Our Ministry Spotlight this week shines brightly on Bonnie Lyn Smith, who runs a Focus group at her Boston-area church for parents of children with special needs – including those with special education needs, mental health concerns, and physical disabilities.
Bonnie’s Focus group is, as she says, a “work in process,” but it is one that is clearly changing lives. Bonnie was thrust headlong into the world of special needs when her youngest son was three years old. Through many years, doctors, tests, and appointments, her son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, mood disorders, and other hidden disabilities.
Bonnie says, “As a Christian family, we found it difficult to find a church home that would provide the extra support we needed to participate in worship. Our value was to worship together and find ways to communicate love and God’s truth to our own children and to the others we had been meeting through community-based support groups. We searched and found a church whose leadership was proactive in meeting the needs of families like my own.”
Bonnie and her husband began teaching Sunday School and quickly noticed a need – an increasing number of parents who had children with various disabilities were visiting and then staying in the church. “As a church body, we were clearly doing something to create an environment of compassion because these families would stay! A few of them had run through several churches before they came to us, having had negative, hurtful experiences and feeling great shame and embarrassment about how their children were handled. Some had to stay with their children almost every week in those churches because nobody was equipped to manage children with disabilities. Church became another place where they could not count on rest, relief, or spiritual nourishment; they felt they needed to be their child’s aide during the Sunday School hour because nobody else was doing it.”
Bonnie began to see the need for a support group for these families, but it took many months for it to come to fruition. Last September, the Focus group met for the first time under the name ‘Supporting Parents with Special Needs Children – a networking and support group for parents of students with educational needs, physical disabilities, and/or mental health challenges.’ The group meets every month and even has visibility on the church’s website.
Even though the group is still in its infancy, they have seen its fruits already in the healing that parents feel when they come alongside those just beginning the journey, sharing purpose and what they’ve learned along the way. And that healing? It goes both ways.