Building a spiritual space and spiritual lives
In the coming weeks, Damar will finish construction on a new building on its campus, a building that will allow us to more completely meet a need. You could say the process toward creating this building started a few years ago, when I got the opportunity to join the team at Damar ABA Autism Services.
I had come to Damar a few years earlier, right after I graduated from Anderson University, where I had attended college after moving to America from my native Kenya. I first worked at Damar in a few different roles – as direct care staff, in group homes and in other jobs – before joining ABA, so I already knew how much Damar does for kids. Still, I was amazed to see up close the difference ABA therapy can make for a child, and I loved all we were doing to help the kids mature.
At that same time, I was also expecting a baby, so I was learning more and more about how kids must be well cared for. When my baby was born, I found I was applying at home what I learned as a therapist, teaching the consequences of behavior. But I was also realizing that, for the kids at Damar, something was missing. A voice was saying, “OK, this is great, but what about spiritual matters? What about God?” I felt I was being urged by God to do something, but I worried that it would not be professional to mention this. I didn’t know how to approach it. But the voice would not go away. “Please,” it said, “you are forgetting something very important.”
So, I got up one morning in 2017 and called Jim Dalton and said, “I know I have never called you, but I would like to share a proposal with you.” I suggested that he allow me to share spiritual teaching with the kids who want it so they would know that God is there for them.
What I did not know is that Jim also had thought about this need, and that he really wanted to have a chapel at Damar. So, when I presented my idea, he said, “OK. Go for it.”
And now we are building that chapel at Damar.
Of course, we didn’t go immediately from that phone call to building a chapel. At first, the program was small. I pulled together some materials and met with about a dozen kids in the dining room of one of the residential units during afternoon free time. We would do crafts and activities, play games and do a Bible study. It started growing as other kids became interested, and we spread to other units and got more and more materials. Now we meet in the old media center, and we typically have about 50 kids who choose to participate each time. Since the program started, about 75 boys and 50 girls have been involved.
As I talked to these kids, I realized that this is something many of them had been missing. While some of them tell you that they have never been to church, others said used to go with their families, or they went to Vacation Bible School, or were in youth groups. Some said they miss worship service.
Since we started the program, I have found that the kids enjoy the activities and especially like singing worship songs. I share with them encouraging Scripture, and teach them how to pray and use Scripture to help them each day. I try to answer their questions – like, “Why is God with us right now?” and “Why can’t we see Him?” – and to help them through difficult times. Some of the kids seem to be truly humbled by what they are learning, and you can really tell when they go back to their units that they are trying to apply it by controlling their behaviors.
When the chapel is completed, I hope we can do even more for the kids. Of course it’s all optional, but I can’t wait to have space for lessons and worship, and a spiritual center for the Damar campus. While most of the people here are Christians, we want the chapel to be open to all denominations and faiths, and we will work to accommodate whatever spiritual needs the children have.
I am so excited to see how listening to that voice so many years ago has led to this new chapel, but I am also proud to work for an organization that welcomes ideas from its employees, and actually acts on them.