ARNOLD–Thirteen-year-old Sissy of First Baptist Church here was excited about being baptized. In fact, this young lady with Down Syndrome was so eager that she didn’t want to wait for the preliminary introductions of Bob Caldwell, pastor of outreach, in the baptistry. While he talked, she dunked herself and walked out.
According to Paula Bedwell, First Arnold’s director of special needs, this is an example of the vitality she sees in the special needs department.
“Some people think that those with special needs don’t need Sunday School to learn about Jesus,” she said. “But, they love the Lord as we do.”
Bedwell said Sissy is an active member of the department and responded to questions to determine her understanding.
“When Sissy is asked about Jesus,” Bedwell said, “she points to her heart. You can also tell that Sissy understands her relationship with Jesus because of her actions. She prays and she is willing to help in Sunday School.”
The special needs department of Arnold meets during all three Sunday morning worship services. Bedwell said that her teachers minister to two infants, several kindergarten-sixth graders in the Life Guard room and three teens integrated with the youth group, Synergy.
“We call it the Life Guard room,” Bedwell said, “to emphasize the protection that we provide while the children are with us. We are guarding their lives. We want to assure parents that we have a ministry designed to meet the needs of the students. Our teachers have a heart for God’s children and, in addition, our church is large enough to have nurses and doctors in the congregation for backup.”
Bedwell began working in the department because of the need.
“This is a lost people group,” she said. “Less than 10 percent of families having a family member with a disability attend church. They are fearful that others can’t take care of the child like they can. They also are reluctant to burden others with the care.”
Jeff Russom, children’s pastor, agreed with Bedwell about the reason for offering the department.
“We want to reach out with the gospel to everyone,” he said. “We want to provide a special environment more suitable for them. We want them to understand God’s love and that Jesus died for them.”
According to Bedwell, the organization Joni and Friends-Gateway is a continuing help for the special needs ministry.
“We use Smart Pages for advice and tips,” Bedwell said. “The book gave us plenty of information about how to set up the room. We wanted to be proactive in having a special environment for our students. We use LifeWay lessons because they address the various learning styles. We teach the same lesson for two weeks, but we find different ways to present it.”
Bedwell said she meets with special needs directors of other churches at monthly meetings at Joni and Friends-Gateway.
“We share suggestions for ministering with children who are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners,” she said. “We all love sharing the ideas to make these lessons more meaningful to the children.”
Another way Bedwell encourages a positive church experience is to promote service by her special needs students.
“You do not have a special needs ministry,” she said, “until you have those with special needs ministering.
Several of our students are able to volunteer in Vacation Bible School with the younger children and to do other jobs around the church.”
The bottom line for Bedwell is love.
“Our children are so lovable,” she said, “and they love on you and love on you.”
More information about special needs ministry is available by calling Paula Bedwell at (314) 540-3927 or Joni and Friends-Gateway at (314) 773-5664.
BY VICKI STAMPS / contributing writer