Meet Real Kids in the Special Needs Smart Page

by Pat Verbal

In our media driven culture, people often speak out on subjects they know little about. An expert seems to be anyone with a microphone in hand or a book in print. That’s why we searched for experienced disability ministry leaders to create a comprehensive new resource with 150 articles on children with special needs. The Special Needs Smart Pages is packed with ideas on starting a special needs’ ministry, recruiting and training volunteers, teaching strategies, communication skills, outreach programs, spiritual development and health issues. It is a “must-read” for everyone ministering to children with physical, developmental, emotional, or cognitive disabilities.

The real strength of this resource, however, lies in the numerous illustrations and stories of real kids who love serving God. “Read-Aloud” stories will help you inspire their teachers as well as their peers.

Bryce has proven his doctors’ expectations wrong by enjoying a full and purposeful life, though he has spina bifida. Bryce, who is drawn to needy people-in spite of his own apparent difficulties, impacts residents at a local assisted living facility his family visits every week. His enthusiasm and companionship reminds senior citizens they’re still capable of giving and receiving love. Plus, because Bryce has undergone nearly 30 surgeries, he’s able to empathize with hospital patients, brightening their stays with meaningful visits and homemade cards. Bryce and his family bridge the gap between families with special needs and so-called “normal” folks.

Eleven-year-old Madison has a significant seizure disorder and a mild form of hemiplegic cerebral palsy. She also lost one-third of her brain function after contracting bacterial meningitis at age six months. Regardless of her physical limitations, Madison loves to worship the Lord and sing praise songs. Her unique situation compelled her parents to be creative in caring for her, including working hard to establish their church’s special needs ministry called Count Me In. This family’s example of celebrating their faith in the midst of adversity challenges church staff and lay people everywhere to draw near to those who may be a little different.

One young girl named Molly shares intimate details about the struggles her family faced upon hearing her brother Willson’s diagnosis of autism at age three. She admits, “Whenever Willson got mad, he would pinch, pull hair, and push [you] so hard.” Molly and Willson’s parents discovered that music was the key to helping their troubled son communicate. Though she honestly divulges the negative side of his behavior-he pulls out his hair, eyebrows and lashes and picks his nose-Molly highlights his progress and his positive impact on her family. As proof, she cites her own increased toughness and patience. Molly rejoices in his disability saying, “I think God put autistic kids on earth to make us wish for heaven where everything will be perfect. . . . Even though I wouldn’t choose for Willson to have autism, it has been a good influence on me and my family.”

Molly’s profound insight encapsulates the message of many families impacted by disability. Regardless of the challenges associated with these disabilities, these families not only cope, but they also seek the hidden beauty and purpose in living with disabilities. Churches can be in integral part of this journey, if their leadership embraces the vision that they can have a positive influence in ministering to the growing percentage of families affected by disability.

These stories challenge readers to laugh and cry; they persuade people to draw near to those with disabilities instead of shying away out of fear. These narratives spotlight children who follow the Psalmist’s example: “I haven’t kept to myself that what you did for me was right. I have spoken about how faithful you were when you saved me. I haven’t hidden your love and truth from the whole community” (Psalm 40:10, NLrV).

There are bound to be children in your community like Madison, Bryce, Molly and Willson. Is your church ready to reach out to them and their families?

To order Special Needs Smart Pages by Joni and Friends log on to:www.joniandfriends.com or call toll-free: (800) 736-4177

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