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BCM/D churches host ‘Night to Shine’ dance events for those with special needs

Tom Stolle, chief financial officer for the BCM/D, attended the Night to Shine event at Cresthill Church (Bowie, Md.) on Friday (Feb. 10).

BOWIE, Md. (BP) – Several churches in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) hosted “Night to Shine” dance events this past Friday (Feb. 10). Started by Tim Tebow’s charity foundation, the dances are designed to celebrate those with special needs around the world.

More than 600 hundred churches from 46 different countries participated in this year’s Night to Shine. Among those were four from the BCM/D, including Cresthill Church in Bowie, Md.

A Night to Shine guest and a volunteer pose for a picture.

Margot Painter is the wife of Cresthill’s senior pastor James Painter, and has been helping coordinate the church’s Night to Shine events for the last eight years. She told Baptist Press having a night to celebrate the special needs community is worthwhile.

“These are people who normally get left out of these types of things like Valentine’s Day and prom, and we can show that God loves them and that we love them,” Painter said. “We want to serve and honor them.

“Our church is all very on board with it and Night to Shine is just something that our church really believes in. We’re so grateful that Tim Tebow had this vision and carried it through, because it’s become very much part of the DNA of our church.”

Tebow, a former University of Florida football star and Heisman Trophy winner, had a vision for serving those with special needs through his self-titled foundation. The first event was held in 2015, and they’re now held each year on the Friday before Valentine’s Day.

Painter explained that a common misconception regarding Night to Shine events is that they are actually designed for anyone with special needs to attend, not just teenagers.

Every guest at Night to Shine is crowned Prom King or Queen at the end of the dance.

Upon arriving to the event, guests will be given a “buddy” who accompanies them throughout the night to serve and care for them.

During the first portion of the night, guests visit different rooms set up throughout Cresthill for fun activities. The different rooms include hair and makeup, a photo booth and karaoke.    

After a break for dinner, the second half of the night features a crowning ceremony where each guest is named Prom King or Queen.

Then, Painter said, the special guests dance and dance “until we make them go home.”

“It is something unlike anything else,” she said.

“There is just no way to describe the excitement, happiness, and sheer joy the guests have when they come in. The parents are so excited to see their child honored who is not often honored. It is just beyond anything you can ever imagine. The whole evening is so overwhelming.”

Painter said Night to Shine is Cresthill’s largest community outreach event of the year, with around 125 guests and more than 200 volunteers, including many from outside the congregation.

Many community partnerships make the dance possible. Painter said local partnerships include mentorship programs, police, the minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles and even the United States Naval Academy, based in Annapolis.

Volunteers from the Naval Academy raise their swords as guests are announced and walk the red carpet to enter the ceremony. The Academy’s girls’ volleyball team even lent a hand as buddies for the night.

Painter was in need of 20 more volunteers a week before the event and had exhausted all her resources trying to find them.

She prayed that night for help finding volunteers. The next morning, she received an email from the volleyball coach asking if her 20-member team could come volunteer the next week.

During the first half of Night to Shine, guests visit various room throughout the church, including hair and makeup room.

The coach did not even know other volunteers from the Academy were helping, she simply saw the dance advertised on Eventbrite.

“You really need the community to be behind you on this 100 percent because you need all the help you can get,” Painter said. “Anyone that comes wants to come back again.”

Cresthill is not the only church in the BCM/D that hosted a Night to Shine event.

Other churches include Faith Baptist Church of Glen Burnie, Md., Emmanuel Baptist Church in Huntington, Md., and First Baptist Church of Waldorf, Md.

Cresthill and Painter have even assisted a Southern Baptist church plant in Puerto Rico with hosting its own event a couple of years ago.

Painter works in the finance office of the BCM/D, and said her friendship with the convention’s CFO Tom Stolle inspired her to minister to those with special needs.

Stolle’s son Jimmy was born with severe autism. Although the journey has not been easy, Stolle told Baptist Press his relationship with Jimmy has spiritually transformed him.

“When you have a child you have all these dreams for this child, and when you find out your child has these limitations, you mentally bury the child you envisioned, and embrace the child God has gave you,” Stolle said.

Painter explained not only were the Stolles former members of Cresthill, but Jimmy is named after her husband James.

Upon relocating, Painter said watching the Stolles struggle to find the right church fit to welcome Jimmy showed her that “this is who we need to be reaching.”

Stolle said Night to Shine events provide a unique way for churches to proclaim the Gospel to those with special needs as well as their families.

“For there to be an event where these parents and kids are celebrated is wonderful, because often parents will go an entire lifetime without seeing that,” Stolle said.

“Churches can minister to families in just an amazing way. If it wasn’t for these Night to Shine events, some of these families would never come to church.

“And for that event to be wrapped in the Gospel is just an amazing package.”