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A Special Love for Special Needs


A Special Love for Special Needs

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It began a year ago with a compassionate outreach from an Alabama congregation to an autistic child, and desire to make his and other special needs families' Christmas memorable. The gift: a tailor-made production of popular community holiday music and drama program at Lake City Assembly of God.

Lake City AG’s Christmas production had been going on 15 years before Gary Craft, pastor of the church in Guntersville, reassessed the intended audience last year.

“It was pretty much just church people coming to watch it,” Craft says. “We were looking for ways to reach out, to give to people, who, on the surface at least, didn't seem able to give back.”

Those such as an autistic boy and his family who had been a part of the congregation of 220 for nearly 30 years. Before Christmas 2014, the church put on a special night of dinner theater, complete with a full course meal, costumed Nativity actors, traditional carols, gifts, a brief devotional, and prayer.

“Our people felt more gratified doing this for more of a purpose than just entertaining,” Craft says. “So, we decided to do it again this year.”

The 2015 program, on two nights in the second week of December, served about 70 special needs people and their families each performance. Invitations went out throughout the community this time around.

It is a major investment of time, talent, and resources for the church, with 100 of its members – nearly half the congregation – involved in music, props, costumes, cooking, serving, and site preparation for the productions.

But that was to be just the beginning of Lake City Assembly's outreach to the special needs community, Craft and other leaders in the congregation decided.

By the end of January, the church will be offering a regular weekly special needs worship service.

“We decided that a onetime Christmas thing, and then nowhere to go after that, wasn't enough,” Craft explains. “We really feel God has set us up to serve these folks, who many times don't feel welcome, appreciated, or safe in a church setting.”

The church has reached out to area group homes, charities, and organizations serving those with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities, and expects to initially bring in 20, and eventually three times that many special needs visitors.

“We believe this pleases the heart of God,” Craft says. “We're giving to people who can't give back in any tangible way, and there is a blessing in this sort of ministry that really cannot be measured.”

Lake City Assembly's vision is one that Charles Chivers, executive director for the AG's Special Touch Ministries, would like to see repeated throughout the Fellowship's nearly 13,000 U.S. churches.

“Disability touches roughly 10 to 12 percent of society, leaving nearly 90 percent who think of disability as someone else's world,” Chivers says. “When disability doesn't touch your family, it's easy for that world to be marginalized, to be out of sight, out of mind.”           

Special Touch Ministries seeks to encourage churches, such as Lake City AG, not to look at people with disabilities as needing to be “fixed.” The ministry holds “Summer Getaway” disability camping vacations in 10 AG districts.

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