By Callie Daruk
Elegantly decorated tables, floating balloons and the warm glow from thousands of tiny lights transformed the Springfield Baptist Church fellowship hall into a one-of-a-kind ballroom Friday night. Music, excitement and laughter filled the air as volunteers poured in. Having been host to many special events over the years, none compare to what has taken place here every February for the past four years.
Along side a photo booth waiting to capture beaming faces and tucked in the corner of the room hung a back drop that read, Night to Shine: Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
One by one as guests arrived, both the awe and purpose of the night's celebration was evident. Sharp-dressed men and glamorous ladies arrived but unlike most other ballrooms around the country, these guests were extra special.
Special not because society has labeled them so, but special because God created them and they are loved by him. That's what Night to Shine and Springfield Baptist Church exist to proclaim to everyone and those with disabilities and limitations beyond their control are no exception.
"This night is tailor made to fit what we're all about; it's why we're a church. It's our job to remind all people that God loves the mess out of them. It's our job to remind others they are special and loved beyond imagination," said Pastor David Evans.
No expense was spared and no details were left out and the goal of every Springfield Baptist Church volunteer as well as other friends and neighbors was clear: to give every guest a night to remember. Corsages and boutonnieres were pinned, a glam station was set up, and an array of food catered to any possible need was prepared. Every space was filled so guest could go from place to place and feel loved.
Curtis Honts, a Springfield Baptist Church member and volunteer who helped with registration, matching buddies and pinning corsages and boutonnieres reflected on the evening. "I've been involved with Night to Shine for three years. We have a special friends class here at the church and this is just an extension of that. It is a great ministry."
Midway through the evening, the dance floor which stayed more lively than many high school proms, turned into a red carpet runway. The music stopped as Pastor Evans made his way to the microphone. One-by-one, he called every name from the guest list and one-by-one, each person walked and strolled the red carpet where they were crowned king and queen of the night. Amy Gallaher had the honor of crowning the men. "This event is something I look forward to every year," she said. "Watching their lives be enriched, enriches mine."
"When they hit that red carpet, they lit up," Pastor Evans said when speaking of the honor he had of calling each name to receive their crown. "That was beyond exciting."
Night to Shine plays an especially important role in the life of the Evans family. While it was Pastor Evans first year to attend, his wife Stephanie attended the previous year. "It was this event last year that started her love of Springfield Baptist Church. This is the event right here that started it all," he added.
Following his crown, fifteen year old guest, John Cohea, was asked what his favorite part of the night was.
"Just being here."
That sentiment was echoed by guest, volunteers and vendors alike. Michael Alexander who represented the company, Lets Booth It, attends weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, church events and more throughout the year. Attending Night to Shine for his second year, he said, "I love how everybody is having a blast. Everybody's dancing. It's fantastic."
Jeff Wright who attended with the medical support team attended for his fourth year. When asked what keeps him coming back each year, his own beautiful story emerged. "I have a nine-year-old son with down syndrome. I want him to experience this someday and I want to watch him do it."
As the evening wound down and to everyone's disappointment, the time to say good bye arrived, Springfield Baptist Church Associate Pastor, Martin Babb, took a moment to share with me the names of those who were instrumental in bringing this event back to the church year after year.
"It takes a lot of people to pull this off," said Babb.
Under his leadership, a steering committee (Carol Ann Akins, Michele Galluzzi, Jana West) works throughout the year to ensure the event's success. Many others help them lead this event including Erin Cobb, Aletha Fiser, and Marcia Lyons. As he sat watching the guest enjoy the last few moments of this years event, he added, "One of the best things about tonight is seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter."
Smiles and laughter were plenteous at this year's Night to Shine event but one thing was not: the number of churches hosting this event. Martin mentioned that unfortunately, there were so few churches in the area hosting this year that they had to turn people away.
Both Martin and Pastor Evans responded when asked what they would say to churches considering hosting Night to Shine at their church next year.
"Do it," said Babb. "One church in Nashville isn't enough."
Pastor Evans responded, "Why not? It allows you to reach families and remind them they're not alone."
Numerous things sparkled at the Springfield Baptist Church Night to Shine event: smiles, sequins, lights and camera flashes. Many guest were nonverbal; unable to say what the night meant to them. That was okay because what radiated most and what expressed far more than words could was the love of Christ that glistened from every precious eye.
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Evans