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North Shelby Baptist Church on cutting edge of ministry to visually impaired in communitycomment (0)

April 12, 2007

By Grace Thornton

Winds blew, rain fell, cows mooed and Noah’s big boat rocked — it was all in a day’s work for the puppet team of North Shelby Baptist Church, Birmingham, in Shelby Baptist Association. 
About 60 visually impaired children were able to enjoy a puppet show designed just for them March 31 at Triple S Farm in Harpersville. The puppet show, not generally considered an ideal medium for communicating with those who have sight problems, turned out to be a tactile and auditory feast. 
Members of the puppet team walked up and down the aisles, letting each child “meet” — or feel — the menagerie of puppets. Other helpers walked around spritzing water on the children when it “rained” in the story, and fans blew on them when it was “windy.” At the end, the children climbed in a makeshift ark and the puppet team rocked it back and forth, recapping the story all the while.
“There’s no staging; it’s more interactive — completely out of the box for us,” said Linda Johnson, who leads North Shelby Baptist’s puppet team. 
Fellow church member David Hyche challenged Johnson to come up with the show when he saw how much his visually impaired 2-year-old daughter Rachel enjoyed touching the puppets. 
Thanks to Hyche’s keen eye, the puppet show is simply one example of how North Shelby Baptist has been on the cutting edge of ministry to the visually impaired for the last couple of years.
“David is the one who brought us into it (this type of ministry) because of his daughter,” said Pastor Allan Murphy. “He wants the Lord to be honored in it, and he wants [Rachel] to love the church as he does.”
Since Rachel’s arrival, Hyche has started Alabama Association for Parents of children with Visual Impairments (AAPVI), a support group that has allowed him to meet special-needs families and introduce them to the church.
And as the number of needs has grown at North Shelby, so has the response.
Sunday School and Mother’s Day Out teachers have become more and more sensitive to the needs and proactive in offering tactile learning opportunities. One teacher, Hyche said, asked him to bring some labels for objects in Braille so that Rachel could begin to learn to read at church.
North Shelby has also been in the process of purchasing a multivolume Braille Bible — something it takes a year to make — for the use of two older visually impaired children in the church.
And it helped out with AAPVI’s second beeping Easter egg hunt, the site of the puppet show. Royal Ambassadors at North Shelby filled hundreds of eggs with candy beforehand, and volunteers attended to help out on the day of the event.
“We want the community to know that we (the church) are actively seeking special-needs families to make them feel comfortable and welcome,” Hyche said.
Although several other churches in the state — including First Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association — have strong ministries to the visually impaired, Richard Alford, an associate in the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said such ministry is “not that common.”
At many churches, ministries like this begin when a child’s parents within the congregation bring the need to the attention of the church and the church responds, Alford said.
And as North Shelby ministers, the families are becoming more of a blessing to the church all the time, Murphy said.
“There are two sisters in our congregation who are visually impaired who play duets on the keyboard,” he said. “It was so well received that they’ve been making the rounds with the keyboard and playing for the church’s shut-ins. They are precious little girls.”

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