Dawson's Adult Special Education Ministry is a vibrant ministry that provides both spiritual and physical help to individuals with special physical or mental needs and their families.
By Angela Smith
I became involved with this ministry about a year ago and quickly grew to love and appreciate each class member for their unique gifts and talents. To me, the Adult Special Education group embodies Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Sunday mornings with this group are filled with hugs, singing, and Bible lessons. Each class member gently and faithfully plays an important role in the group: placing weekly Bible lesson materials in classroom chairs, leading the music, helping keep the area clean, listening, understanding, and helping other class members. Although I am a leader in the class, I often come away humbled and reminded of the pure joy and peace that Jesus offers.
The Coronavirus has upended life for everyone, including the ASE class members, who are already limited in their mobility and communication abilities. Throughout quarantine, the leadership team has continued to support the class members through phone calls and handwritten cards. However, with this group in particular, the most understood form of support and attention is physical interaction. And, unfortunately, that is the one thing we can’t do right now.
On Easter Day, I chatted with class member Michelle Banks who expressed an eager desire to get back to church. She misses singing, fellowshipping, and learning about Jesus. She told me that another class member, James Sasser, wanted to walk to Dawson on Easter even though he knew no one would be there. He said he just wanted to be in the church on Easter. My heart broke when I heard that because I realized it wasn’t the church building James was missing; it was the church. And the church, Christ’s living church, is vibrant and alive today and every day.
That conversation with Michelle stuck with me. The class members were missing church, and so were the leaders and class member caregivers. Inspired by the creative ways people have been supporting each other while appropriately distanced, I suggested the leaders organize a car caravan to visit the class members to provide encouragement and reconvene the church, if only for a few minutes.
What began as a small, divine stirring of an idea on Easter Sunday quickly blossomed into a fleshed-out plan for a car caravan the following weekend. The leaders sprang into action contacting class member caregivers. Ideas were tossed around for decorating cars and playing some of our favorite songs on the car stereo. Caravan routes were mapped and re-mapped (and re-mapped again) to make sure all class members and caregivers were visited and knew when to expect their visit.
We initially planned to do the caravan on Sunday so we could “be together” during our normal Sunday morning meeting time. However, we realized that many of the class members and caregivers enjoy participating in the telecast of the Sunday morning service, and some of the leaders join their Life Groups on Sunday mornings via Zoom. Also, the weather was forecasted to be gray and rainy all day that Sunday. We decided to move the caravan to Saturday morning, and the Lord gifted us with the most beautiful, sunny day full of excitement and anticipation.
That Saturday, the leaders met in the FRC parking lot, went over last minute details and visited at a distance. The leaders then formed a caravan and traveled through Southside, Homewood and Hoover visiting class members. Debbie Moss organized goody bags to give each class member, which were received with delight. The caravan arrived at each stop, playing “The Saints Go Marching In”, the unofficial class anthem, on the car stereo. The class loves singing this upbeat tune about joining the saints and marching into class ready to sing praises and learn about Jesus.
The visits with class members on their doorsteps, in their front yards, and in parking lots were the most soul-filling “church” I’ve experienced in a while. The visits uplifted the class members and leaders alike. The class members, many of whom can’t read and have limited social interactions, were thrilled to be visited and be the center of attention. Each visit was a special time of fellowship and sharing God’s love, though it was hard for the huggers in our group to stay distanced!
Like all of us, the class members are eager to get back to church to worship and learn about Jesus together. Unfortunately, many class members will not be able to return immediately, because they rely on the church bus for transportation, and the church will not be able to provide this service until social distancing protocols are relaxed.
In the meantime, the leaders are communicating with class members (and with their caregivers) through the phone app Marco Polo.
Marco Polo provides an easy-to-use medium for the leaders to create two-minute videos and send it to a single group of caregivers, so all caregivers receive the same video messages to share with class members. Leaders use Marco Polo to send videos of encouragement as well as videos sharing that week’s Bible lesson. Marco Polo is a great resource for leaders to stay connected with class members since class members can physically see the leaders and have a bit of the church experience everyone has been missing. While we can’t wait to be together again physically at Dawson, the Coronavirus has proven, once again, that the church is alive and well, and God is good at all times and in all circumstances.
Angela Smith is a longtime Dawson member, having grown up in the church. She works in economic development at the Alabama Department of Commerce, seeking to improve quality of life for all Alabamians. She has worked with the Adult Special Education Ministry since 2019 and is eager to see them all at church together again!