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Pastor Pairs Love of Church, People with Disabilities

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Courtesy Bluffton University

Having an adopted brother with tubular meningitis has made a huge mark on the Rev. Paula Snyder Belousek’s life.

“Early on, I became interested in what role people with disabilities play in the church setting,” she said last week at Bluffton University.

While majoring in special education and psychology at Eastern Mennonite University, she sought out how to pair her love for people with disabilities and her love for the church.

Her answer came during voluntary service in Fresno, Calif., when she gave her first church sermon accompanied by a person who had a developmental disability.

“That church claimed and made me their own; that was something I really appreciated and helped define my walk,” said Belousek, now pastor of Salem Mennonite Church in Elida, Ohio.

She visited nearby Bluffton from Feb. 21-23 as part of its minister in residence program, sitting in on classes, lectures and lunches, as well as speaking at the university’s weekly chapel service.

As a pastor, Belousek has used her experience and interest in people with disabilities by trying to speak in a way that appeals to a variety of listeners, and by being creative.

“I love shaping worship and helping people see their own calling and giftedness,” she said. “I’m always seeking new ways that I can involve teenagers or other age groups.”

The ministry was a calling she didn’t recognize initially, the native Canadian acknowledged, but as a pastor, she feels she has learned a lot about herself and others. “People know when you’re being real with them and, when your intentions are right, they will grow to trust you,” she said.

Belousek also has advice for college students studying religion. “Start testing it with a community of people, and ask yourself if this truly is God’s calling for you,” she said, adding, for female religion students in particular: “Trust the voice of God, even if there are barriers. Trust God that he gave you your gifts, and he will make a way to use them.”

The Eastern Mennonite graduate, who now has several Bluffton alumni in her congregation, encourages high school students to pursue Mennonite higher education. “I highly value Mennonite education because I know how it’s helped shape my own life,” she said.

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