By Tom Stolle
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending the Delmarva Night to Shine celebration, a prom for individuals ages 14 and up, organized by Grace Seaford Church and held in Bridgeville, Del. It was an amazing experience!
It was wonderful to see approximately 65 very special guests, 150 volunteers and numerous
parents, family members and caregivers of the guests celebrate together. It was a night just for them.
As the guests celebrated, I saw some family members laughing, some crying tears of joy and heard numerous expressions of thanks from the loved ones of the guests for making this special
evening available. The smiles were precious and abundant. For the smiles to be a part of an event that exalts the name of Jesus was even better.For the special guests and their loved ones to hear that God loves them and He has a purpose for their lives is priceless.
I believe in Night to Shine. I believe in what it represents. I served on the organizing board of the Grace Seaford Church Delmarva Night to Shine, assisting with its planning, promotion, and production. I will continue to encourage churches to participate in this ministry. I will assist churches that desire to get started. God uses Night to Shine to touch hearts and change lives. I praise God more churches get involved every year.
However, my heart grieves for many very special individuals and families that cannot participate in a Night to Shine. Please allow me to explain. Not all individuals that are affected by certain intellectual and/or developmental disabilities can handle attending a prom. For some individuals, the crowd of unfamiliar people and the loud music played for the enjoyment of guests dancing creates an environment that some affected by a disability would not find enjoyable or celebratory.
I began to think: What would a “Night to Shine” (not in the Tim Tebow Foundation sense of the phrase) look like for my son or individuals like him? How can these individuals experience the feeling of love and expressions of value from their community? Surely the God of the universe has created all of us with a purpose and wants us all to feel respected and valued.
I think the answer is found in the principle of loving people ‘where they are at.’ Imagine how followers of Jesus could make a profound Kingdom impact simply by practicing what is written in Philippians 2 (NLT). Verse 1 records, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?” Verses 3 and 4 state, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
For those in your life (God has placed them there for His purposes), are you willing to go to them to provide a word of encouragement? Are you willing to tell them that you love them? When things get difficult or perhaps behaviors become challenging, are you willing to look past those challenges and express the love for them that God gives to you? Are you willing to, as scripture says, think of them ‘as better than’ yourself?
The journey of disability can be a lonely road. Families face challenges that most individuals don’t understand. They can be faced with choices that no parent should have to make. Because of the severe challenges, many of these families due to the crisis must turn their attention to an immediate crisis, which in many cases can go on for years. Sadly, relationships outside of the immediate family can suffer and die as these families must devote enormous attention to internal challenges at the unfortunate expense of external relationships.
Perhaps for these individuals that you meet in your neighborhood, your community or in your church, you can give them their moment. If you love them, listen to them, encourage them, help them, be available to them and ask God to reveal to you how you can better serve them. You can make a difference in their lives.
This type of personal ministry is crucial. Perhaps some individuals that you encounter that have severe challenges may not be able to attend a Night to Shine. However, your love and service to those very special people Bymay allow them, just for a moment, to shine. It may not be public, it may not be celebrated, but the God of the universe sees. The family will love you back for it.
Perhaps for some, that’s what their personal ‘night to shine’ may look like.
Tom Stolle serves as BCM/D Associate Executive Director