Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and hosted by International Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia
To view all photos from the Night to Shine, click here!
An artistic narrative based on the 2020 Night to Shine in Lusaka, Zambia.
Warm but excited, Mercy and I were on a bus headed to the Night to Shine! My daughter, Mercy, was wearing her new dress that had been gifted by a community member and delivered by our Community Care Center manager. I still couldn’t believe we were on our way to a completely free night of dancing, games, and dinner for Mercy, and a much needed night of rest for me. The Special Hope team had promised that Mercy would be paired with a buddy during the event, but it was difficult for me to imagine someone who would be willing and able to help manage Mercy’s quirks while also leading her in the fun. I hadn’t met many people besides Mercy’s Special Hope teachers who were capable of such a feat, but I chose to hope for the best. I looked over at Mercy as she admired her new dress and I silently prayed that she would have fun and feel safe enough to leave my side once we arrived.
Our walk from the bus felt especially quick compared to the 40 minute ride, and International Baptist Church of Lusaka was shockingly crowded and full of energy as we arrived. There were several huge tents located outside the building, which I later found out allowed them to host 500+ people. I would soon learn that the largest tent was the parent tent, a space for parents like me! I signed Mercy in and I watched as she was paired with one of the 200 buddies present. I worried that because Mercy has autism and can become easily overwhelmed, that her buddy might not understand her needs, but I chose to trust the Special Hope team when they told me they would intentionally pair her with a perfect buddy.
I watched as Mercy and her buddy walked towards what looked like a red carpet, lined with cheering and joy, as I followed signs to my parent tent.
Smiling faces welcomed me to the parent tent where I quickly found friends from my Community Care Center (the Special Hope center that Mercy and I attend weekly). My friends and I sat in chairs where I could see Mercy standing in the frame of a beautifully painted photo booth. I saw Mercy’s buddy patiently ask where she wanted to go next, and I was relieved to see that since Mercy doesn’t talk, her buddy knew to point to the different stations when asking her to decide. I watched as Mercy chose the makeup booth and got her nails painted. Later, I noticed that her eyelids were also given a sparkly tint at that same booth! In between catching up with friends, I looked over to see Mercy playing a game where she threw a ball to knock over cans. I could tell that Mercy was enjoying the game, and it was fun seeing her buddy give her constant attention. Mercy was happy and I felt myself beginning to breathe.
My friends and I gathered a few additional parents to play one of the card games that Special Hope had provided for us, and before we knew it, a song from our favorite artist, Pompi, was filling the tent. We quickly realized that a live musician was at the front of our tent taking song requests. One of the parents at our table took our song requests and walked towards the musician to add them to his list. This was definitely going to be a night to remember!
After a few rounds of card games, laughter, beautiful music, and even some coloring–the Special Hope team had provided us with adult coloring pages–servers brought us nshima and relish, and the musician took a break. As we ate, we heard music and saw colorful lights coming from under the tent where our children were enjoying a packed dance floor! I was told that the young adults from the karaoke room, game stations, makeup booth, dinner area, and cupcake table had congregated to enjoy the upbeat Zambian music. My friend leaned over to tell me that her son was probably enjoying the sensory room, where the lights were dim and the atmosphere was calm and quiet with soft pillows and beanbags. I was amazed to hear that the Special Hope team had thought of everything!
As the evening came to a close, volunteers ushered the other parents and I to the dining area where our children had enjoyed a beautiful feast. The volunteers instructed us to find our child for the crowning ceremony. When I found Mercy, her buddy recounted their favorite activities and how much fun she and Mercy had exploring the dance floor and watching other guests dance. I could tell Mercy had made a new friend.
Once all the parents found their children, the lights dimmed and the screen filled with a message from Tim Tebow. He spoke encouraging words about our children and young adults all over the world, and reminded us of how they are gifts that point us to the Lord. Pastor Zulu then shared a gospel message, and before I knew it, all the guests were being crowned kings and queens. I watched as Mercy received her crown, and I anticipated a quick removal, but she seemed to enjoy the crowing and the new sparkly accessory. I hugged her tight.
Mercy and I walked toward the buses and a volunteer handed Mercy a bag filled with treats. My girl was getting treated like royalty! Mercy’s buddy found us before we boarded our bus and handed over a photo of her and Mercy from the photo booth. Mercy held the sweet photo and I knew that it would serve as a daily reminder of this special night–a night when Mercy was so deeply celebrated for being exactly who she is. It truly was Mercy’s Night to Shine!
THANK YOU TO OUR VOLUNTEERS & SPONSORS!
Night to Shine was sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and hosted by International Baptist Church of Lusaka. Special Hope Network wants to thank each and every one of the special project volunteers and the volunteer buddies who attended pre-event meetings, and helped to make the night an incredible success. Below are a few of the many donors and volunteers who helped us create the extravagant night:
Andy Higgins, Kelly Huckaby, Davis Nyangu – Photography
Kalaluka Lubasi – Videography
Lusaka Community Church Women’s Bible Study, Elder Team, and Youth Group
Ken Bowker – Generator, Tent, Delivery Truck, and Driver
Angela Miyanda and team – Florist, Table Setup and display, going above and beyond just flowers
The Mocha Puddle, Pamper Bay, Megan Williamson – Cupcakes and brownies
Gail Mofya-Bryan – Water bottles, cake, cupcakes, and bananas
Steve, Arron, and friends – Light setup and Tech crew
Dennis Situmbeko (The Retreat) – Tent
Candice Rogoff-Pieterse – Photo booth and game creation
Tricia Huckaby, Johanna Barack – Food for volunteers
Gabriele Lubasi (The Mocha Puddle) – Cupcakes
Johana Barak – Volunteer snacks, donated dresses for guests
Natalie Singh (Grandeur Catering) – Food at discounted price
Baptist Mission Guest House – Extra chairs
Victoria Hospital – Ambulance and staff
Lou Ulrich – Assembling lights, fixing broken appliances, setting up, and breaking down
Rebecca Fry – Traveled from U.S. to help plan, prep, implement, and host the event
Brian Weza – Made sure our event site was fully ready for the event
Morris Simamywa – Smoothing the floors, finishing the gate, and adding other church improvements