By Bonnie Mentel

Parents of children with special needs face many unexpected challenges while raising their child. Routine trips to church become anything but routine. Dropping a child off in the nursery or in the children’s area can be daunting if care workers don’t know how to interact with or care for a child with special needs.

First Baptist Church of Brandon has a special needs ministry for people of all ages. The church has been serving the special needs population for over 30 years. What began as a program for adults has expanded to a program that meets the needs of children, as well. Tina and Rob Spruill, parents of a special needs child, helped lead the children’s program at First Baptist Church in the past.

“It’s so hard for parents of special needs kids to get respite. They can’t call the average 13- or 14-year-old and ask for a babysitter. So, for them, that Sunday (at church) is so wonderful. They get to come, get refreshed in the Word of God, and get to have a little bit of respite. I’ve had parents also tell me that they’ve been turned away from other churches because of the some of the physical behaviors that their children have had. So, for me, I see God at work, not only at how they get refreshed through his Word, but they also get to belong. They have a church that is going to accept them,” Tina said.

Tina doesn’t want parents of special needs children to feel embarrassed if their child has challenging behaviors.

“Statistics show that a lot of families turn away from the church. They turn away from God. They don’t feel accepted,” she said.

The First Baptist Church of Brandon, located at 216 N. Parsons Ave. in Brandon, offers the Special Ministries classes on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. The children are taught Bible stories and worship God in a fun, stimulating way.

“I feel that having a special needs ministry at your church is God at work. I think that if Jesus was here now, He would be promoting the special needs ministries, because so many of those people just feel turned away. I have seen God at work. Parents have cried on my shoulder and said, ‘This is the first church where I have been able to drop my child off.’ They’ve tried bringing them into the sanctuary to sit with them, but a lot of kids with autism can’t handle the music or different aspects of the service. Now they can experience peace knowing that their child is being taken care of while they soak in the Word of God,” she said.

For more information, call 689-1204. Visit www.fbcbrandon.org.