Even though no one asked for it.That's because Linda knew that if she built it, they would come.
She understood, from working in the field of special education, that parents of special-needs children can't feel comfortable bringing a child to a church thats not prepared for them. Its too stressful. And sometimes its just plain unsafe.
"Each one of our parents can tell you story after horror story of their struggles to find a church that could meet the needs of their family," said Linda, a board-certified music therapist.
She recalls one mom at a previous church. She would sit on the floor inside the entrance holding her son, just to watch the worship service on the lobby TV, because the boy was asked not to return to his Sunday school class.
So Linda built the special-need children's ministry, and they did come. And they keep coming.
In fact, the size more than doubled in its first year.
Sunday Services and a Support Group
Linda and her volunteers have expanded to be available during two services: the 10 AM and the 12 PM. They also have started a Bible study and support group for parents that includes child care.From autism, blindness, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome to speech impairment, Tourette Syndrome and many other conditions -- everyone is welcome.
"We have built our team of volunteers to include every special education specialist possible! God has brought us speech therapists, physical therapist, occupational therapists, behavior specialists, school psychologists, master's level special education teachers... A child can get more services on a Sunday morning than during a week at school," she said, smiling.
And not only is she helping these unique children with extra challenges -- she also feels the ministry is strengthening marriages.
"There are so many additional pressures that accompany having a child with special needs," she said. "If parents are unable to attend church, nurture their foundation in Christ together as a couple -- how can we possible expect them to succeed? I believe this ministry not only teaches these children about Jesus Christ, but I believe it helps save marriages."
From South Dakota to Southern California
Linda's upbringing as a farmer's daughter in, as she puts it, "the middle-of-nowhere South Dakota," didn't foreshadow her passion about special kids.
She attended a small liberal arts college called Augustana College in Sioux Falls for an undergrad degree in music education, and then the University of Kansas for a master's in music therapy.
She was raised going to church, but "it was a weekend thing," she said. "It wasn't until a Campus Crusade for Christ event when I was a sophomore in college that I understood that Jesus desires a personal relationship with each of us... I have been a work in progress since that time!"
After graduation, Linda sought a job in warmer climates, and landed in San Diego. She searched for a worshipful church where faith would grow, and visited the Rock on its first Sunday at the Ruffin Road location.
Soon after that, she met Zap Martin through the Rock Worship Ministry, which Linda was also heavily involved in.
Five prayerful years later, they were married on March 7, 2010. Zap, a keyboardist, volunteers with the Rock Security Ministry, and also helps out in the Special Needs classroom. He composed a lullaby CD to raise funds for Pebbles Pathway and for the Agapetos Foundation, a nonprofit Linda founded to support families dealing with special-needs children.
Reaching Out to the Community
The mission of the Agapetos Foundation is to love, teach and empower children with special needs by educating and supporting families, teachers, and churches. Linda has a special heart for helping outside the United States.
"Eventually, by providing much needed special education training for teachers in developing countries, and simultaneously building support groups for the families within local churches... we can bridge schools and churches -- teach the child, and save the family," said Linda.
Linda also is reaching out closer to home.
She leads a community group called the Special Needs Ministry Leaders Cohort. It's a quarterly gathering of her peers and other children's ministry leaders from all around San Diego County. They meet to expand their own special needs ministries, and also "work together to help equip other churches to do the same," she said.
The group is teaming up with Walking on Water to have a free "day at the beach" where children with special needs will receive free surf lessons from professional surfers.
Working with CityFest
Also, Linda, together with Pastor Bobby Yates -- the December 2009 Rock Hero and leader of Luv Em Up ministries for disabled and developmentally delayed adults -- are coordinating all of the special needs arrangements and accommodations for the upcoming Luis Palau"s San Diego CityFest."We are hoping to enable between 5,000-10,000 persons with special needs receive the gospel for that event!" said Linda.
"I have had more than one parent break down in tears as they express appreciation for having a place to bring their child where they know he or she will be safe," said Linda.
"Just knowing that their child would be safe made all of the difference. On top of that, they know the children are loved, taught and appreciated."
Sounds like something very special.
Congratulations, Linda Martin, Rock Hero for August 2010!
For more information about the Children's Ministry, click here »