When my daughter Joanna was 12-years-old, she told me that she loved Jesus and she wanted to be baptized and join the church. This would be a time of great rejoicing for a Christian family—except that Joanna has a genetic developmental disability. We wondered if her thinking could be for real. We talked with our pastor who talked with Joanna. His conclusion was that Joanna did indeed understand, and her desire came from a heart touched by God’s love. When he baptized Joanna, he quoted Jesus, “Let the little children come to me, and forbid them not; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16
Joanna’s spiritual journey was nurtured by a church that believed even the “least of these” had gifts to share. The special needs class at the church grew. Today it has two classes of over a hundred people with special needs, their families, and caregivers who come with the class members. Many family members and caregivers have been introduced to Jesus’ love and to church life for the first time because of this ministry. These young adults with special needs–and special gifts—praise God and share their hope and joy in loving service in the congregation and with others who learn about their outreach.
Last summer, Joanna visited with us and decided she wanted to join Smoke Rise. I was surprised and found myself saying what our family had been told way back in 1993, “But Smoke Rise doesn’t have a class for people with special needs.” That summer day in 2016, Joanna looked at me with a smile and said, ”That’s o.k. We can start one.” This was not in my plan for retirement, but God and Joanna had other plans.
God smiled at me through Joanna’s eyes and said, “That’s o.k. We can start one.” And so, we have! The Good News Class meets every Sunday in Room 123. If you have been looking for a place of service, this might be the place for you. All you need is a loving heart—and maybe a twinkle in your eye. If you know of a family or an individual who doesn’t have a church home because they have a family member who “doesn’t fit in,” maybe you could tell them about the Good News Class for teens and young adults with special needs at Smoke Rise Baptist Church—where everyone is welcome.