Calderon (left) participates in a socially distanced birthday for one of her students.
Calderon (left) participates in a socially distanced birthday for one of her students.

As COVID-19 significantly impacted the nature of ministry, navigating this new digital space while creating meaningful connection presented a learning curve for Delmy Calderon, who has been leading the special needs children’s ministry My Friend’s House at Santa Clarita church since her hiring in 2018.

Calderon, who has worked as a special needs educator in the Santa Clarita Valley for 27 years, was used to a more hands-on approach to the ministry. Before the pandemic, the Sabbath School program consisted of music, prayer, a Bible story, and sharing time. Each child was also responsible for a portion of the program.

With the pandemic, adjustments suddenly needed to be made to transition from meeting in person to online. Calderon initially used multiple platforms—FaceTime, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, whatever was most available to the families—before finding consistency and ease of use on Zoom.

“It took six months to adjust to the new program,” Calderon said. She spent most of last year figuring out what worked and what didn’t—and exploring whether or not the children were benefiting in an online format. “I often have to remind myself that worship is not a performance; it’s about giving everything to God,” she added.

The church felt it was important to give the kids—and their parents—a sense of normalcy and maintain routine during this unprecedented time. “The parents were just grateful that someone was available to keep this going,” Calderon said.

In 2019, the church applied for the Pacific Union Conference Evangelism Endowment Fund to help push the ministry forward. “When I asked our church board what evangelistic focus they wanted to make, they immediately said My Friend’s House—and the people it serves—was the group they wanted to expand ministry for,” said Mike Stevenson, pastor of Santa Clarita church. “The goal of the ministry was and is to serve an underserved group in our church and the community. We as a church decided to continue paying Delmy during the pandemic.”

Parents weren’t shy about expressing the difference the ministry has made for their children. “My Friend’s House ministry has helped Josiah and his siblings learn so much about Jesus’s love for them,” said Esme, mom of Josiah. Yonatan Moha, dad of Memen, is also appreciative of the ministry and has seen his son open up and apply what he’s learned. “He has five days of Zoom class for school,” Moha said, “but he doesn’t get as much as he gets from this. He participates with you.”

When Santa Clarita church reopens for in-person worship, Calderon plans to adopt a hybrid approach in which she can simultaneously teach in person and through Zoom so that children unable to join in person can still participate.

Though the methods have changed, Calderon said the overall goal “that they will come to an understanding of who their Creator is” has remained the same. “The next step is to work toward baptism, for the ones who are ready,” Calderon added. “They are almost there.”