Years ago, my husband and I drove home from the Medical University of South Carolina and began to swallow the diagnosis of mental disability for our oldest daughter. We began to wonder what the future might look like. It has not been anything like we anticipated 10 years ago, but God has certainly guided us along this journey.
During her elementary years, I mainstreamed her as much as possible in summer activities. She did OK, but she always had a sister right beside her. She attended Vacation Bible School right along with her three sisters. She always loved VBS, especially the last day, when the kids would sing their songs for their parents. She listened to the VBS CDs all year long and now has a library of those recordings.
But as the years progressed, her sisters no longer attended VBS. They were “youth,” and she was too old to attend VBS. Plus, there was no way to mainstream her anymore. She knew she was different and felt highly uncomfortable in “normal” VBS classrooms.
Last summer, as I dropped my youngest daughter off at a VBS, I noticed all the children eagerly walking inside. I grieved a little because my oldest daughter was unable to attend anymore. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a special-needs VBS? I consulted my pastor. Immediately, his countenance brightened and he encouraged me to see this dream to fruition.
I am happy to report that it all came together well. We had a wonderful week learning Bible stories, singing songs, making crafts, coloring, snow cones, playing kick ball, watching puppet shows and eating very well! I am still amazed at how the community came together. Businesses helped us financially, and there were many churches across different denominations that contributed.
Many churches do not have enough special-needs students to host a VBS for their church, but if churches bond together they can create a special-needs VBS for their community. I dream of Vacation Bible Schools all across our state specifically for special-needs students. We can create a place where, as the family of God, we would not expect them to be mainstreamed. We would not just give them a “shadow” and think it’s OK. We would create a place, a schedule, a week tailored specifically for them.
In Luke 14:13-23, Jesus tells the parable of a man hosting a great banquet. His servant invited many people, but they all had excuses for not attending. Then the man exclaimed in verse 21, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
I think we followed Jesus’ heart this summer. One of the attendees exclaimed on the kickball field, “This is the best day of my life.”
— Shana Herndon is director of children’s ministries for Springvale Baptist Church in Lugoff. Photos by H. Gordon Humphries.