Jesus Cares

Note: The “Wright County Journal Press” is a weekly newspaper published in Buffalo,MN. Every week they have a full page feature article about something special happening in our community. This is the feature article that appeared on August 13, 2009.

Local churches share the “Joy, Joy, Joy”

Three congregations share the love of God with teens and adults with developmental disabilities

By Julie Gutknecht
Church Volunteer Teacher

Do you remember the words to that traditional praise song, “I Have the Joy, Joy, Joy”?

The first verse starts out with “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” and continues in verse two with “I have the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, down in my heart.”

The congregation at Immanuel Lutheran Church of rural Buffalo desired to share that joy and saving love of Jesus in a special way. The church congregation has the familiar Sunday School programs, Vacation Bible School (VBS), adult Bible studies, confirmation, and youth groups.

But now, they and the congregations of two other churches also have “Jesus Cares.”

Jesus Cares Ministries grew out of a Bible class begun by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s (WELS) Commission on Special Ministries in September of 1985. It has developed since that time to provide WELS congregations with the technical support needed for a program geared to Christians with special needs.

”We identified a group of souls in our area who were not hearing about the love of God or of their salvation through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,” program staff member Linda Bakke explained.

Bakke, who has worked as a direct care staff and program coordinator for a Buffalo group home for 18 years, added, “These teens and adults with developmental disabilities were missing the opportunity to hear about God in a way which they can understand.”

Said Volunteer Vernice Kowalke, “That’s really what drew my husband Bill and I to get involved. It was eye-opening to hear there were no Buffalo pastors or churches serving this special group.”

”We all prayed,” Bakke went on to say, “and God led us to form a “Jesus Cares” program with two other WELS churches, Trinity Lutheran at Crawford Lake and St. Paul’s Lutheran in Montrose.”

The classes are conducted on the first and third Thursdays of the school months at Immanuel, just four miles east of Buffalo on County Road 35.

“The Holy Spirit has really been at work getting and keeping us on track,” said Volunteer Vernetta Weese, who helps teach a portion of the hour-long Bible class. “The synod provides us with fantastic resources geared for teaching teens and adults with developmental disabilities. We fit those resources with our congregations’ volunteers and each hour just flies by.”


Pastor Stephen Smith uses visuals in his devotion. In this instance, his dirty hands describes the sin in our hearts that Jesus died for, to clean our souls.

Weese described the hour as having four parts. “After Immanuel Pastor Stephen Smith leads us in a devotion, we have 15 minutes for a Bible lesson, then we have music and save time for a craft project.”

Weese said volunteers have generously stepped up because, not only does the program need help at the front of the classroom, it is important to have individuals to companion each of the students.

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Volunteer teacher Vernetta Weese (right), with student Kathy Duske

“These students really love the music,” Volunteer Linda Hoffmann said. With her experiences in education, she has taken the lead with the music. “Not all of them care to sing, and some focus more on the musical instruments and the beat, but I’m confident they are picking up on the message of their love for God and God’s love for each of them.”


Volunteer teacher Linda Hoffmann

        “Each lesson gives us a craft project which focuses the students’ attention on the message. We can use that one or come up with our own,” Joel Duske said, adding that it serves as an important visual reminder of the lesson after they leave the class. Duske’s daughter, Kathy, is a faithful student and rarely misses the “Jesus Cares” night.


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A craft project with each lesson provides a visual reminder and Tim Holthaus seems to be having a good time painting his Easter sun-catcher.


“She was diagnosed with a moderate disability but that’s only a disability on this earth,” said Joel Duske. “It has nothing to do with Kathy’s sure place in heaven. No disabilities there–just perfect. I want her to know about Jesus and what he has done for her, that Jesus died on the cross to gain heaven for her, too.”

Anyone with questions about the “Jesus Cares” Bible class are urged to call Pastor Smith or any of the volunteers. Guests are always welcome to observe or participate and need not be members of the congregations or even Lutheran to participate. The Immanuel website includes the Jesus Cares schedule. Pastor Smith can be reached at 763-682-1878; the church phone number, 763-682-4573; and the website is

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Volunteer teacher Kathy Ernst with Tim.

The “Jesus Cares” staff sets its top priority on sharing the love of God and salvation through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

“Whatever your circumstance on this earth, we want you to know Jesus earned a place in His mansion just for you,” Bakke said of program’s goals.

“We have ‘Joy, Joy, Joy’ to share!”