.  I pray God touched your lives too and will be with you as you face your own challenges at home.

I’m praying we all get the chance to be part of a team like this again.  A team of all abilities and a team loving Jesus our Lord together.

Lynn x

 

Being included in the mainstream @Keswick Convention

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Our week at Keswick is separate from the main meetings of morning Bible Study.  There is a very good reason for this – many people with learning disabilities that come to our meetings find the main meetings inaccessible.  The language is too complex, it’s talk based and it is a long time to sit still and listen.  There are Bible passages to read and follow – not easy if you can’t read well or at all.  And so our meetings do provide access to the teaching in a way that is visual, explains complex or ‘religious’ words and concepts and allows the congregation to interact, join in and have their Bible teaching in more manageable chunks.  We have used the NIrV Accessible Bible all week and the easy access language in this version has been easy to use and well received.

Keswick Convention are very supportive of the work we do.  Providing these sessions allows families with adults with learning disabilities to access the Convention as a family.  Some can come to our meetings on their own while their parents and carers are able to go to the main meeting.  Others need the continuing support from their parents and carers but they are able to join in something together…rather than feeling that they are having to ‘entertain’ their son or daughter in a meeting that is too complex for them to access.  (It’s not surprising they get bored in a long meeting they cannot understand so well – I do!)  What it does is allow families to feel that all their needs are met in one place, that they can holiday together at the Keswick Convention and feel that all are spiritually refreshed.  I think there may be more we can do to develop this in the future.  More support for the often elderly parents still caring for adult children might be helpful.  We do a lot of praying for and with the guests themselves and a lot of encouraging them to use their gifts in the sessions.  We come alongside them and talk with them, and often find we have a lot in common.  Our love of Jesus is the most amazing thing we share and the Holy Spirit moves amongst us in this week.  You can feel His presence even in the simplest conversations and things that we share together.  But after Keswick, many are going back to complex or difficult situations and it would be good to spend more time praying with and supporting them more individually.

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Another thing we do at the Keswick Convention is go up on main stage on the Wednesday evening meeting.  These seven minutes are a wonderful time for the group and a chance for the other visitors to the Convention to see what we do.  We usually interview one of our guests, giving their testimony.  This year a young woman called Lisa, who is from Glasgow talked about her faith in the wake of having 17 major operations in her life and another one soon to come.  She talked about how she loves working with the children in her church and we could see what a delight she is to her church and they to her.  We then led the congregation in singing one of the songs we had been learning all week “What can I do to be like Jesus?”.  Singing and signing so that everyone could join in.  I took Molly, my puppet up on stage and one of our guests also brought her puppet (Molly’s twin we reckon!) and her confidence as we sang and danced with our puppets together was wonderful.  Instead of being at the back of the group, hiding her face, she was at the front, sharing the limelight with her puppet!

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Being part of the mainstream, even for those seven minutes is important.  I thank the Keswick Convention because they see it as something very important to include in their programme.  Its not to ‘show us off’ or say ‘Arn’t we good to have this here?’ – but they see the Livability/Prospects sessions as an important part of the programme and a way to make the convention accessible for families with adult children with learning disabilities.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about their accessibility for children with additional needs as one of my daughter’s friends was a ‘buddy’ for a child with additional needs all week.  So I will report on that when I find out.  If you were there and want to tell me about your experiences, I’d be really grateful.

Also the Keswick Convention give us a slot to do a seminar on the Thursday morning. Andrew and I delivered a talk on making a sermon/talk accessible through using different forms of communication and visuals etc (based on one of my previous blog posts).  There were only a few people who turned up so I do think there is a lot we can do to advertise and organise this better.  I’d love to offer a whole week of seminars – we in the additional needs stream have a lot to say! From theology to practical tips – every church has something to learn about accessibility.

Why we use drama with adults with learning disabilities.

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The best acting award…

All week at Keswick we have used drama in our meetings.  The Bible passages that we were learning from were from Luke and were excerpts from Jesus’s life and interactions with people he met.

All you need is a simple script (but be willing for participants ad-libbing),  a few bits of costume and the odd prop or two.  We also used the Accessible NIrV Bible all week.

On Monday we did two drama’s looking at Jesus and the sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee and the parable of the two debtors – Luke 7:36-53

On Tuesday we looked at The 10 lepers who were healed – Luke 17:11-17

On Wednesday we looked at Zacchaeus  – Luke 19:1-10

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Zaccheaus and Jesus.

On Thursday we looked at Jesus calls Peter – Luke 5:1-11

On Friday we looked at  The Disciples on the Emmaus Road – Luke 24:13-35

Drama has many advantages.  First it slows down the story so that those who take longer to process information can do so.  It breaks down the story into chunks and adds action to the dialogue.   We show that the events happened to real people and that Jesus came to meet with and help people who had needs just as we do.

Sitting in an hour and a half long session could be really difficult and very boring if all we did was talk.  Concentration and attention may be difficult for some of our guests (and the team!) and breaking up the session with drama, songs and puppets helps keep everyone’s attention and interest.

Participation can be a really good way to make people with learning disabilities feel valued.  We believe passionately that we are all church together and giving the guests the chance to share the story telling with us is important too.  Even those who don’t want to participate enjoy watching others who do.  We were so blessed by all those who acted and brought their own expression and interpretation of the drama to our story.  Three memorable moments for me were on Monday when a shy guest did a fabulous job of wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair (it was a wig!) and the joy as she joined in the drama nearly every day.  Then the deaf/ partically-sighted lady who brought humour into the telling of our ‘parable of the debtors’ story.  And the visitor from the Carlisle group on Thursday whose expression of shock, delight and excitement when Peter caught the whole net of fish in our makeshift boat.  Here are some of the best photos.

So much happened this week that I have another couple of posts to do but I’ll get to them next week.  I’m at home now and feel like I’m still there.  I thank God with all my heart for a week of such blessings.

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