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Your Youth Ministry is Full of Special Needs

This summer I got so tired of hearing and seeing the results of sin at our summer camp that I wanted to quit everything. One night I actually cried myself to sleep from a combination of tiredness and my hatred for sin. I was so saddened to hear the stories of date rape, abuse, drugs, sex, cutting oneself, suicide attempts, and unbelievable anger.

Fortunately, God was gracious and used some students with special needs to change my attitude, my perspective and my life. One boy in particular was Chris. You’ve got to see Chris’ smile.

The highlight of my week at camp was hanging out with the students from our group who had special needs. I hate to tell you this, but I didn’t really want them to go to this camp. The volunteer youth worker from our church who championed the idea of bringing students with special needs had to back out at the last minute. I was ticked. I thought, “Oh great, how are we going to do this?” I didn’t know how to care for these students. Plus, I didn’t want to change their clothes, help them go to the bathroom, or shower them. I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought the spots they were taking for camp could be filled with other students from our waiting list. Students who didn’t have special needs and wouldn’t be high maintenance. I know…that’s bad…that’s why I was embarrassed to admit it.

Was I ever wrong!

These few students with special needs impacted everyone at camp. Their smiles. Their unique way of communicating. Their appreciation for the little things. Not only did I fall in love with them, but our students were drawn to them and cared for them in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of. Some of our tough, arrogant kids from wealthy Orange County were pushing wheelchairs, wiping mouths, holding hands, helping them climb walls, and feeding these saints with special needs. It was quite the sight.

Saddleback students and volunteers help Chris climb a wall.

It seems as though when I go through my occasional bouts of doubt that God allows me to experience something sacred. These students with special needs were part of God’s plan to shape and change me. Really, it was kids in wheelchairs who God used to refresh my weary heart. When I could no longer stand hearing about the sins of my students and the sins against them, God rolled a kid into my heart that giggled when I touched him, who laughed when I playfully grabbed his hair, who would do anything to be with me, and who smiled every time a camera was around. I needed this…God is so good.

I’ve only been back from camp for a week and I’ve yet to really unpack all my feelings…but the strong, reoccurring impression that I have from God is that he wants me to realize that every one of my students has special needs. Some special needs are spiritual, some are emotional, some are based in families, some special needs are a direct result of the evil one, and some special needs are physical…like Chris’.

While I’m not sure what that all means, I am sure that God loves me and wanted me to be stretched and learn something new about His Church, His love, and my limited understanding of what’s really important. When I learn something I usually pass it on to you. I write this newsletter with the prayer that God’s Spirit will do something in your heart that reminds you…

  • that you’re loved
  • you’re doing great things as a youth worker
  • your youth ministry is a place where special needs are met

In spite of this messed up world you are providing a place where smiles can be seen. Thanks for trusting God and allowing him to use you.  

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