By Carl Stagner
“I never thought I would be helping my daughter get ready for a prom,” one parent said. This daughter is among a group of people often overlooked or forgotten. But Jesus has never overlooked or forgotten them. He sees them. He sees their need. He sees their intrinsic worth. The Church of God congregation in Falkville, Alabama—known as Fairview: The Grace Place—has put on heaven’s glasses. They’re seeing what Jesus sees—people made in the image of their Maker, and worth all the love in the world. That’s why they recently hosted a prom for seventy people with special needs, complete with hair and makeup care, shoe shining, crown or tiara, delicious food, a limousine, and red-carpet treatment.
Fairview Church of God is locally known as the Grace Place because of their longstanding commitment to serve “the least of these” in their community. The mission from which they derive their ministries is “Opening the Door to the Grace of God.” As the Scripture records Jesus extending grace to those often unseen in society, Fairview has intentionally focused their efforts on showing the love of God to people from all walks of life. “Night to Shine” at Fairview Church was a natural outflow of their mission.
As memorable as the experience was for all the special needs participants, it was just as unforgettable for the more than 450 volunteers who made the event possible. As much as half of this pool of volunteers came from outside the congregation, including students and teachers from two local high schools. No one could forget the sheer joy on the faces of every participant, each one crowned prom king or queen. The laughter, tears, and hugs observed across the gymnasium offered a visible alternative to a world of loneliness and apathy just outside the doors. It was countercultural love on full display, and it was contagious.
“God smiled on this event and his Spirit was evident,” Pastor Milan Dekich explains. “We spent four months planning, preparing, and praying for the event. There was a prayer team involved from the beginning, bathing the event in prayer. We had no idea how it would turn out. I was thrilled to see so many people who had not met each other working together for a single cause that made so many people happy. All the volunteers expressed that this event was one of the best experiences of their lives.”
The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsors Night to Shine across the country at various churches that apply to serve as a host site. While some scholarship funds were available to help, the congregation stepped up to make the night truly magical for their honored guests. The limousine rental, hair and makeup, the crowns and tiaras, as well as some prom attire, were all donated by church members. Volunteers took care of everything from the decorating, to acting as paparazzi greeting guests as they arrived, to serving as “buddies.” Each guest was assigned to a buddy to guide them through the festivities of the evening.
“The buddies received information and training beforehand about the needs and personality of the person they would be partnered with,” Pastor Milan explains. “I will always remember how one young lady’s eyes and face lit up when she saw she would be partnered with a ‘handsome’ baseball player. And Greg, a man with special needs from our church, dancing without any reservation and being so happy, was great joy to see!”
Pastor Milan continues, “Another great part of the night was the limo rides and red carpet. Each attendee got to ride in the limo around the church grounds and up to the red carpet where all our volunteers were lined up, cheering them on. The look on their faces was worth every minute of planning and hard work. The attendees were so excited that everyone was cheering just for them. It was a priceless moment!”
Fairview Church of God was also blessed to welcome the governor of Alabama, who presented the guests with their crown or tiara. The greatest blessing for the church, however, was to represent Jesus to the special needs community and their families. During the event, guests both experienced and heard how much they are loved by God, and specifically how that love is expressed in Jesus Christ.
Fairview Church also participates in a locally sponsored special needs “rodeo” each year. After this experience, however, they not only look forward to doing it all again next year, but are also seeking other special needs ministry opportunities throughout the year.
Globally, Night to Shine events consisted of 201 churches, representing 23 denominations, made possible by 70 thousand volunteers, across 48 states and seven countries. A total of approximately 32,000 special needs guests were served with the love of Christ. Learn more at https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/index.php/night-to-shine/.