CEDAR HILL—The 2014 Special Friends Retreat, hosted by Texas Baptists' Preschool and Children's Ministries, brought lots of smiles and laughter along with the opportunity for participants to share their talents on-stage.
The retreat for the mentally challenged of ages 12 and older took place at two locations - one in Floydada on Sept. 12-13, with about 90 campers, and another in Cedar Hill on Oct. 3-4, with 350 campers.
Participants made crafts, learned about parts of the world in Bible studies, performed their talents in a talent show and engaged in worship and music.
In Cedar Hill, at Mount Lebanon Baptist Encampment, on-stage acts at the talent show included several group performances of "Jesus Loves Me," a solo interpretive dance, a sock puppet routine and more talented showings, which proved that all the campers had one simple desire: to have fun.
Tammy Wooten, from First Baptist Church in Dallas, said she enjoyed the chance to participate in the talent show and in the Bible studies.
"I liked learning about different parts of the world, especially India," she said.
While campers followed their agendas, chaperons looking to start or strengthen an adults special needs ministry at their churches attended sessions led by Donna McCrary, missionary to adults with special needs at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Oak Cliff.
"The church has all the necessary resources and people to reach this population," McCrary told the leaders.
Churches have people who know friends or family members with special needs, teachers to teach them, caregivers to care for them and a body of believers to love them, she said.
"What kind of barriers do we need to get past so these folks can feel included?" McCrary challenged the leaders to question themselves. From making architectural changes and offering listening devices to catering Sunday school lessons to their mental capacity, she said churches should do what they can to ensure all its members feel welcome.
Parents of special needs campers had the opportunity to participate in discussions led by Diane Lane, childhood specialist for Texas Baptists.
"This is a time that we listen and support our parents," Lane said. "Many times their friends do not understand what it's like to have a special needs child. The parent's support group knows how to listen to one another."
The campers heard the Gospel and displayed their God-given talents over the two retreat weekends with smiles on their faces and laughter in their hearts.
"It only takes one year to get hooked on this special weekend," Lane said. "The atmosphere is both full of love and appreciation for our campers. This is the weekend that sponsors and Bible Study leaders minister and love our campers. It is a great time of giving."
For more information and resources on ministering to special needs individuals in your church, contact Diane Lane at diane.lane [at] texasbaptists.org.