by Ooilin Chu
It all begins with one episode, one that never goes away. A concern that will play in the back of your mind till you can place a finger on it. There were many beginnings to my starting Touch `n Grow Community Support (TGCS) – a center of learning for children with learning disabilities. One of the beginning was in 2004, and it was sparked with what Bill Hybels called as a “firestorm of frustration.” I struggle to see more and more children with learning disabilities being sidelined in the education system. In our kaisu society (“afraid to loose and cannot lose” society), parents and teachers are very frustrated that these children cannot perform. Often times school will just leave them alone, placing them in the very last class of the standard.
Having raised a son with ADHD and dyslexia myself, I believe that God did not make a mistake with any child. He has room for every child. Jesus would give each child equal attention and opportunity to learn. It sparked in me that I need to start a center that will give everyone of these children a fair education and to stand strong in this kaisu society.
I also believed there was a reason why God called and enable me in children’s ministry for these past twenty years. God also brought two sisters who would stand for the same vision – to start a social work organization where we can give to the community with no strings attached. Together we birthed TGCS – to provide a safe, accepting and enabling environment for all persons. TGCS wants to tell every child with learning disabilities that they have worth and with a wholesome support system they are able to reach their highest potential.
To begin was a major hurdle. But by God’s grace a trip to the United States was arranged to help us in putting the pieces together. INCM sponsored me in 2005 to attend the Children Pastor’s Conference at Anaheim. The Conference and church tour experience were so much more than an education and refreshing for my ministry. Ideas welled up in me. Attending CPC equipped me with ideas. So much was running through my mind for the ministry in Malaysia, especially for the center. I left CPC having the encouragement to begin the center. I would like to give special thanks to Kurt Jarvis who has given me much needed support.
In Malaysia the road to understanding children with learning disabilities is one that very few churches will walk and to help those children is one that even fewer will travel. One of the reasons is that we have very little knowledge and experience in this field. Our country is twenty years behind in understanding and providing for children with learning disabilities. God instills in me all these years, an awareness of the prevailing need for these children to be known and to be understood.
Fast forward 5 years, TGCS has seen more than 30 students come through our doors. There are currently seventeen students studying with us. We see them develop and more importantly we see them able to learn. These kids are not ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid,’ they just have a different style in learning and TGCS is one of the first places that some of these children are able to see how smart and talented they really are.
One of our first students came to TGCS at age 10. At that time, he could not read one single word. Having gone through six years in school, he did not pick up reading and most of the time they let him be. At age 9, he was so angry with his mother for signing him up for VBS. He was afraid that children and teachers would find out that he could not read the Bible. Brian was ADHD with dyslexia. The Lord led him to be enrolled at TGCS and within three months he could read a little and he also begin to sing in Sunday school. Now at 15 years old, he has gone on three missions trips to the Philippines to share the truth of God there.
We thank the Lord that the center has been able to provide education for two boys who were only ten years old when they came to TGCS. They were put in an inclusive class in the public school. But sadly they were slapped by their teacher for being stubborn when really they were “frozen” by the teacher’s questioning. Having been at TGCS for three years, they are bright and helpful students. The one who is a slow learner often proudly tells me that he is progressing in his unit or Lifepac test in the homeschool curriculum. And the other boy, who has Asperger Syndrome, has shown leadership and creativity. What was thought to be stubbornness or an inability to learn has proven that there is more value to children than the traditional views of educational success. We have seen children who have had no self confidence and no sense of worth become confident individuals, discovering unique talents within themselves. They have become known for who they are and not by their weakness.
To help them further, we hope to begin vacation programs to build life skills. Education is about balance and life is about learning beyond the classroom. This vision to build a holistic person with learning disabilities means we are to reach to them in any way we can. We are only in our beginning years and have a long journey. In the future we hope to set up TGCS as an inclusive school and I am sure that if God has called us to this ministry, He will provide for and sustain the ministry for His glory.
Bringing it home(by Kristy Moser):
Malaysia is not alone in giving children with special needs a red light when it comes to church and education. Too often it happens here in the United States as well. Churches need to be a place where these kids get a green light. This can not happen unless you have church leadership support, awesome volunteers and parental assistance. The church needs to be a place where these children feel like a part of the body of believers.
Just as in Ooi Lin’s Touch ‘n Grow Community Support, we too here in Special Hope, have seen children who come to us having no self confidence discover the unique talents that the Lord has blessed them with. It is our job to help these children and teens become a part of their church community. It takes wonderful individuals who love these children to help them find out what their gift set is. One of our young women who has Down syndrome was one of our first students in Special Hope. She now helps in a small group for three year olds on Sunday mornings. She is using the gifts and talents that were built on by our special needs ministry to help others grow on their journey. One of our teenagers who also has Down syndrome helps during the week by getting our snacks ready for our weekend services. I work with her for about an hour and half one day a week and she is able to get snacks into the different containers for each classroom. It might be something small and it might take time out of my day but she is using her gifts and talents to help in a big way. She is able to be a part of her church and to give back.
Helping children and students with special needs know that they are part of a body of believers and that they actually get to play a part in it is huge. It takes hard work on the part of volunteers and leaders who assist these kids but the pay off is incredible! Here are some things that help us here in Special Hope:
- Listen to God – be in prayer about each child in your ministry. God will point you in the right directions to go with each one of them.
- Ask for help – you can not do everything on your own. You have to enlist volunteers to help during the week.
- Parents are your biggest fans and teachers – parents can help you understand something about their child that you may not get. Ask them to help you.
- Have faith in yourself – God has called you to play an intricate part in the lives of these kids. Believe in yourself – you can do it!