Special Needs Serve is tiring, emotional, and frustrating at times, and yet it is the highlight of my year!
I am amazed at all of the things that God has taught me. Over the last five years I have grown in my understanding of my own faith, my relationship with God and others, have experienced God in surprising places and have had a lot of fun in the process. (Never underestimate the fun factor!)
I work to orchestrate a Special Needs Serve that incorporates special planning and support in addition to the typical Serve template.
Youth mentors are important in the model that we use. Mentors are typical youth (not sure that’s EVER possible) who give of themselves to be the immediate supports needed to accommodate the many different needs of the students who come for this mission experience. Each youth with a disability is paired with a peer mentor who participates in Serve alongside them and lends support where necessary. Seeing the growth that happens among the mentors is amazing. They are challenged to learn how to do something with someone as opposed to for someone. It is a week where they trade selfishness for selflessness. They learn about authentic relationship—relationships that are mutual. The week begins with terms like ‘mentor’ and ‘participant.’ The week ends with terms like ‘friend’ and ‘buddy,’ communicating clear similarities—all equal and created for service.
Special Needs Serve flips our picture of disability, forcing us to see how everyone, regardless of ability, is created with gifts that contribute to building the body of Christ. It amazes me how many youth with disabilities do not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a youth summer mission trip experience. I love the joy that the participants share when they are challenged to live out their faith—to be the hands and feet of Christ.
Amy has been a participant at Serve many times. As leaders, we have seen her grow in many ways, but watching her learn to articulate a clear faith is by far the most rewarding. “I like Serve because it gives me a chance to give back to God, meeting new people and learning more about God. . . . It gives me a chance to grow spiritually and as a person. . . . Each year I renew my faith in God, and I come home with a new message, which I pass along to others.”
Special Needs Serve helps us as leaders grow in our ability to be vulnerable. We learn to worship without abandon—to be who we are, to be free and to express our faith in many ways.
It also becomes a way to give testimony to the way in which God calls us all to live in community and in Serve-ice to him.