The inaugural Go! Conference by City Harvest Church’s JAMs ministry dealt with practical ways to serve those with special needs.
By Dawn Seow
“The need is the call,” said Bill Wilson, founder of Metro Ministries, the largest Sunday School in the world today. This became an inspiration to Lily Yong, and when she saw the need of reaching out to the people with special needs, she answered the call.
But answering the call was not the first thing she wanted to do when she was first asked to coordinate an outing for some children with special needs.
“Because of bad experiences I’d had, I was very unwilling and very scared!” Yong recalled. “When God called me to this ministry, I cried for months and months. I felt inadequate and lost; I felt like I didn’t know how to handle this group of people.”
The turning point came with a word from God. “God said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ and that day, I resolved all the conflicts I had within me and decided to learn to serve God,” she shared.
Yong went on to take a diploma in disability studies, and today, she serves as the pastor of City Harvest Church’s Jesus for All Minds ministry. Her team ministers to people with special needs, bringing the gospel of faith, hope and love to them.
Speaking to 135 participants at the first JAMs conference held at Suntec Singapore on Mar. 24 this year, Yong employed the same phrase—“the need is the call”—to remind those present of their calling to serve their wards.
Entitled Go!, this Christian training conference was held in collaboration with the Church of Singapore with the aim of inspiring and empowering special needs workers, as well as parents and care-takers of people with special needs. The conference also featured Christian parents and volunteers who shared how God had helped them overcome their initial inadequacies.
Yong opened the conference by reminding the participants that the poor and needy are precious in the eyes of God.
“Jesus called us to be salt and light of the world so the Christian faith must be translated into action. It’s not just about falling under the power, or praise and worship; if we have all the activities but our society is not changed, then we have missed the whole point!”
Quoting Matthew 25, Yong shared that the poor and needy are God’s representatives on earth—how we treat them is how we treat God. And as we do unto them, God will do unto us. This principle applies to Christians and non-Christians alike: when one gives to the poor, he or she will always be blessed.
KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU
The conference comprised three workshops by education specialists and therapists.
In the first workshop, a lecturer from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Shelby Reyes Hiadan, taught on class and behavior management.
“Everyone has likes and dislikes,” she said, “If it helps them to learn better, we can let them choose what they like. For example, if they want to sit at the back during lessons or play with only the slide at the playground, we should allow them to if it doesn’t disrupt the class.”
Hiadan highlighted the importance of having “bite-size” activities to act as fillers. “Gaps between activities can determine whether the child goes into another class happy and excited, or not. Even if it is only one minute, so it’s important to have time-fillers.”
The activity should be fun and simple so that children can do it without help.
Hiadan showed videos of children dancing to music and the teacher’s instruction, and a child pouring water into cup using a funnel as examples.
TALK TO ME
The second and third workshops, conducted by Viniti Puri, a certified speech and language therapist, focused on effective communication strategies that will help participants interact with people with special needs.
Puri started the workshop explaining the different types of special needs. “One of the most common types of special needs you may encounter is a child with communication difficulty,” she said.
If the child has little or no speech at all, uses words inappropriately or is confused about meanings, cannot seem to express his or her idea or follow directions, uses incorrect grammar, has limited vocabulary, has problems initiating or maintaining conversation, parents should seek early intervention.
“Each child is different from another,” said Puri. “When we plan communication activities for the child, it should be tailored to meet the unique needs of the child.”
It is thus important, before planning activities, to observe and discover what the child’s strengths and weaknesses are, what interests and motivates them to learn, and the learning and communication style of the child.
“We must remember that small changes to the activities make a big difference and yield different results,” advised Puri. “If we are not getting the results we want, we need to try different ways until it works. If you keep doing what you always did, you will get what you always got.”
With their skills sharpened and their passion restored, participants left the conference better equipped to serve those with special needs.