CAPE GIRARDEAU – Lynwood Baptist Church’s Access Ministry for adults and teens with special needs began several years ago as the legacy of Shelby Stafford, a 40-year-old member with Down’s Syndrome.
Stafford died in 2017, but because of her impact on Lynwood’s leaders and families, the vibrant special needs ministry still thrives in the Cape Girardeau church.
“God used Shelby to help us see spiritual insights,” Mark Anderson, senior pastor, said about the influence of Shelby on the ministry. “She had a real impact.
“When she passed away, we read some of the notes that she wrote. They reminded us of how God uses special needs to touch hearts. We also have a biblical mandate for this ministry. Jesus said we could love Him by serving the least of these.”
Andrea Roseman, Access Ministry director, was among those inspired by Stafford’s life.
“When I got involved with Access in 2012, I knew God was leading me,” she said. “I loved Shelby, and the entire congregation celebrated her birthday. God was dealing with me when I realized that there were a lot of families with adult children like Shelby with nowhere to go.”
Today, Roseman said, the church’s Access Ministry activities include quarterly events. “Our first activity was a Carnival with rotating stations,” she said. “When I first started, I expressed a concern at a volunteer meeting about knowing how to invite people. One of the volunteers said, ‘I know how, I work for a special needs agency, and I have contacts in other agencies.’ We had 42 attending that first event.”
Now, the church has several activities for both the teens and adults with special needs as well as their families. “One of our regular events is the Fall Bonfire,” Roseman said, “we have a hayride including a wheel chair accessible trailer because many of the participants haven’t done anything like this since losing mobility. We also share a Bible story while they are making s’mores.”
Roseman shared that the bonfire attracted 200 volunteers and participants. “We also do different crafts each year,” she continued, “and a tradition is for all to paint pumpkins.”
For the last five years, Access has conducted an Adult VBS. “We do a three-day camp,” Roseman “said. “We’ve found that any longer can cause them to be too tired. We are scheduled for June 19-21, and we already have 42 registered.”
Families of those in the Access Ministry also have events scheduled for them. “We offer a mom’s retreat,” Roseman added. “We offer this as a support group. Moms come together and laugh, the weight of the world is gone. It gives us an opportunity to share with them. This ministry is relationship building. We must earn their trust because of the vulnerability of the children.”
The Access Ministry has also had an impact on the community. “I’ve built a relationship with a local day care for adults with special needs.” Roseman said. “They have permitted me to make presentations and to share Jesus. About half of them are a part of our ministry but several are unchurched.”
“Access Ministry is a beautiful opportunity to teach a subculture neglected by the church,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t been intentional, but we haven’t been aware. We’ve seen families not connected spiritually begin to get a deeper connection to the body.”
“A key to the ministry is to have a leader with passion and commitment,” Anderson continued. “Many times, lack of volunteers is an excuse for not doing this ministry. I had to learn that this is a ministry niche that members are drawn to. Don’t limit your congregations. I see Andrea stand in front of the church to say she needs volunteers and she is inundated with volunteers.”
Anderson also said the Access Ministry would be represented in the new building plans. “We will have a designated, qualified space for the ministry.”
People are coming to Christ through the ministry. “One mom saw an event online and she came even though she was scared,” Roseman said. “She invited me to come to her home in the days after and she accepted Christ. Now, the family attends church regularly.”