Photo by Claudia Parker
Donae Parker poses for a recent photo to be used in a program booklet at an upcoming conference where she is speaking.
Through teary eyes, I witnessed my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, deliver a 12-minute sermon on faith during a youth service held this Sunday at Roberts Temple Church of God, 4021 S. State, Chicago. Her message was personal, at times lighthearted, while other times heartfelt. She ended with a petition for the audience to have faith by inviting her baby sister, Rhonda-Rene, before them so the duet could recite the closing words of “Have faith. Have faith!”
I was overcome with emotion watching both of my daughters excitingly sharing a message of faith with a room full of people who rejoiced in the Lord for having witnessed a third-grader this bold and confident for Christ.
“How did you train her to do that?” That is the question my husband, Don, and I are bombarded with everywhere she speaks. I’d love to take the credit for having raised a preschool pastor, but it actually came about as a result of a family crisis.
Donae had longed for a sibling. When I brought Rhonda-Rene home from the hospital I couldn’t peel her away from the kid. Donae smothered her like gravy over a biscuit. It was only a short time before I detected Rhonda-Rene wasn’t developing in a typical fashion. My intuition led to a plethora of specialists’ revealing a diagnosis of a lifelong disability. A mutation in her FOXP1 gene was discovered and it comes with a variety of characteristics that mimic autism. While Don and I tried desperately to figure out how to handle our “new normal” conversing with doctors, therapists and social workers, Donae was often asked to take a seat and keep quiet. None of us could comprehend how this could be meant for our good.
For Donae, especially!
Not only was Donae unable to interact with Rhonda-Rene in the manner she had hoped, she had also lost the attention she was used to receiving from me and Don. That’s about the time we met her imaginary friend in the mirror. That was pretty harmless, but the heart palpitations and other health-related complaints that kept us running back and forth to the pediatrician weren’t. In each instance, a placebo prescription seemed to solve the problem, until the next one.
After praying about how to handle both of my children’s needs appropriately, God gave me a dream that manifested the idea for my children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.” Seeing as how Donae was 3 and a preschooler herself, I ran the concept by her. “What do you think of a children’s book that portrays kids handling all the affairs of a ministry while educating them on the days of the week and numbers 1-10,” I asked her?
I suppose you can say she was my consultant. She felt the idea was superb, ‘if’ she could be the pastor. I acquiesced and made the preschool pastor character in my book after her. But, I later learned she meant she wanted me to help her become a real pastor.
Hmmm. That took a little more thought but after watching a few episodes of Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer deliver their sermons over the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), we were ready.
At the age of 4, Donae was able to enthusiastically memorize several scriptures that were organized into a four-minute message. After gathering all of her baby dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals we had ourselves a congregation. Just in case someone wanted to give their life to Christ, Rhonda-Rene’s baby bathtub sufficed for a baptism. All of this was recorded and posted on YouTube. To date, Donae’s Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor sermon has been viewed over 160,000 times. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/s58tZgvM6I8
Since her first sermon five years ago, Donae has been invited to speak at various churches and organizations. Her mini-messages of faith have resonated with congregations so much that she’s often invited back several times to the same location.
However, Sunday was uniquely special because it’s the first time Donae has ever invited Rhonda-Rene to come up with her. It wasn’t even possible before now because Rhonda-Rene wasn’t able to speak at all. She would cause such a disruption babbling, we would usually schedule a respite worker to keep her during Donae’s speaking engagements.
Words cannot describe how far our family has come.
God found a way to give Donae the attention she was seeking in a way that glorifies Him and is encouraging to others. Because she’s such an articulate communicator, she's helped Rhonda-Rene to approximate words and produce language doctors were uncertain she’d ever be able to form. Bit by bit we have embraced the journey of having a special needs child, and we now see the gifts that we’ve all been given as a result.
All things are truly working together for our good. To view Donae’s most recent sermon on faith, visit https://youtu.be/9fQEcszZv7k
Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at AuthorClaudiaParker@yahoo.com