ASHLAND—Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Matt Shamblin has used Vacation Bible Schools—plural, not singular—as a means of outreach, growth and serving the least of these.
The second-year pastor of the northeastern Kentucky church has met outreach needs by not only staging a big on-campus VBS, but taking VBS throughout the many small communities in the Ashland area. Last year, the church put on six, and eight are scheduled this year, including a recent one for special needs children that was both unique and an enormous blessing to all involved, he said.
“It was an amazing thing to watch,” Shamblin said of the Special Needs VBS. “Jesus talks about ‘doing for the least of these’ and I can say, with confidence, we ministered to Jesus.”
It was a church member, Vanessa Akers, who asked Shamblin about trying a Special Need VBS about a year ago. Akers is a veteran special education teacher of 24 years in Ashland, and Shamblin’s response to her was an enthusiastic yes.
The church has been building momentum through outreach efforts and this was another one close to the heart of Shamblin. He and his wife, Chrissy, were foster parents to two special needs children in the past.
“I tell people all the time, I learn so much from my kids and they have so much to teach,” Akers said. “People ask me: How do you do it? My response is how do you not do it? I’ve always felt like the kids I work with are the closest thing to God’s angels you can get.”
The Special Needs VBS has already splintered off into a regular Sunday night ministry for special needs children at Rose Hill.
Akers said the parents of the special needs children were blessed by the VBS and it also allowed them to experience church.
“They are very excited about starting it on Sunday nights,” she said. “(For) some of them, this will be first opportunity to go to church.”
God had already equipped Rose Hill with trained special needs workers, like Akers, Shamblin said.
“God started bringing church members to us who are specially trained in that area—psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, teachers,” he said. “A significant portion of the special needs staff in the Ashland school system was involved.”
Angie Vanover, the church’s children’s ministry coordinator, called it “an amazing event. It was completely new territory for us. Our church was able to put together a special needs leadership team. I felt like the Lord was shouting, ‘What are you waiting for?”’
Akers said regular church members found out they could learn how to minister to the children, too.
“What was very interesting to me, watching this whole thing unfold, we are fortunate,” Akers said. “We do have special needs trained people, (but) I do think every church could offer a form of this. By the time we were finished, people absolutely loved it and were saying ‘I really feel like I could do this now.’ I do think there’s a lot of opportunities. It’s so desperately needed. Our parents (of special needs children) never get a break, but they need church. They need that spiritual food, too.”
Through his own experience, Shamblin knew teaching special needs children wasn’t something the average church member, with no experience in that area, could effectively handle alone. But when God kept bringing him people who were trained in special needs, he knew it was going to be a VBS of God-sized impact.
“None of my staff knew how to put on a Special Needs VBS,” he said. “We got everybody together and said, ‘You tell us how to do this.’ They took it and ran with it.”
The roster was limited by age and to a dozen children, and they came from as far away as Louisville—about a three-hour drive—to attend. They had autistic children and some who were medical fragile and non-verbal. But they all experienced the thrill of VBS and love of Jesus from the experienced church team that was put together.
The three-day VBS was a “lifelong dream” for the parents who watched their children do activities like making crafts and singing together. On the celebration night, church members came to rejoice with the children and their parents, Shamblin said.
“Because we had this, the parents told us the children have been talking about it all summer,” Shamblin said. “They (the parents) got to see their children perform in a church play. I didn’t know what to expect. It really was a dream come true. It’s the most special ministry I’ve ever been part of. It was amazing.” (KT)