TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A Tyler couple is trying to connect, encourage, and empower families with special needs through a new ministry.
Mikki and Matthew Sciba and their children Mary, Lucas, and Samuel moved to East Texas less than a year ago. They've been busy reaching out to other families in the Diocese of Tyler.
They're trying to grow a network of parents, caregivers, and relatives to support faith formation for children with special needs.
"I don't know how people can do it without faith," Mikki said. "Because there's some times when you just don't know what to do or where to go or even what the future holds for your child."
Like most kids his age, their son Lucas is full of energy and curiosity. The eight-year-old has a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi syndrome, which can present behavior problems and intellectual disability in some individuals.
"There is so much joy that he brings to our home."
That passion shines when the Scibas attend church. Lucas enjoys singing with his father in the choir.
“... He’ll sing Gregorian chant, either with the choir or on his own during the middle of Mass because he loves it.”
Mikki says it’s important for families to worship together.
"You grow in your patience you grow in your understanding. You grow in just virtue of different things that you're exposed to and just learning how to kind of roll with whatever life brings you or how your child is going to react."
Awareness of these special needs can help any church community understand that these families are a blessing to others.
A special Mass at Tyler's Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul brought together more than a dozen individuals with disabilities and special needs.
Reverend Hank Lanik says families should feel welcomed all the time, not just on special occasions.
"Each of us has Christ in us. So what we're trying to do with every every child that comes to a Mass like this is to bring that out. And make sure that they understand that they are special and loved and in the creation of God."
Singing, bells, lights and spoken prayers stimulate every individual’s senses differently. Their responses, whether vocal or certain behaviors, can sometimes be received differently by others who are unaware.
"We need to just go with the flow with those things," Rev. Lanik said. "Sometimes you know we should be happy and blessed that people want to come to church or they want to come to gatherings. They want to pray together. And just use that as a sign that God has brought them together for that very reason."
Mikki says it's helpful for congregations empathize that individuals with special needs may be at a different point in their life or development. A special service or even a designated space for families can be a blessing.
"You know thank them for bringing their family to church and letting all of us witness the beauty of this individual who's there."
She encourages others to embrace any temporary distractions.
"Instead, I'm going to worship God through this distraction. And recognize the beauty in it. And it's not a hindrance to get me to God, but it can actually help me to recognize the beauty of God in that."
Matthew encourages other parents to be intentional about making church a positive experience for their children.
"As Jesus said, 'Don't pull the wheat up with the chaff.' So while, yea, they might not be perfectly behaved, if you are too strict on them during Mass then you might just rip out the roots of the faith in them as well. Because they often will see Mass as being someplace where they're regularly criticized."
These simple acts of empathy have had a profound impact on the Sciba family and on Matthew's relationship with Lucas.
"That's been the real spiritual experience for me -- learning to just love because he's there."
The special needs ministry is planning more activities and resources for the future.
Anyone interested in networking or volunteering can contact Mikki Sciba at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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