Last week we celebrated a special day. You may not know it, but March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. They chose this date because people with Down Syndrome have three copies of the 21st chromosome, 3-21 or March 21. I always try to be aware of days that celebrate or bring awareness to children with special needs because I have several little buddies who have special needs themselves. I have met these precious children and their parents through a ministry we have at the Forrest Park church of Christ called Forever His.
Forever His is a one day VBS designed specifically for children with special needs. I borrowed the idea from fellow contributor, Kim Higginbotham, who began this ministry at the Karns church of Christ a few years ago, and she continues this outreach several times throughout each year. If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of planning and implementing a similar event or ministry, then I highly recommend you purchase her book, Forever His: A Guide to Building a Special Needs Ministry. Contact Kim through this blog or at her own blog, Teaching Help.
In honor of all my friends with extra chromosomes, I’d like to share with you five reasons why we started the Forever His ministry at Forrest Park:
- We want to see people like Jesus saw people. Too many people in this life feel insignificant and invisible. Sadly, the problem was even worse in New Testament times for people with special needs because they were viewed as having little or nothing to contribute to society. In the Bible, we read of countless souls who lived their lives sitting on the sides of roads, outside city gates, or near fountains waiting for someone to notice and help them. Who knows how many people walked by these poor folks every day without a second glance? But not Jesus. Not only did Jesus notice them, but he touched them, healed them, and taught them as well. There are people today who long to be noticed. When we include special needs children and their families in our outreach, we are saying to them, “We see you, and if we see you, then Jesus sees you. You are not alone.”
- We want to reach an “under-churched” population. Statistical data on the exact percentage of families with special needs who attend any church is murky at best. However, surveys and anecdotal evidence reveal that these families often feel unable to attend regular worship services, or worse, unwelcome. Bringing little ones to church services is difficult in the best of circumstances, but the stress rises exponentially when your child has special needs. These parents worry about disrupting services and bothering people around them. They face embarrassing stares and unrealistic expectations for how their children should behave. Additionally, many children with special needs are medically fragile and simply cannot be exposed to large crowds. At Forrest Park, we want families with special needs to feel welcome. We want them to know that we have members who are familiar with their children and their needs, as well as facilities set up to accommodate their differing abilities. What better way to demonstrate this than by inviting them to participate in a very non-threatening, one-day VBS designed with their kids in mind? 💗
- We want to help our members work and grow. Christian people love to help others. We want to serve Jesus, and we are looking for ways to grow. I believe leadership should encourage spiritual growth amongst members by providing opportunities to serve and grow. We make Forever His a BIG DEAL at Forrest Park, and we need lots of workers to bring our vision to life. Our first year, we involved over 90 volunteers of all ages from our congregation, neighboring congregations, Georgia Christian School, and the community. People LOVED having an opportunity to help out, and we were all uplifted by serving others.
- We want to let our lights shine! Perhaps the best part of having so many folks involved in Forever His is that the name of the Lord’s church is elevated throughout our community. Far too often, the church of Christ is that little building one block off Main Street that no one ever sees, much
lessvisits. In the months leading up to Forever His, we spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on spreading the word about this great ministry at the Forrest Park churchof Christ. We want to be that city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn about the good works going on in your congregation. We are commanded to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
- We value all life. We believe all people have been created in God’s image and have intrinsic value as God’s creation. It is no accident that some of us are born with three 21st chromosomes. God has a purpose for each of us, and I believe one purpose of children with special needs is to point us to Him. Some of us will struggle all of our lives to see to our children’s spiritual development. We will pray and cry and lose sleep over the condition of their souls, and we may even know true heartache in losing a child eternally. Others of us will wrestle with their physical development. We will pray and cry and lose sleep over the condition of their minds and bodies, but we will have the blessed assurance that they have a new body awaiting them in heaven. Jesus said we must all become like children to enter heaven (Matthew 18:3). In a sin-filled world, the beauty of innocence cannot be overstated. Can you imagine the freedom of never knowing sin?! What joy in the knowledge that there are those among us who truly are Forever His! 💖
In 2017, Iceland made headlines as the first country to have nearly eliminated Down Syndrome. Further investigation showed that they had not, in fact, found some “cure” for Down Syndrome. Rather, they had eliminated babies with Down Syndrome through early detection and abortion. This is the dark side of humanity, and it should disturb us all as Christians. However, we have an opportunity to shine like stars in a perverse world through the way we treat people with Down Syndrome and all special needs (Philippians 2:15). Have you reached out to these families? Do you have a way that they can participate in worship services and Bible class at your congregation? If not, why not? Next World Down Syndrome Day, let’s all celebrate, support, and reach out to families with special-needs with the gospel!