Posted on : Monday June 1, 2009

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

GLEN BURNIE, Md.—Casey Kellum is a 25-year-old young woman suffering from Batten Disease. She is blind, developmentally disabled, eats through a feeding tube and is confined to a wheelchair. She attends North Arundel Church (NAC) in Glen Burnie where she gets excited when people talk about Jesus.

“She will say ‘God, God, God’ and ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,’ and her face lights up,” Terri Kellum, Casey’s mom says.

There’s a special class for Casey at North Arundel and a ministry for her and others with special needs. In fact, Terri Kellum founded the church’s now flourishing special needs ministry.

“It’s been hard for Casey and for me as a caregiver,” Terri Kellum confessed. In addition to the physical and emotional everyday stress of lovingly tending to her special needs daughter, Terri had to take care of her now adult son, Corey, keep up with normal housekeeping, work to support herself as a single divorced mom and plow through a medical maze.

Two years ago Terri attended a special needs event at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, and was intrigued when she met representatives at a booth for “Buddy Break,” a program offered through Nathaniel’s Hope, a non-profit organization based in Florida founded by Tim and Marie Kuck. After the Kuck’s special needs child, Nathaniel, died when he was four-years-old, the couple turned their grief into an outreach to help other kids and their families as they dealt with their unique life challenges.

The Buddy Break program pairs volunteers with special needs children and young adults and their families. The “buddies” befriend the families and offer respite care at the church, staying with the special needs person for about three hours so caregivers can get a much-needed break.

Kellum felt God leading her to start a special needs ministry and approached James Pope, pastor of NAC, to share her vision. With Pope’s encouragement and the church sponsoring her, she went to Florida where she met the Kucks and learned more about Nathaniel’s Hope. She returned to NAC with a passion to launch such a ministry in Glen Burnie. Representatives from Nathaniel’s Hope came to Glen Burnie to train the first group of volunteers. Currently 20 volunteers work with the ministry.

Now, in addition to the Buddy Break program, the church has a special needs Sunday school class. In May, they hosted a special needs fair.

Kim Gayleard, Kellum’s co-leader, teaches the Sunday morning special needs class and helps with all other areas of the ministry.

Gayleard has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair, but she’s quick to tell you she is not disabled. She’s a full-time mom who homeschools her three children ages 16, 15 and 5.

“When I think of disabled, I think of a broken down car. God didn’t create me to be broken. God knows every hair on my head. He knew how we were going to be born and what we would look like. Putting a label on is like taking away from what God meant for your life,” Gayleard said.

Gayleard and Kellum agree that NAC is a perfect place to offer the disability ministry.

“It’s the first church I’ve ever been in where I felt fully accepted,” Gayleard said.

Gayleard teaches Casey each week and is inspired by the young woman and her mother.

“Casey is wonderful. She’s not very verbal, but we’ll talk about the Bible and she brightens right up. It’s so awesome.”

“You wonder where your place is spiritually, where God wants you to be,” Kellum said. “You know that song ‘Bring the Rain’ by Mercy Me? That song is me completely. A lot of people could have a child like I have and curse the Lord. Some people say, ‘God, why did you make me like this?’ I look at it in the opposite way. God gave me a gift and that gift is my daughter. Through her I’ve grown spiritually and mentally. My family has also grown and she has reached so many others. She’s not a burden. She’s done so much to uplift people.

“God is our strength and we thank Him every night.”