On Monday, I started a new blog series about the importance of special needs ministry. The first post, “Going to Church with a Special Needs Child,” explained how the seed of special needs ministry was planted at my church. Here’s what happened after one special lady decided to water the seed, tending to it until it began to sprout…
Our church’s Special Needs Ministry began in August 2013. Big Brother was the only child in the program, but you would never know it by the amount of effort that the coordinator put in. It warmed my heart to see her and her husband go above and beyond the call of duty just for my son.
I went in to observe one of the first classes. The lesson was about Noah’s ark. There were several hands on activities that Big Brother thoroughly enjoyed. A pre-teen girl was his classroom buddy and helped him to make a picture of an ark. Another activity called for Big Brother to put animals 2×2 on a board while the coordinator told Noah’s story. His favorite activity was the one in which the coordinator added water to a bowl until “Noah’s Ark” floated to the top. And to add to the fun, the coordinator’s husband performed a special puppet show for Big Brother! At the end of class, my son received a stuffed animal to reinforce what he learned for that day. He left class happy and I was at peace, knowing that my son was in good hands on Sunday mornings.
It didn’t take long for Big Brother to become attached to the coordinator and her husband. He asked for them by name whenever they missed church to go out of town. He knew that they cared about him. They even emailed a video to my son just to say hi while they were on vacation!
During the classes that followed, Big Brother was taught at least five different bible verses that he still remembers today. The special needs ministry also reinforced what we had been teaching our son at home about the importance of prayer. On several recent occasions, my son initiated prayer for his food without prompting. He will even stand still and be quiet if someone is praying! That alone is a big deal!
In less than six months, we saw our son go from being anxious about church to being excited! Word about the special needs ministry spread and after a few weeks, our son had several classmates.
In November, the Coordinator told me that she wanted to do a Christmas program with the children for the entire church! Now I’m going to be honest. I thought she was being a little ambitious!
She told me that it would be a pantomime to the song, “Do You Hear What I Hear.” Flashbacks of my son’s previous behaviors in the sanctuary made me VERY fearful, but I didn’t want my fear to hold him back, so I agreed.
Practice for the play took place the day before the actual performance. It took about ten minutes for my son to adjust being in the sanctuary. After he calmed down, we put on his costume for the dress rehearsal. Big Brother was to play the role of Joseph and he had a speaking part at the end of the pantomine that said:
“Let us Worship Him! Merry Christmas!”
I recorded several run-throughs of the performance on my phone so that we could review them once we got home. The videos were very handy with helping me to reinforce his lines and when he was supposed to say them.
I was incredibly nervous on the big day. Less than 10 people were in the audience when we did the dress rehearsal. At the moment of truth, my son would have to come out on stage before HUNDREDS of people and deliver his two lines without melting down. I prayed to calm myself:
“Dear Lord, please be with the Special Needs Ministry as they do their performance today. Help them to do a wonderful job so that you can get the glory and so that people can see that there is value and worth in special needs ministries. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Moments later, the performance began. I watched intently, ready to quickly intercept a meltdown if needed. Once the pantomime ended, my son looked at the crowd and said,
I held my breath, wondering if my son would finish. One of the special needs ministry teachers whispered something to him in his ear and then he said without hesitation,
“Let us worship Him. Merry Christmas!”
I was moved almost to tears! Dear Hubby beamed with pride. There was no meltdown, no flopping, no spinning, no hands over his ears, or any of the other things that Big Brother does whenever he gets sensory overload. Our son had just finished his first acting role and he did a great job! Many church members commented on how they were blessed by the performance. Those who knew my son personally were especially proud because they knew how much of a big deal it was. God answered my prayer!
I smile to myself now as I think about how much this special needs ministry has blessed my family. Someone took notice of my family’s situation and decided to do something to make a difference. The coordinator’s act of compassion not only blessed us, but other families too who were in the same predicament. Our entire church congregation learned an important lesson on the day of the Special Needs Ministry’s performance:
Great things can happen when you take time to invest into the lives of those who are different.
God can use whomever he wants and he certainly used my son and his classmates that day. To God be the Glory!
*For the past two days I’ve shared with you my personal story about special needs ministry. But on Wednesday I’ll be sharing Part 3, a thought provoking post that will discuss the impact of churches NOT having a special needs ministry.