Stephanie and Olivia play at Tulsa-Faith UMC.
Christi Newendorp is the mother of Schuyler and Evan, two of the children who attend the Special Angels Ministry at Faith UMC in Tulsa.
God answered her prayers with this program, she concludes. Her sons have special needs.
"I asked a lot of tough questions in my private moments. I really wanted our family to fit in at a church," she writes. "I wanted my boys to have the social and learning opportunities church provides. I wanted them to feel loved and accepted, when the world so often is not loving or accepting."
She continues, "I wanted to be able to give back, maybe to help other families going through what we were going through. My husband Eric wanted to share his music talents and to concentrate with me on giving to others. It’s what Jesus calls us to do.
"Often special-needs parents are so consumed with their responsibilities they aren’t able to fit in to a church family."
The Newendorps have found a good fit at Faith Church.
Christi was part of the core group that launched Special Angels Ministry in 2008. A Petree Grant from the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation provided seed money. Others in the group were youth minister Heather Scherer and children’s ministers Beth Gibson and Laura Eldridge.
"I believe it takes a true administrative team effort and call to this ministry to see it succeed, and Faith had those individuals," Christi says.
The church believes children with special needs are important, acknowledges their needs, and does something about it, said Jean Stout, director of Special Angels.
"Our ministry is designed to make Sunday School and worship available to all families, with the understanding that some students need additional help in the classroom or sanctuary," Stout said.
Current attendance is about seven children and up to four youths.
"This ministry is successful because of the caring volunteers," Stout said. They number about two dozen.
A Special Angel is an adult or high-school teen trained to assist children with special needs to integrate in the church’s total educational program. Each Special Angel wears a dark blue shirt embroidered with the ministry’s logo so the children will recognize that person is there to help them.
The volunteers usually serve once a month; they also assist during events such as Vacation Bible School.
A Special Angels Room, with an assigned volunteer, is always open in the Children’s Wing. When a student isn’t comfortable in a class or worship, a Special Angel can accompany the child to the room.