How One Church’s Student Ministry Celebrates Individuals with Special Needs

Over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that the only way I can truly know if someone cares about me and my family is by watching how they act/treat my son. People who accept him and include him in activities, show me they care. People who get upset about him turning lights on and off, or going up and down stairs show me they don’t care.

I prefer to be around people who accept my son and see his value as a child of God.

I want to tell you how the student ministry at my church has shown me they care and value my son.

Every fall they host a four night crusade to reach middle and high school students in our community. The staff chooses to invite different groups each night so they can be showcased and celebrated by our students. For the past three years there has been a special needs night called LH Olympics. Individuals with special needs are invited to participate on stage in a few activities prior to the worship portion of the night.

The student ministry makes a huge deal of these athletes. Several of our middle and high school students volunteer to be buddies who help the athletes during the activities and then sit with them during the worship portion of the night. The athletes enter the auditorium in the same manner Olympic athletes enter a stadium. One athlete carries a battery operated torch and leads the way through the auditorium onto the stage while the Olympic theme song is playing in the background. The middle and high school students in attendance are on their feet clapping and cheering for the athletes as they enter and arrive on stage.

It warms my heart to see the smiles on each athlete as they come across the stage and face the audience before beginning the activities.

After each athlete has participated in the activities, they are lined up at the front of the stage and are presented with a medal. Two staff members take turns announcing each athletes name while the medal is put on them by their buddy. The audience cheers and claps for each athlete as his/her name is announced. For a brief moment, each special needs athlete feels as though he/she is the most important person in the auditorium because of the reaction from the audience when their name is announced.

My son has been the torch bearer for this event all three years so far. Carrying the torch has been his favorite part of the LH Olympics, until this year. When we got home and were going through our nighttime routine I asked him what his favorite part of the night was, like I have the previous two years. I fully expected to hear him say, “Carrying the torch”. He surprised me with his reply this time.

“And, Caleb (his name being announced at the end), then getting my prize (his medal) and all, everybody in the big church clapped and cheered for me, Caleb.”

I teared up when he said it and I’m tearing up now as I write it.

I’m grateful for the student ministry at my church and the leadership demonstrated by their staff. They don’t just say they care about special needs, they show it.

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