"But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' "
_ Luke 18:16
WESLEY CHAPEL _ When Karen Broadwater couldn't find a Sunday school class that would accommodate her disabled daughter, she decided to create one.
She launched Handicapable last fall on a wing and a prayer.
It is Crossroads Community United Methodist Church's newest ministry. The church earmarked $1,000 for the class, which offers a lively place where kids with disabilities can sing, dance and study the Bible.
"This ministry has been a tremendous blessing for us," said the Rev. Greg Freeze. "I know there are so many families out there, with disabled kids, who do not have a place to worship. Here they can come and worship as a family."
For Broadwater, it wasn't always that simple.
After moving to Land O'Lakes from Largo, her family was in search of a church.
"Worship has been the foundation of our entire family life," Broadwater said. "We've always raised our children to love Jesus the way we do."
The Broadwaters wanted a church that offered a Sunday school for all five of their kids, including Emily, who has cerebral palsy.
Broadwater says one church turned them away. Emily was not welcome. They could not accommodate a child with disabilities because it would be "too taxing on their volunteer base," she said.
"I was given the impression that they didn't want her there at all," Broadwater said. "It's very disheartening. It's hard enough having a disabled child."
Broadwater says sometimes Emily can become "loud and unruly." Some people snicker. Others just stare. Once, while dining at a restaurant, a man made a rude remark.
To that, Broadwater offers an answer: "What would Jesus do? He'd turn the other cheek."
She kept the faith.
Then, Broadwater heard about Crossroads.
She stepped in as director of the children's ministry, with a goal in mind: to develop a Sunday school geared for kids like Emily.
Now, half a dozen youngsters with disabilities gather weekly at Crossroads' temporary site, Creative Times Academy, for Handicapable.
Broadwater recruited volunteer teachers to make it all possible.
"It's challenging," said Becky Claxon, a Handicapable teacher. "You have to give them more individual attention. Lots of hugs. To me everybody's normal because God doesn't make mistakes."
Teachers use a specialized curriculum. At Handicapable, they use colorful picture Bibles that tell of Noah's ark and David and Goliath. Kids enjoy Veggie-Tales cartoons and work on puzzles. Although their ages range from 5-8, cognitively they are much younger. Emily also learns at a much slower pace, but she has grown to love Sunday school.
"(Emily) doesn't verbalize, but I believe God talks to her, and she can understand him," Broadwater said.
During Sunday school, Emily grins and claps her hands to the beat of the music.
A few students are autistic. One has Down's syndrome. But here they can be themselves, make friends and grow in their faith.
"It's a time for parents to be spiritually fed, too. A time of respite for them and a support system for parents," Broadwater said.
"They're fashioned by the father and they're perfect in his eyes," Broadwater said.
If you go
Handicapable, a ministry of Crossroads Community United Methodist Church, meets at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at Creative Times Academy, 26031 County Line Road in Wesley Chapel. Worship services are 9 and 10:30 a.m. at the same location. For information, call (813) 994-0220.