Nephew Dustin Scott text me this today about Victor: My cousin is awesome. Don’t think he is sick. He sees the world different because he is autisitic. Don’t roll your eyes and say “That boy is dumb.” For where he falls is on this interesting spectrum. Connecting may be difficult, no matter what you try. But once it finally happens your tears will be from joy. Where is he hiding? Where is he at? Exploring his own cool world from the safety of his cowboy hat. If we could see through his eyes, the world would be a better place. No more gossip, hate and drama. It’s something all of us should embrace. Happiness costs nothing. He is full of love. There is so much he can teach us. Our gift from above.
By Sheila Allen
REDMOND, Ore. — Family members with special needs are often the center of love and affection in the home, but those needs can also be an isolating factor. A new ministry is emerging at Highland Baptist Church in Redmond, Ore., to make a difference for families.
A longtime advocate for those with special needs, Marci Campbell arrived in Redmond a year ago when her husband, Barry, accepted the role as senior pastor at Highland Baptist. Although the ministry is in the beginning stages, the church has already seen four people baptized from families who otherwise would not be able to attend otherwise.
“I have always been drawn to special needs,” Campbell said. “It began in high school when I tutored kids with dyslexia. My dad was a pastor, but in church I sat in the deaf kids section. Then I went to college with a goal of teaching in special education, but then realized I wanted to work with families, so it turned toward social work. I began to work with high risk infants in intervention and then followed up with services to the family.”
Campbell began her own family after she and Barry married, with her son born prematurely and a special needs diagnosis of his own to come. Campbell began to work at LifeWay Christian Resources as a special needs consultant, leading conferences and helping raise awareness among churches for the opportunities available to churches to meet practical needs. She also worked for several years in the Tennessee Baptist Convention assisting churches and individuals.
“I have helped churches in beginning a special needs ministry,” Campbell said. “In my own home church in Tennessee, we had 30 people in our special needs classes, including children, teens and adults. These were families that opted to have a member in specialized classes, while some chose to remain in regular classes. To see someone in Bible study with the lesson pointed to their needs and learning style, it is just amazing.”
Often, families stay home because churches do not offer the care that allows them to enjoy Bible study and worship for the whole family. The Census Bureau, using data from the American Community Survey (ACS), shows more than 16 percent of the population over five years old in Oregon and Washington as identified with special needs, and Idaho at 15.7 percent.
“It is awesome and an absolute thrill to witness Victor get so excited to go to his Bible class — he ran up the church stairs belly laughing and had the same level of excitement when I picked him up,” said Suzy Combs of her 15-year-old son who is diagnosed with Autism. “He is not very verbal and to watch him be so filled with joy when entering the church, I wanted to be in his head and experience what is going through him.”
Things are beginning slowly at Highland, with two permanent teachers in special needs classes and a rotation of helpers giving assistance. Another new opportunity has begun with a connection to a local Special Olympics team.
“We met some folks from the Oregon High Desert Special Olympics adult team, who are called the Mountain Lions,” Campbell said. “In January, they started using the gym here at Highland for practice two times per week. This has given us new opportunities to tell folks about our classes at the church and one mother I told was so excited to be able to come to church.”
Plans are in the works for a one day Vacation Bible School geared specifically for those with special needs this summer. While Campbell has found that word-of-mouth publicity is best, they will also use printed material and other methods to highlight the event in the community, with a main objective to get word to those families who couldn’t go to church any other way.
Campbell has found they are able to minister to people with a variety of special needs at the same time and could include those with Downs syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or learning disabilities.
“It is a real joy to be involved in the special needs ministry at HBC,” said Debi Imig, a lead teacher of the class. “During our singing time, the learners worship with such freedom — laughing, playing instruments and dancing — without any obstacles in the way. Each week I feel like I receive more than I give and it’s a blessing to be able to share God’s love with them.”
“Highland Baptist Church has a desire to reach everyone for Christ,” Campbell said. “Millions of Americans are unable to attend church because there is no place for their child or family member with special education needs. We began our special needs ministry to provide an option for families. Our goal is to adapt for individual needs and present Jesus at the closest level possible of their understanding in a Bible study designed intentionally for them.”
The Campbell family has been extremely pleased to find many services and helps in central Oregon for people to become as independent as possible, such as parks and recreation therapeutic courses and fitness and theater classes that are fun and adapted to meet the needs of those attending.
“People seem to be open to those that need a different way of operating here,” Campbell said. “Often it is just the fear of the unknown that keeps us from helping people. It has been a delight to come here and our teachers are wonderful. While we are just in the beginning stages, we will probably need to offer more classes after our Vacation Bible School this summer.”
Those who wish more information regarding meeting the needs of families with special needs members may email Marci Campbell at email@example.com.
The Mountain Lions, an adult Special Olympics team in Redmond, Ore., gave the above photo in appreciation to Highland Baptist Church for allowing the team to use their gymnasium for practice during their season. This has given the church another opportunity to minister to those with special needs.
Students learn at their own level in a special needs class at Highland Baptist Church in Redmond, Ore. The ministry has allowed families to attend church who otherwise would not be able to come. From left are Tiffany, Marci Campbell, Victor and teacher Debbie Imig.