I have an older sister, Hannah, who has autism and OCD. Growing up with her was tough, to simply say. She developed obsessions over certain objects such as plastic cups and spoons, and if we didn’t give her what she wanted, she would yell and throw tantrums. Because of this, we couldn’t do things that average families could do. We couldn’t go out to eat or go on vacations for extended periods of time.
For the entirety of us growing up, we led separate lives. Hannah was enrolled at Camelot Therapeutic Day School, I was homeschooled. Our parents took care of her, then afterward they took care of me. She spent a lot of time with her therapists, I spent a lot of time alone in my room. Therefore, I was never truly immersed in a special needs environment.
I was 9 and Hannah was 11 when we found out that Willow Creek had their own ministry for people with special needs. Our previous church didn’t have that. That was when we started coming to Willow Creek. Hannah attended Special Friends and I went to Promiseland. Recently, Special Friends moved to a newly renovated space, which Hannah loves.
When I turned 15, I started searching for ways I could volunteer at Willow. I wanted something that could incorporate my love for kids and my artistic and musical talents. I felt God calling me to volunteer at the kids’ room in Special Friends.
Here are four reasons I serve at Special Friends with a passion:
First, I could finally experience an environment specifically designed to cater to different disabilities. Special Friends is a safe and loving space where there is no judgment and everyone is treated equally. As a volunteer, I feel respected and I know that I am loved and cared for by both the staff and the kids.
Second, I love spending time with children and getting to know each and every one of them. I’ve been able to see how wonderful and unique God has created all of us.
Third, it makes my heart joyful to see the kids’ faces light up as they worship God in their own unique ways. Worship isn’t just singing; it’s clapping along, making up new dance moves, or even just sitting quietly and enjoying God’s presence.
Finally, I had written my own worship songs and I was given the opportunity to teach them to the kids. I was overjoyed to be able to use my artistic and musical talents as a way to engage kids in worship and to glorify God!
Thanks to the Special Friends ministry, I have been able to make sense of Hannah’s disabilities and have a better attitude towards the challenges of living with her. Now, I have a broader perspective of the special needs spectrum and I am more able to understand and love children with varying abilities.
Willow Creek's Special Friends ministry will perform a musical production of Mary Poppins Jr. this weekend, July 21/22 as part of weekend services.