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Churches take active role in meeting needscomment (0)

April 13, 2000

By Alice L. Elmore

Related Scripture: Matthew 25


The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

Just the thought of overlooking this biblical tenet would make most church members indignant. Yet, despite the best of intentions, churches sometimes overlook a group right outside their doors and no less important than other groups the church targets — a group aching to be included and to hear of God’s love for them.

While it may not be readily apparent, individuals with disabilities represent a sizable portion of Alabama’s population. Alabama has made great strides in meeting educational and rehabilitative needs of this group.

But what about their spiritual needs? There is no legislation requiring churches to make extra efforts in reaching this group. Luckily, churches have already been instructed to do this very thing by Jesus.

Churches often stepped in to help before the public school system made provisions for persons with special needs. Some provided volunteers or space for many of the independent programs that sought to serve these special needs.

Not all needs met

Now that public schools have developed special education programs, it may seem most needs are being met. And they may be, at least through age 21 —  when schools are no longer responsible for a student’s needs, or when a community enjoys the resources of the Association for Retarded Citizens — Arc — or a similar organization. But that is not always the case.

“More counties have active Arcs than there are churches with active special

ministries,” said Sherron Culpepper, special education and Vacation Bible School consultant for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.            

“Churches provide a personal touch. Spiritual education is the unique need we’re meeting. These individuals may be mentally challenged, but who’s to say they’re spiritually challenged?” There is a need for this type ministry in every part of the state, but fear prevents most churches from starting this type program.

“People are afraid. They’re not sure how to communicate,” said Janet Little, minister of special education at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Homewood.  “We all have disabilities, some are just more apparent than others.

We need to break down the barriers of thinking they are so different,” she said.  “They want friends, to be loved, to be taught. They want to understand as much as they can about Jesus and the Bible.”

Finances is another factor that may discourage churches from beginning a special education ministry.

However, a special education ministry doesn’t always mean another line on the budget. With some modifications, individuals with special needs can benefit from a church’s existing services:

Ways to reach out

ZHomebound ministries can reach out to those in wheelchairs or who are homebound, regardless of age.

ZMusic is often the most effective way to share your faith with those who are disabled. Singing simple songs or favorite hymns can be the highlight of the day for many individuals with special needs.

ZEncourage a Sunday School class to adopt residents of a group home, entertaining them with a Christmas party or trip to the bowling alley.

ZSponsor a wheelchair repair day. Many individuals aren’t able to regularly maintain their own wheelchairs.

ZIf the church runs a day care, see that children with special needs are provided for with extra volunteers and some adaptive equipment. Make these special provisions known around the community. You may be surprised at the number of families that respond.

Z Never assume a child with some physical or mental limitations won’t enjoy being included in special activities. While they may not be able to skate during a trip to the rink, playing video games or listening to the music may be just as entertaining.

“I was touched when her Sunday School teacher asked if my little girl wanted to be the star of Bethlehem in our church’s Christmas pageant,” said Cindy Wester, whose daughter Becky has spina bifida.

“That year, the star wasn’t quite as steady as she entered with the help of her leg braces and crutches,” Wester said.

“But what a wonderful reflection of God’s love we witnessed on that special Sunday morning,” he said.

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