CAPE GIRARDEAU – Vacation Bibles Schools (VBS) are billed as being open to all, but Bethany Baptist Church here, took the extra step to make sure special needs children in their community knew that God created them and loves them.
During plans for the church’s traditional VBS, a mother of an autistic boy asked Donna Johnson why there couldn’t be a VBS designed specifically for children in the church and community with special needs. Johnson and the rest of Bethany took on the challenge. Word of mouth grew and soon 20 kids – all with special needs and most with some form of autism – were part of Bethany’s special needs VBS.
“Many of these kids who are all around us might get left out due to their needs or circumstances,” said Shawn Wasson, Bethany’s pastor. “It was a chance to give them an opportunity to have fun and learn about Jesus in a way they might not otherwise get. It was challenging, but we all had a great time.”
“They got the full experience,” Johnson said. “They got to go to each station to see and do everything.”
The main differences were slightly quieter music, dimmer lights, and that each student was paired with a “buddy” from the church to be by their side from start to finish, station to station.
They gave parents who desired a breather a chance to take a break in the hospitality room and watch the Cardinals game and provided a sensory room in case a child needed a break from the action and a chance to calm down.
Wasson said that because of the unusual nature of the VBS, people from outside the church volunteered to help in various ways. Some with clinical training or special education backgrounds helped train other VBS volunteers, and some helped set up the sensory room.
“We had almost as many people from the outside helping us as we did from within the church,” he said. “And they were able to hear the gospel of Jesus as well.”
Preparations for the special needs VBS also caught the attention of the Southeast Missourian, KFVS Channel 12 TV and a local radio station, furthering the community feel of the outreach.
“It’s amazing how meeting a need like this opened so many doors for communication with people we didn’t know,” Wasson said.
Wasson and Johnson said they and the church are looking forward to expanding the special needs VBS next summer and are currently exploring options for year-round special needs ministries.
“We’re a small church, but we’re praying and following up to see what we can do,” Johnson said.