“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Mr. Rogers
This quote from Fred Rogers is so fitting for the atmosphere of encouragement and camaraderie at the recent Friendship Festival, a day of inclusive activities and games for students at all levels of ability from West Michigan elementary and middle CLC Network member schools. Olympic-style games, activities, and worship organized by Jenison Christian eighth-grade students created opportunities for everyone to shine – whether it be in working as a team in “cross-country skiing”, coloring a Friendship Festival bag, trying out hallway “curling”, decorating a cookie with mounds of candy, passing the ball in pool-noodle floor hockey, pushing a teammate on a “bobsled”, or singing praise songs to God. It was a lively event filled with plenty of high-fives, enthusiastic cheering, and encouraging words throughout.
The beauty I experienced during these inclusive games was the genuine attitude of acceptance and understanding that they reflected. As the Friendship Festival theme proclaimed, these young students truly believe that they are “Champions for Christ”. They understand that they are each valued equally in the eyes of God and have God-given gifts to contribute to His Kingdom. It has become a natural way of life for each of them to accept their friend with a learning, cognitive, and/or physical difference. This difference adds to the diversity of their school, and more so, to the diversity of God’s world, shaping their perspective of life for years to come.
Friendship Festival provides a set-apart time for these gifts and friendships to be celebrated and cherished, creating highlights of the year for the many students involved. I’m grateful to have witnessed this glimpse of the Kingdom – a place where each person contributes and belongs. Praise God for that!
Katie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network.