Posted on : Friday February 16, 2018

Matthew, an honored guest at this year’s Night to Shine at Emmanuel Baptist Church, couldn’t wait to receive his crown as King of the Prom. Beforehand, he received a trophy for participating in the karaoke time.

By Sharon Mager and Shannon Baker

When Matthew heard it was time to start the crowning ceremony, he released a very loud—and prolonged—squeal, revealing his over-the-top excitement. He soon would become “King of the Prom.”

Upon his arrival to this year’s special Night to Shine event at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Huntingtown, Matthew had told organizer Christine Robertson, “The clock has been ticking all day, and I can’t wait to receive my crown!”

In his 40s or early 50s, Matthew clearly looked forward to when his Buddy, a volunteer who would accompany him and ensure he was enjoying all the night’s festivities, would place the crown upon his head.

In fact, all the honored guests who attended the fourth annual Night to Shine would become kings and queens. And yet, “everyone felt they were the only king and queen!” shared Lyndee Waldbauer, who also helped organize Emmanuel Baptist Church’s special night.

“They were so visibly excited. I can’t stop thinking about them!” she said.

An honored guest at Cresthill Baptist Church excitedly receives his crown as King of the Prom during the Feb. 9 Night to Shine prom, especially designed for people with special needs.

Aptly named, Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. Now in its fourth year, the prom was founded by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and the Tim Tebow Foundation.

This year on Feb. 9, 537 churches from around the world came together to host Night to Shine for approximately 90,000 honored guests through the support of 175,000 volunteers. Included were four churches with support from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware: Cresthill Baptist Church, Bowie, and Faith Baptist Church, Glen Burnie, who hosted events last year; and Emmanuel Baptist Church, Huntingtown, and First Baptist Church of Waldorf, who hosted the event for the first time this year. Many other churches and community partners assisted in the highly attended events.

Wearing a beautiful red sequined gown, Lisa Colmus, admissions and development coordinator for Riverdale Baptist School in Largo, Md. and a realtor with Re/Max One, served as a red-carpet greeter at Emmanuel Baptist Church, welcoming the nearly 100 honored guests as they arrived by limousine. As each guest got out of the limo, she announced or let them share their names to the cheering “paparazzi” crowd of volunteers and family members awaiting their arrival. She also asked the guests questions about their experiences.

“Their responses blew me away,” Colmus said, sharing many grabbed the mic exuberantly introducing themselves. One man even plugged his business. “Their humor astounded me!”

One woman, bright-eyed and amazed, told Colmus, “This is my first limo ride, and this is my first prom.”

Throughout the night, Colmus’ husband Roland also volunteered, serving as a Buddy for a woman named Jackie. Later, when Jackie heard her name called during the crowning ceremony, she asked Roland incredulously, “Are they talking about me?”

Colmus shared, “It showed me how each and every person with special needs felt so special. Being a queen and king was so personal to them.”

First Baptist Church of Waldorf’s entry experience also was very special. After receiving the “royal treatment” (shoe shining, make-up and hair styling) at the nearby Waldorf School, their guests were transported, many by limousine, to their prom at the Greater Waldorf Jaycees community building. The Jaycees provided the space free of charge for the honored guests, many of whom were affiliated with The Arc of Southern Maryland, which serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the Spring Dell Center in La Plata, which assists individuals with disabilities in achieving independence.

The honored guests at First Baptist Church of Waldorf’s Night to Shine were greeted by an Air Force Honor Guard processional ceremony, which provided a military sword arch entrance into the night’s prom.

In addition to the red-carpet welcome, guests were treated to an Air Force Honor Guard processional ceremony, providing a military sword arch entrance into the night’s prom space, decorated by Serendipity Bridal & Events. Throughout the night, the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, who otherwise serve as the official fanfare ensemble for the President of the United States, performed for key announcements and the crowning ceremony.

Jon Kempson, worship leader at FBC, Waldorf, who coordinated the event, said he was in awe of how much the prom meant to the nearly 200 guests, who ranged from age 14 to 74.

“Many of these guests, especially the older ones, never got to experience a school dance before,” he said.

He was particularly touched when the guest of his wife, Monica stood out of her wheelchair, walked the red carpet and then danced the night away. This was especially poignant because the guest’s mother was concerned about her brittle bones.

But even more exciting, said Kempson, was seeing the effort go beyond the night. People who attended appeared in church the following Sunday morning, opening the opportunity for them to make decisions to follow Christ.

Rick Hancock, associate pastor at Emmanuel, was enthusiastic about the care being given to parents and caregivers by his church as well as Bayside Baptist Church, Chesapeake Beach. Like the other churches, Emmanuel had a dedicated, decorated space for “these individuals who pour out so much day in and day out,” Hancock said. At Emmanuel, in addition to live streaming where they could watch their loved ones on the big screen, caregivers were treated to massages and other care.

In Bowie, Cresthill Baptist Church’s worship center is under renovation, so they used a large white decorative tent for their ballroom – giving the area a cozy, whimsical feel. As guests danced with abandon, a balloon drop near the end of the evening added to the excitement. One young man in a wheel chair repeatedly squealed with delight as the balloons gently dropped. Others batted them back and forth while they laughed and danced.

Church Member Susan Black, who co-coordinated the event with Margot Painter, wife of Cresthill Church’s Pastor Jimmy Painter, said one highlight many took note of was the when guests and buddies worshipped, lifting their hands during the song, “King of My Heart.”

Guests travelled from Mt. Airy and Montgomery County, Black said. One family was said to have travelled from Ohio.

“It was really nice to partner with Center Point Church (Annapolis). They sent quite few volunteers,” Black said. She said she was also thankful for the many business partners who either donated supplies and services or gave them discounted rates. The Bowie Baysox mascot, “Louie,” was also on hand to pal around with guests.

Parents beamed as they watched their children have fun through the night, all of them sharing that the evening was “fabulous,” and “wonderful.” Cresthill Baptist Church Member Billy Mask said his favorite part of the night was “…seeing my son enjoy himself! I was his Buddy,” Mask said. Though 24-year-old Tevin is non-verbal, Billy said he knows his son was thrilled to be around people with similar special needs. Billy and his wife, Tina, moved from Louisville, Ky. “It’s hard finding families like us.”

Marcella Massa volunteered last year and was surprised and happy to see so many guests return. Some even remembered James, her guest from 2017.

“Last year he was sharing with me his dream and goals. He wanted to get into college and get a job. We prayed that night, and I told him that God had a plan to give him a future and hope. This year he came to me during the event all excited and said, ‘Marcellaaaaaa, I’m in college!’ He even remembered that I was from Brazil. It was great and unforgettable. He’s got an interview at Wegmans…and I’m praying that he will get this job.”

Pastor Jimmy Painter prayed over the crowd, “…May everyone in this room and on this campus tonight know that they are loved by God, that they are unique and special to him, that he has great plans for their lives, plans to bless them, plans to prosper them, plans to take them places they can only dream about.”

At Faith Baptist Church in Glen Burnie, attendance rose over 50 percent from last year, with 115 guests and over 230 volunteers. The church was jammed to capacity with guests, buddies, volunteers and sheer joy. Guests were ecstatic as they were pampered and loved. Volunteers calmly kept the evening running orderly from the limousine rides, the red-carpet arrival, a chocolate fountain, bowling games, makeup stands, shoe shining, dinner and dancing.

This year, leaders decided to crown prom kings and queens every fifteen minutes. Guests anxiously waited for their names to be called and some literally ran to the stage, smiling from ear to ear as they were crowned.

Coordinator Deanna Lechowicz said she received an email from one of the buddies who started out the evening a bit unsure.. He became the Buddy for a “…beautiful woman named Madelyn…and she made my night to go from nervousness to awesome. The funny thing is that I wasn’t even supposed to be her Buddy… (A)s I was walking the hall near the lobby the Pastor asked if they could go and grab a male volunteer I stepped up and said I’ll take her hand. Then I asked her if I could be her date for the evening, and she said yes. As we were waiting for her to pick a corsage she had a camera in her hand and I asked if I could hold it for her…The funny thing is, when I looked at the camera there was a sticker of Spider-Man on it and right there I knew it was a sign that we were meant to be Buddies. I grew up watching the original cartoon of Spider-Man and have him tattooed on my leg. From…(what) started off for me to be a very nervous night turned into a fantastic evening and one I’ll never forget. She touched my heart and left an impression on me… I can’t wait for next year and hopefully (I’ll) see her there again. I hope she had a great time because I know I did. Our God does amazing things with everyone and she is one of His amazing creations.”

Lechowicz said the evening was quite a success. “I had one person who was Methodist, say, ‘I want to be Baptist now.’ That was so good!”

“I believe what 537 churches did around the world on this amazing night truly was good! They spoke loudly,” agreed Tom Stolle, BCM/D’s CFO/COO, who said he was “blessed to be a part of an evening filled with love.”

He shared, “There is just something about this event, the very special guests being served, respected, and celebrated. To see so many volunteers being the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ was incredible. As a church, I pray that we continue to reach out, continue to love and continue to serve. I believe what we do speaks much more loudly than what we say.”

The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, in partnership with the Banquet Network, will host its third annual special needs conference, “Indispensable: Equipping the Body of Christ to Engage Disability,” on April 28 at Freedom Church, 5310 Hazelwood Avenue, Baltimore. Learn more at