Berlin First Baptist Church in Maryland held first Vacation Bible School for children with disabilities

By Carolina Luciano Burgos |
VBS kids Bible study for children with disabilities
Children's Director Shannon Diehl has a heart for children with developmental disabilities and had been thinking about doing a VBS for children with disabilities for many years. | Berlin First Baptist Church

Berlin First Baptist Church (BFBC) in Berlin, Maryland held its first Vacation Bible School (VBS) for children with disabilities Jun 17-20, 2024. The program ran in the morning while a traditional, neurotypical VBS was hosted in the evenings of those same days.

Children's Director Shannon Diehl has a heart for children with developmental disabilities and had been thinking about doing a VBS for children with disabilities for many years. Yet she did not know if she could bring this idea to life. However, this year the right doors opened, and she received the necessary resources to do the program.

Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) Disability Missionary Kathie Matthews provided counsel and training. Grants from the BCM/D and the Eastern Baptist Association (EBA) provided for the unique expenses for the event.

Beyond regular VBS preparations, the church put together a sensory room and recruited volunteer “buddies.” These buddies worked alongside their assigned students to help them participate in the program in the ways that were best for them. Volunteers also packed “sensory bags” for every student which included items such as fidget and biting toys, electronic doodle pads, noise canceling headphones, and snacks.

Shannon’s husband, Pastor Brad Diehl, told the students stories of creation and the flood using  “The Great Jungle Journey” curriculum from Answers in Genesis, which was adapted using a “special needs guide.” He covered the 7 C’s of history: creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, christ, cross, and consummation. Children interacted with the teaching through hands-on activities.

VBS kids Bible study for children with disabilities
Shannon’s husband, Pastor Brad Diehl, told the students stories of creation and the flood using “The Great Jungle Journey”. | Berlin First Baptist Church

The church was filled with rainforest decor including animals (like birds), trees, and grass. Anisa Impasto drove an hour to bring her two sons. She was pleased with the program and praised the church for their extensive decorations.

Anne Young brought her twins. “I’m impressed with all the resources available for the special needs kids,” she said. “They were especially good at keeping the lights and music down low, creating a sensory room, and increasing the number of volunteers. I felt it was very well planned. They were also very ‘in tune’ with the kids’ needs.”

Eastern Baptist Association Director of Missions Keith Myer said, “When I think of the modern missions movement and its emphasis on reaching the unreached, it becomes easy to see that those affected by disabilities make up an unreached people group.” He expressed his delight and appreciation for this initiative which addresses that need.

“I was so moved by the attention to detail and all of the thoughtfulness and care in [Shannon Diehl’s] planning,” said Myer. “While she expressed some nervousness about launching out into a new kind of ministry, we both agreed that there’s value in starting new things and stepping out in faith and trusting that the Lord will work through this ministry.”

He added, “When you think of the ministry of Jesus, he was always interacting with and helping people with these kinds of needs.”

After the success of the disability-focused VBS, BFBC is continuing to serve families with disabilities through their respite nights initiative. The program, which begins in August 2024, will provide three hours of care for children with disabilities and their neurotypical siblings. This will give parents and caregivers the opportunity to rest, relax and recharge.

The respite night children’s program will follow the rEcess program from 99 balloons. It includes crafts, movies, games, and stories. VBS “buddy” volunteers will be mobilized once more, and medical professionals will also be available on site as needed. Shannon Diehl explained that care will be given to also ensure neurotypical siblings are not unintentionally left out of the fun.

The church is promoting respite days with families who participated in the disability-focused VBS. They’ve encouraged those participants to also let their friends and contacts know about the program.