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First Baptist Church hosts special needs VBS

Andrea Williamson

Hartselle Enquirer

On June 8-12, ten adults enthusiastically participated in Bible stories, snacks, music crafts and games at the First Baptist Church of Hartselle’s third annual Special Friends Bible School.

While First Baptist’s Bible school for children was held every morning, the special needs adults attended every evening from 5:30-7 p.m. The students studied the life of Daniel and learned about trusting God through every situation in life. According to Special Friends Leader Leslie Etheredge, the Lifeway curriculum that they used has the same theme and stories as the children’s Bible school curriculum, but it is modified specifically for special needs adults. Since theme is the same, they are able to use the same rooms and decorations for both Bible schools.

Although the Special Friends Bible school was smaller than the children’s Bible school, there was no shortage of excitement amongst the participants.

“They are so excited to come,” Etheredge said. “We have people arrive almost an hour early every day because they are just so thrilled to be here.”

The enthusiasm was not limited to those attending the Bible school, though. Thirteen volunteers worked during the week, and they also enjoyed the time there. Volunteer Christina Holmes, who attends Auburn University, said that her decision to help was about the people.

“I was a Tiger Buddy in high school, and I am part of Best Buddies at Auburn,” Holmes said. “I wanted to be able to see some of the kids from high school, and I love working with people who have special needs.”

Auburn University student Taylor Sivley, who co-led the music at Bible school, shared Holmes enthusiasm.

“It is just great to see how excited they are,” Sivley said. “In contrast to some of the fourth and fifth-grade kids who don’t always want to participate in the music, they are very enthusiastic.”

While the Bible school was enjoyable for everyone involved, its purpose was for more than just fun. Etheredge, who has attended First Baptist for four years, said that these types of opportunities are a ministry to special needs adults and their families. As the parent of a 20-year-old son with special needs, Etheredge said that this Bible school and other similar activities can help to fill the social barrier that special needs families often face.

“I’ve learned that the biggest challenge for people with special needs and their families is not medical, educational or developmental: it’s social,” Etheredge said. “Special needs can be very isolating. While other kids make friends at sports or dance, our children don’t participate in those activities. When other students head off to college, parents of special needs students still have an adult child living at home. This is an opportunity to show them that they are loved and give them a social opportunity.”

As well as ministering to adults with special needs, Etheredge said this is also a chance to encourage their families and teach them to look to God for help.

“When children are born with special needs or an accident occurs, the first thing parents do is ask ‘Why God?’,” Etheredge said. “At that point, they will either turn away from God or toward God, and we want to encourage them to look to God. We want them to know that God loves them, and he is in this. This is not outside his control, and he will walk with them through the challenges.”

Etheredge helped form the Special Friends Sunday school class four years ago. The teacher who originally led the class started her own special needs ministry at Central Baptist in Decatur, so Etheredge now leads the class. She said they have three church members who attend the class. These three members attended the Bible school, along with seven other special needs adults. Etheredge said that they hope to expand the Bible school every year, but it is hard to get enough volunteers.

“I would love to see us build upon this and have more people attend,” she said. “The more people who come, the better social opportunity that we can provide for everyone who attends.”