Thirty years ago, Cindy Mazza faced a challenge – create a special needs Sunday School class from scratch at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner.
Thirty years ago, Cindy Mazza faced a challenge –
create a special needs Sunday School class from
scratch at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner.
At the time, two families needed a separate Bible study for their four-year-old special needs children.
Mazza visited the home of each family, asking the
parents to give her a name of one other special needs individual in the
New Orleans area that could attend the class.
Today, the ministry no longer serves children, ministering instead to almost 200 adults on any given Sunday.
The students – whose average age is 45 – are what Roberta Edenfield calls “the pure in heart.”
For an hour each Sunday morning, Edenfield and about
15 other volunteers at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church teach between
150 and 200 special needs individuals.
Most of the students return to state-sponsored group
homes after Bible study, but about 25 remain to participate in the
worship service with the entire congregation.
That is where a person truly can notice their
innocence, says Edenfield, interim director of the special needs
program while Mazza is taking a rest from leadership duties.
“One Sunday, I saw them singing the song ‘Stand In
Awe Of You,’” Edenfield recalls. “They were there just praising the
“What I saw in them was purity,” she continues.
“Whenever we have an altar call, they are sometimes the first ones to
come up there because they want us to pray with them. They don’t see
all the problems we deal with but just look at the savior.”
Jay Whipple agrees with the assessment.
“The purest love is a pure heart truly seeing God,”
says Whipple, who drives the church bus that transports the special
needs individuals to their homes. “The special needs individuals have a
love that truly passes
Doris Jackson has taught the special needs class for
20 years. “They accept you the way you are,” she says. “To them,
there’s no such thing as race or any other difference.”
Jackson says the class members comprehend best through visual
activities, such as learning the Bible story using puppets, drama and
However, perhaps the favorite activity of all the
special needs adults is the praise and worship time, Jackson notes.
Songs they sing range from “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” to “This
Little Light of Mine.”
The Bible study leaders used to field prayer
requests during the class. However, Edenfield explains that the class
members’ concerns for others was so enormous that the requests began
taking up time set aside for the lesson.
Now, teachers just ask the special needs adults to raise their hands instead of voicing requests out loud.
“When one of them prays, you see that simplicity and
meaningfulness in their prayer,” Jackson says. “We think we can’t
approach God sometimes because he’s so up there, but there’s a
simplicity about their prayers.
“They have a childlike faith. When they pray, you cry.”
Edenfield says spending time with the special needs adults rejuvenates
her. “For me, it’s a pick me up every week,” she says.
“They’re always the same and usually have something
to rejoice in each time I see them. Working in this ministry isn’t a
have-to; it’s a get-to.”
Throughout the years, those involved with the ministry agree they have become like a family.
“We have a lot of love and transfer that into
action,” bus driver Myron Corkern says. “We all complement each other.
Everybody does their part.”
In addition to Sunday morning Bible study, there is
ample bonding time outside the classroom. Fellowships include
ministering to the nursing homes each Christmas, an annual picnic in
September and a 1950s theme party.
Those outside activities are vital to maintain that
family-type atmosphere, Edenfield says. “On Sundays, we just present
the lesson,” she notes. “During the activities, we get to know them as
a person. It helps you stay connected.”
And connecting with the special needs adults is a worthwhile reward, Corkern says.
“Would I do it all again?” the Louisiana Baptist
church member ponders. “That’s a no-brainer. I’ve been blessed with the
love of Jesus and the love (special needs individuals) have to give.
And that’s a blessing money can’t buy.”the doubt. Let’s be patient, and
let’s be prayerful.”