An eight-person mission team, sponsored in part by The Banquet Network, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), Colonial Baptist Church (CBC) in Reisterstown, Greater Grace World Outreach (GGWO), and Proyecto Samy (PS), a Latino special needs ministry in New York, traveled to the Dominican Republic on Feb. 9-11 to host the country’s first Tim Tebow Foundation (TTF) Night To Shine (NTS) prom for people with special needs. The team included Pastor Frank and Alisha Williams, from GGWO; Natoshia Brunson, from CBC; TBN Executive Director Katie Matthews and her 14-year-old daughter, Jade; and TBN’s Communications and Operations Manager Allie McCarty; PS Executive Director Johanna Santana, and PS Board Member Rocio Ruiz. In addition to helping with the prom, they met with Dominican Republic church leaders about special needs ministries.
Santanna, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, currently resides in New York with her husband, Pastor Abraham Santana, and their three sons. Johanna served as the NTS coordinator and oversaw the event at Iglesia de Convertidos (ICC) in the Dominican Republic, which received a grant from the TTF.
Matthews said that Johanna was a Godsend and handled all of the logistics, and served as a liaison for the group.
The mission team visited two schools for children with disabilities. Alisha said the staff at the first school in Santiago greeted the group warmly. “We gave NTS-registered parents large boxes full of gifts — Spanish Bibles, headphones, fidget toys, candies, arts and crafts, bubbles, crowns and tiaras, and other fun items (to be opened the evening of the virtual prom). We also donated beautiful gowns, dresses, a man’s suit, shoes, skirts, suspenders, and other clothing items to help make each honored guest ‘shine,’” she recounted. They made a second delivery to a school in the town of Mao. “The director gave us a tour of the building and grounds and explained the excellent programs they offer to engage and educate the students. We met an adorable little girl who tried on one of the skirts we brought for the NTS prom. The skirt fit her perfectly, and we watched as she danced around the courtyard joyfully, like a little princess wearing her tiara,” Alisha added.
On the third day of the trip, the team met a pastor, his wife, and a Sunday school teacher at a church in Santo Domingo. The church leaders were very excited to start a special needs ministry. They fervently prayed that God would help them minister effectively to their church and community members who have disabilities. Matthews said there would be an ongoing relationship with this church to train and equip them.
Alisha said, “Later that evening, we held the (virtual) prom at Iglesia de Convertidos. Our team enthusiastically prayed that the event would go well, and God abundantly answered our prayers. We had so much fun engaging our honored guests! We had a virtual red carpet, games, prayer, dancing, bubbles, and most importantly, the gospel message in Spanish and sign language.”
Matthews said 75 registered for the virtual prom, and 53 “showed up,” including 17 students from a school for the deaf. Participating families completed surveys with essential information and interests before the prom. Santanna, who emceed the event, used the information to call out each participant by name, share their interests and affirm them. Matthews was excited. “We’d all get out bubbles and blow them at the same time, eat a snack from the box together, or dance. And what was really cool was that at one point, Johanna asked everyone to take out their fidgets (donated by the BCM/D), and we saw a sea of red BCM/D fidgets on the screen! They (the online viewers) sat for an hour and a half and would have sat longer,” she said. The entire event was in Spanish. Knowing very little Spanish, Matthews laughed and said when Santana cheered, she and the other volunteers cheered. When she clapped, they clapped.
Matthews said when the event was over, the team couldn’t settle down. “We were exhausted but also on an emotional high,” she said. She looks forward to continued relationships with the churches in the Dominican Republic.
This story is adapted from an article by Alisha Williams.
Cover photo: photo submitted.