Twenty-nine children with special needs were the stars of the second annual Christmas nativity talent show in Auburn, Washington, in December 2019 — all because of one boy with a vision.
Elias Barahona from Tacoma, Washington, had a long-time dream of being Joseph, but no one ever chose the boy with Down’s syndrome to play this role. Not until the faith community came together with five weeks of planning to produce the first special needs Christmas talent program in 2018.
Since then, the participant, donor, and audience interest keeps growing for providing a stage for special needs children to shine for Jesus.
“I love how our community is embracing this program,” says Nitza Salazar, Washington Conference children’s ministries director. “Not only our churches, but our community. This is unique. This is something new. Everyone is excited about this program. They aren’t seeing it anywhere else.”
Salazar explains why this program is particularly meaningful: “The parents don’t see their kids up on stage often. Some of the parents told me this is the first time they saw their kids on stage. We have all kinds of needs represented, and it is so beautiful to give them a place where they can shine.”
The production isn’t heavy on lights or sound so kids won’t feel uncomfortable. There isn’t a lot of stimulation. A quiet room is available for overwhelming moments. The storyline narration, read by retired teacher Harold Richards, is simple and short.
Different talents, by cast members ranging from 7 months to age 31 and averaging about age 12, include playing an instrument, saying a Bible verse, singing, acting or sharing sign language — with varying levels of stage freight. Siblings, friends, parents, or caregivers are often right alongside the performers.
“Our audience is very forgiving,” Salazar says. “They love those time when kids come on stage. They take videos and pictures. It’s so adorable to see the kids performing. The parents love and treasure it so much to see their kids on stage.“
Parents and their children feel like they belong, and they want to share this happiness. They want more kids to have this an opportunity to shine.
“I can see God looking at these kids and smiling,” Salazar says. “Every child is uniquely created with gifts and talents to exalt their Creator. And our ministry is blessed to come alongside families with special needs and celebrate their children. My desire, my dream, my prayer is for more churches and communities to embrace special needs families.”
— Heidi Baumgartner is Washington Conference communication director.