A VBS ReflectionOct 31, 2021
Dear Children’s Pastor,
I just want to thank you for trying. I am truly grateful. Please know that.
But I’m also deeply disappointed and sad in our experience this year And as I’ve spent most of the day reflecting upon the starkly different experiences with VBS between last year and this and even between the experiences of my two children in attendance this week, I can only come up with 1 piece of wisdom that hopefully will prevent this from happening again. Identify those kids who are really struggling (whatever their struggle may be) and work hard to build a relationship. It doesn’t matter what their disability is or if they have one. It doesn’t matter what their challenges are. At the end of the day, every child who walks through those doors (and any person for that matter) wants to be seen, valued and honored for who God has created them to be.
There’s not a person out there who doesn’t know when they aren’t welcome. We sense it; like when the Holy Spirit prompting. I’ve sensed the frustration of the staff with regards to my son off and all week when I’ve tried to engage with them. I’ve sensed it in my observations of how they interacted with him. I sensed it when we talked this morning when I came to pick him up (though I also suspect your were just busy). And kids are no different. They sense it, too. My son walked out the doors today believing that those older than him thought he was a liar.
Please don’t get my wrong, I understand. I empathize. My son challenges me in ways that will boggle your mind if you’re not walking this walk, too. Everything the VBS team experience this week I’ve experienced ten fold. I’m exhausted, too.
But here’s the thing: when you have a kiddo who struggles to connect; who gets along better with teenage girls who dote on him than his peers because they can match wits; who is so very excited to be at VBS he struggles to control his body, it’s very very hard for his Mom to drop him off.
Because she knows the challenge her kiddo faces. She knows how it will be perceived by most people. She knows the risk if trouble arises is he’ll be penalized by missing out on something. But she also knows she’s tired. She knows that she desperately needs a break to refresh herself to continue being her kid’s top cheerleader. She needs to trust that in an environment like VBS her child will see the hands of Christ at work helping him to grow in his Faith. She has to makes a tough decision: does she share her child’s challenges and try to prevent struggles from occurring or does she drop her child off with no mention and let the staff figure it out themselves (which they will) so she an have a moment of peace for herself.
I’ve always chosen to be open and try to partner with those that come along on our journey to help EVERYONE in our story have the best chance of succeeding. The reality though, as you learned this week when you discovered my son’s group was somehow stacked with higher needs, many parents choose the latter option.
I wish I could tell you this was the first time attending a church event has had a challenge. Sadly it’s not. We at one point attended a church with a program for disabilities for a few years and during a particularly tough season for my son the lead children’s pastor told me he should take a break from kid’s church because it was too tough for her staff. And I’m not alone in this type of experience. Statistically, believing families with a child who has special needs are incredibly disconnected for church communities. The stress of trying to navigate such a system is often so overwhelming they often choose not to attend at all.
Imagine, being a parent who desperately wants to be a part of a church community, to have her child welcomed as he/she is by those who love Jesus; to simply attend a church service without fear that they’ll be called out because her child needs to leave for the day. Imagine being concerned that only your child’s behaviors will be seen and not who God has created your child to be.
We are not alone in being that family. We were attending a very small church that has since disbanded for a number of reasons. My husband and I would love nothing more than to be connected to a church family again; to dive in and serve and give back. But we also know the risk of walking into a new set of doors. And we don’t have the luxury to being able to bounce around and try out different churches with our kiddos in tow. And so we haven’t been to church in weeks. We scour websites to find out more, searching for assurance that our whole family (good bad and otherwise) will be welcomed for who we are. We petition reviews from friends because we know that if we walk in and it goes well our inflexible black and white thinker of a kiddo will struggle with starting the process over again. The decision to move forward becomes as overwhelming as the action of actually getting out the door. And so we stay home. And it’s just not the same.
Building relationships with kiddos should be the primary goal of every volunteer at VBS. Those earlier relationships can be critical to help lead kids to Christ. I’m sure that you know this. Being willing to look past a kiddos challenges and see the kiddo is vital. Putting aside frustrations that come with managing a group or keeping a schedule and really truly help a kiddo to feel like they belong and are valued is so very important. Your daughter is a blessing and an excellent leader to intuitively know this. My heart melted when you shared that even a year later she had figured out how to look beyond my son’s needs to see him for who he was. It made all the difference last year. Building those relationships was the one thing that differed between my daughter’s experience this year and my son’s.
And so I implore you one more time, when you consider your VBS programming for next year, please make sure you arm your volunteers and staff with the idea of building a relationship with EVERY kid who crosses their path. I promise you that it will make a difference.
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