Parents News

A Place of Hope and Rest

by Sarah Cushing - University Communications | Jul 29, 2016
Butler Family
From the outside, people saw the Butlers’ steps of faith and asked how they "could do it." Joe ’04 and Jen Butler would answer, “God was leading us. Once you know what God wants you to do, it’s not really a hard decision to make … that’s how we got there.” The “there” they speak of is Siloam Springs, Arkansas. 

Joe and Jen co-founded Ability Tree, Inc., a non-profit organization that serves as a disability outreach center in Arkansas, providing the families of children with disabilities what they need most: hope and rest. Since its opening in 2010, Ability Tree has demonstrated to families that every child is a gift from God and has a purpose in God’s greater plan, even children with disabilities — a revelation the Butlers learned firsthand.

Joe and Jen knew that God had called them to full-time vocational ministry when Joe enrolled at the University of Valley Forge (UVF). The family moved to UVF in December 2000 with their oldest daughter, Hannah. One week later, their son, Micah, was born. Micah had developmental delays and suffered a seizure at two-and-a-half years old. When the Butlers welcomed their third child, Clara, they continued to learn how to best take care of each of their children’s needs while following God’s call to ministry. After UVF, Joe served as an assistant pastor in New Jersey. “It was hard to leave [UVF] and it’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since we graduated. It was an incredible experience, it really helped us develop as Christians, and develop in our faith as leaders in ministry.” Joe said.

As leaders in the church, Joe and Jen educated other church staff and volunteers about Micah and soon became the go-to couple for questions about people with disabilities. Jen sensed God transitioning them from serving in a church to walking alongside other families who were raising children with disabilities. They decided to leave their ministry position and began to travel around the country, offering churches training on how to serve people with disabilities and make their churches accessible and inclusive.  

A couple of years later, they opened Ability Tree, Inc., in Arkansas with the support of a pastor who was passionate about reaching people with disabilities. Ability Tree ultimately provides R.E.S.T.: recreation, education, support and training. It offers an after school program to children with disabilities and their siblings, and an art program which Jen launched for children with and without disabilities. There is an annual family outing at a local aquatic center and a program called rEcess, which offers respite for children with disabilities and their siblings. Ability Tree also consults churches who have experienced the challenges of serving families of children with disabilities. “It’s not really about starting a disability or special needs ministry. It’s more about adapting a church’s philosophy of ministry to include a child, teenager or adult with disabilities into the existing ministries,” Joe said.

As CEO of Ability Tree, Joe casts the vision for the organization’s future. The organization continues to partner with churches in the area to reach a greater number of families affected by disabilities, and is planning to purchase more land in the near future. Joe also teaches and trains. He has been a guest teacher at John Brown University (JBU) and has welcomed students from JBU, the University of Arkansas and UVF as interns. The success of Ability Tree opened the doors to provide services for people with disabilities in other states. Ability Tree also operates branches in New Jersey and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. 

Ability Tree received national exposure this past January in an article published by PE News, the official news source for the Assemblies of God. The article reported on a church in New Jersey that implemented Ability Tree's accessible and inclusive methods of ministry, and the families who are blessed by those efforts. 

The Butlers’ vision is to establish an Ability Tree center in every county across the country, however, they already have much to celebrate. Aside from the success and growth that Ability Tree has experienced, God has blessed their family. Jen continues to pursue her passion for art, Hannah has graduated from high school and will begin college in the fall, Micah is a sophomore in high school, and Clara is in middle school.   

To read more about Ability Tree, visit abilitytree.org.