LIMA — From 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday, the Pathfinders class will be celebrating its 40th year by having a reunion of sorts.
“We are inviting everyone,” said Becky Hanthorn, superintendent of the Pathfinder class. “Former teachers and attendees, really anyone who once had an association with the class, to come and celebrate with us. We’ll be serving cake and ice cream.”
Pathfinders, which is a ministry of Lima Baptist Temple, began with three people praying separately. Ron Neth, who worked with special need children in Japan had a vision for a Sunday school class for people who were developmentally disabled. Joe Perron and Monyeen Boyd both had children with special needs.
The three went to the pastor at the time, the late Rev. Ronald Cannon, and shared their vision with him. The mission of the class was to “present Christ and His atoning power to these special people.”
“It just took off from there,” said Boyd. “I mean, we went to the pastor in February, and by June we had the Pathfinder class.”
The small group did not receive much encouragement at first, either from the congregation or area experts.
“Marimor told us it was impossible because they did not have any concept of God,” said Boyd. “But I didn’t believe that because Linda (Boyd’s daughter) was in a Sunday school class with Anne Roller, and after two years of working with her, Anne led her to the Lord.”
The class started with 10 students and 17 teachers. They now run 35 to 45 on any given Sunday, with a staff of nine teachers plus two alternating van drivers.
“Part of those who attend are the caregivers,” said Boyd. “One of the changes over the years is that the majority of them live in group homes or with two or three people in a home with a caregiver.”
The class, which is unique in the Lima area, meets every Sunday morning at Lima Baptist Temple at 9:45 a.m. Refreshments like doughnuts and coffee are available as people come in, and the class time starts with singing and announcements, including recognizing anyone who has had a birthday. An offering is taken with various class members serving as ushers.
Before the Bible lesson, prayer requests are taken. “You ask our people for prayer requests,” said Boyd, “and every hand goes up.”
Hanthorn said that they are currently using curriculum from Child Evangelist Fellowship which has a definite evangelistic emphasis.
“It’s up to the teachers to take the lesson and personalize it for the class,” Hanthorn said. “We try to involve the class in the lesson. They will participate through skits or re-enacting the Bible story. Sometimes, we use flannel graph. We use a lot of videos and clips and drama skits. We try to make the application to their current situations.”
One of the challenges of teaching the class is that there is a wide range of abilities and issues. For example, some of the participants cannot read. “Most everything is written out,” said Boyd. “You have to keep remembering that some of them can’t read this, especially the older ones.
Hanthorn said in recent years, one of the challenges has just been getting people to come consistently.
“I’m not sure if the problem is a matter of staffing,” she said. “In some of the homes, some may want to come, but there isn’t enough staff to bring a few and still have someone at the home to give care. We do have a van that will pick people up, but with today’s appealing distractions, sometimes that isn’t enough.”
Boyd said they have had a few members leave and then come back.
“We had one woman who came back,” she said. “She just hugged us and said, ‘This is where I belong.’”
Although many feel those with developmental disabilities are unable to understand the concepts of God and the Bible, the staff of the Pathfinder’s class disagrees. “We have had students get saved and baptized,” said Hanthorn. “We really work with them to make sure they are fully understanding what that means first. We’ve also had caregivers get saved, too.”
Added Boyd, “When we first started this class, I had people say we were just babysitting, but that is not true. They are just left by the wayside in a regular classroom. Most people would be surprised at the Bible stories they know and the Biblical truths they understand. We have several who have been saved and baptized and really understand. You can see a change in their behavior. In fact, the people at Marimor have even said they see a difference in behavior.”
Ultimately, Pathfinders is a place where those with developmental disabilities find acceptance, understanding and God’s love and truth.
“They are just people,” said Hanthorn. “They want to be loved and accepted just like everyone else.”