The weather was chilly and the roads were snowy but that didn’t stop The Special Needs Ministry from New Life from rolling out the red carpet and busing in their honored guests for the 26th Annual Christmas Banquet. Even with poor weather conditions there were well over 280 guests in attendance for this celebration.
This special event is hosted each year to honor students from The Special Needs Ministry at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. It is a time ordained to give Glory to God for what he has done in their lives over the course of the year and to celebrate Christmas.
Launching a ministry to children and adults with disabilities is a daunting assignment. Many churches are already spread thin on volunteers, space, and money-they can hardly imagine taking on another ministry. Other churches don’t know where to start. Beth was stirred by the words of her pastor in an Assembly of God Church that she’d been attending in the early 1980’s. This young pastor asked if anyone would be willing to teach a small group of youngsters with disabilities. Beth felt inspired and took up the challenge. She plunged in whole-heartedly and has not looked back since. No one could have ever imagined how this decision would wind up changing the lives of so many over the next couple of decades.
Beth eagerly began teaching this small group and it quickly grew from 6 to 50 students in less then 11 months. She was enthused and inspired by her student’s ability to grasp the scriptures. Excited about what God was doing in their lives, she began extending an invitation to the hurting, the lost and the poor in her community, inviting them to come hear the word of God. She held the first banquet in December of 1982, and the class joyously sang Joy to the World as Beth and her husband treated them to a wonderful Christmas dinner complete with gifts and all the trimmings.
Things were moving quickly and this small church did not know what to do with this eager young Sunday School teacher and her diverse group of students. The class was outgrowing their space and not everyone at the Church felt as excited as Beth did about these students being there. Beth and her husband eventually began attending services at New Life Church. Beth soon decided to ask the pastor at this new Church if she could begin teaching Sunday school to those with disabilities. What at first began as a Sunday School for young children with disabilities evolved into a multi faceted Church within a Church known as, The Special Needs Ministry.
Beth’s class quickly grew once again and many followed her to this new Church. Many of those same students that were at the first banquet were also in attendance again this year, several years later. The Banquet is a celebration that they look forward to each and every year. It is also a reunion of sorts for many of these students. Since that first Banquet, the class has grown considerably, becoming one of the largest disability ministries in the United States. Every year the students from the Special Needs Ministry are bused in to attend this celebration and are treated to an elaborate dinner complete with entertainment and gifts.
Students are rolled off the buses in mid December, in wheelchairs and walkers and escorted into the banquet room and seated at beautifully decorated tables. The class consists of individuals with varying degrees of disabilities. The ministry supports the developmentally delayed and the disadvantaged in the Colorado Springs area and addresses the “special” physical, mental, social and most importantly spiritual needs of those with disabilities.
Due to the cold weather conditions, the guests this year arrived dressed in winter coats, snow boots and hats. They were quickly greeted with hot cups of sugar free apple cider and adorned with Christmas Santa hats and jingle bell necklaces.
The Banquet room was beautiful, and the room filled up quickly. As the guests were finding their seats and busy greeting one another the pianist played a medley of Christmas songs for their entertainment.
The Kraiss’s make it a point to use the finest centerpieces and decorations to honor their guests for these Banquets. Inspired by the Parable of a Great Banquet from scriptures, the Kraiss’s honor their guest as if they were honoring dignitaries; they’ve taken these scriptures to heart and find it a privilege in doing so. In the parable of the “Great Banquet,” the Master sent His servant into the back streets to invite the world’s outcast to His great feast. It is this invitation that Jesus brings to the world and Beth extends to her community.
This year Pastor Lance Coles, Associate Pastor of Adult Discipleship at New Life presented Beth with a beautifully framed wall plaque entitled, “Faithful Servant”. Pastor Lance read from Mark 25: 34-45 and then spoke about the tenacity and kindheartedness represented by Beth Kraiss and thanked the many volunteers that help with this ministry.
Entertainment for the Banquet included Pianist Connie Johnson and a special performance by New Life’s Church Dance Ministry. Members from the New Life Church Choir delighted the crowd with their fun and upbeat array of Christmas songs.
During the meal Gordon Pegler performed a unique scriptural chalk presentation that coincided with the biblical account of the birth of Christ. A highlight of the Banquet every year that the students look forward to, is a short performance by Chuck Holder and Marci Johnson (two students from the original Sunday school class) as they lead their class in some Christmas favorites, a tradition from that very first banquet.
The students are treated to a delicious luncheon, (many of these students have medical issues that require Beth to cater to specific dietary restrictions, so as with every year this is taken into account and generally the food served is soft and contains limited to no sugar and salt.) Everyone is treated to great food, wonderful entertainment and gift bags filled to the brim with Christmas presents and gift cards.
Despite the snowfall and chilling weather, the day was so delightful. As the last bus boarded and the students were headed home, the Kraiss’s began preparing for the next stretch of this experience.
The next few days are filled distributing gifts to individuals at local nursing homes and mental illness facilities. Many of these facilities rely on this special ministry to bring in “Christmas” to their residences, many of the residences unfortunately do not have families that are able to visit them and so the gifts that Beth brings in is sometimes all that they may receive for the Christmas holiday. The gifts are also distributed to individuals that were unable to attend this year’s festivities because of illness or because of the weather. The Special Needs Ministry continues to take their messages into the streets, sharing coats, blankets and many other gifts to the homeless in their community while sharing the joy and message of Christmas hope.
This ministry was started over 26 years ago, and Beth made a decision right from the start that she would not accept a paycheck for any work that she does within the Church. This is a way of life, a ministry not a job. She volunteers over 40 hours each week and believes strongly in serving the needs in her community. This ministry relies on the generosity and donations from many individuals throughout the year.
Beth is relentless about this ministry, and says, ” It is the presence of God among the homeless, the disabled and the hurting, that makes my life so meaningful, not for what they can provide me in return, but because I know how much these precious people mean to God, and I am honored to reach out to those in need.” She goes on to say, ” People often expect to find the Messiah among the powerful, the prominent, and the religious, feasting in a sumptuous mansions among the rich, but that’s not where they found Him back in the biblical days in fact, they found him among the poor, the hurting and the lost, so that is where I want to be!”
This ministry is making a difference in the hearts and souls of many throughout the city of Colorado Springs. People come from all over to meet with Beth about this wonderful ministry. She has had guests from all around the globe that email her and call her in response to what this ministry is doing.
So as you might expect, a little bit of snow won’t stop this ministry from reaching out and proclaiming the message of Christ’s love. So, Let it snow let it snow let it snow….