Southeast Christian Church member Jason Morrison has served on the cheer team at Shine, Southeast’s annual prom-like event for adults with disabilities, for the last two years.
But this year, he couldn’t help but feel like God was calling Him do something different, something outside his comfort zone.
“It has been awesome serving at Shine and seeing the joy on people’s faces as they come in the door, but I just knew that this year I needed to be inside, serving as an escort,” Morrison said.
Morrison is one of more than 800 escorts needed to make this year’s Shine Gala, held Friday, Oct. 11, at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus, an unforgettable night for each guest.
During the event, each guest is paired with an escort. Escorts and guests spend the evening dancing, eating dinner, playing games and taking photos together.
“Our escorts are the people who make the night truly shine,” Shine Disabilities Ministry Leader Mary Tatum said. “Shine is the event our people look forward to every year, and it brings so much joy to everyone to be able to dance, play games and celebrate God’s love and goodness with a friend.”
Morrison decided to serve as an escort after realizing the joy of serving outside of his comfort zone.
Several months ago, Tatum asked Morrison and his father-in-law, Southeast member Gary Spangler, if they would be interested in helping a single mom with two sons with disabilities during weekend worship services. Both young men are nonverbal, and because of their specific needs, could not sit through a worship service. Once a month, Morrison and Spangler spend time with the boys outside the sanctuary while their mom is able to attend the service.
“At first, I was really nervous,” Morrison said. “I thought, ‘What if I say or do something wrong?’ But I soon realized I was focused on my personal preferences, rather than this family’s spiritual needs. She’s been able to actually worship with her church family, sit and reflect while taking communion and hear an entire sermon, all because someone set aside their wants for someone’s needs.”
Morrison said that although it has been a learning experience, he enjoys serving adults with disabilities.
“I’ve felt this wonderful combination of being rewarded, needed and challenged, all at the same time,” he said. “It’s a powerful thing to show people how important and welcomed they are. I want whoever I’m paired up with to leave feeling like their experience was amazing.”
That’s what Shine is all about.
“At the end of the night, we hope our guests walk away knowing how much God loves them,” Tatum said. “Dancing and karaoke is fun, but being able to show people the love of Christ is why we do this.”
Every other year, Shine is a formal event. This year, the Disabilities Ministry wanted to make the event extra special by calling it the Shine Gala.
“Many of our guests are older, and others have been to Shine for years,” Tatum said. “We love celebrating with singing and dancing, and that will continue. Calling this year’s event the Shine Gala is a way we can give our guests an event that feels a little more mature—it’s something new for all of us to get excited about.”
This year’s theme is “It’s a Small World.” Guests will get to experience to excitement of traveling the world, as they take in the sights and sounds of different cultures.
Tatum said this year’s theme is special because it’s more than just decorations.
“We want our guests to walk away feeling both celebrated and connected,” she said. “We hope that in seeing how different these cultures are, they’ll be able to see how God created all people and know that He loves them no matter what they look like or where they come from.”
Though escorts are the greatest volunteer need, there are other ways for people to serve at the Shine Gala.
For families with young children, serving on the cheer team is a great way to get everyone involved. Crowds line the sidewalks of the Blankenbaker Campus with signs, fun outfits and even pom-poms, and cheer for every arriving guest. Around 20 volunteers are also needed to help clean up after the event is finished.
Morrison said serving on the cheer team has really helped him and his wife, Gina, show their two daughters the joy of loving and welcoming all people like Jesus does.
His wife and daughters will serve on the cheer team again this year.
“I hope they’re the loudest, craziest people out there,” he said.