Strong churches with a bold commitment to the Great Commission

Testimony of Sharon Huggins

by Amanda Sullivan

Tiny miracles are witnessed every single day in each part of the world. God’s great design may be witnessed in the budding of a rose, the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and the birth of a child. Believing in God is easy when simply looking at the beauty of this world. But death, destruction, and disease make it infinitely more difficult for some to grasp God’s grace and providence—especially in the midst of circumstances that do not seem to have an expiration date.

For mom Sharon Huggins, trials seemed to abound, leaving her searching for peace and understanding. Sharon is the mother of three boys: Nathaniel, 15; and twins Christian and Ian, 12. All three of her sons have been diagnosed with autism. Her oldest son is classified as moderate, while Christian and Ian are categorized as severe and extremely severe, respectively.

But sometimes, God works in ways that are perceived as inconceivable at the time.

“My husband had given me directions to take a shortcut home and, while I followed them explicitly, I ended up on a parallel road going past a church with a carnival,” Sharon said.

Knowing she was lost, Sharon “felt a nudge” to pull into the church parking, but she defiantly disregarded the notion. So she continued driving.

“I got to the second entrance of the church, and my car literally just pulled into the driveway,” she revealed. “At that point, I knew I wasn’t in control, but I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on.”

“God will”

Sharon had found herself at Forest Baptist Church, of Forest, VA. The church was having a carnival to promote its upcoming Vacation Bible School (VBS).

“The first lady that I approached…was carrying a clipboard, and she said, ‘Have you signed your child up for VBS?’ Well, I had gently tried to wake Nathaniel when I saw the carnival, but he abruptly woke up and, at that point, was screaming and a mess beside me.”

Sharon explained that her family does not “do the school thing,” but the endearing woman with the clipboard and sign-up sheet simply offered her a form. Sharon tried once again, with her son Nathaniel screaming in the back seat, to convince the woman that VBS was not an option for her or her three sons, asking if she knew anything about interacting with autistic children.

“No,” the sign-up lady said politely. “So, would you need three forms?”

Determined to disrupt the sign-up lady’s resolve in registering her children for VBS, Sharon drove home to pick up her two other autistic sons, convinced her family would not be welcomed.

“So I drove home, got the other two, drove back, and deposited all three crying boys in front of her. And she said, ‘So, you’d like three forms?’” Sharon recalled. “I said, ‘Do you know how to handle autistic children?’ She just looked at me and simply said, ‘God will,’ and I walked away stunned.”

It was through that encounter that Sharon started to become reacquainted with God and an old friend.

“In the middle of talking to [the signup lady], I had looked up and seen Marilyn Raney, whom we had met almost two years prior to that when her husband had bought my husband’s car,” Sharon shared. “So, I looked up and was watching her walk across the field with two children, you know, bopping behind her very happily. I remember thinking, how come she gets the happy children and who are these very strange people?”

Sharon registered her sons for VBS and spent her time running “between all three boys all week long because they were crying, disoriented, and disorganized,” she said. Despite the chaos of the week-long event, Sharon “watched the love of Christ pour out from one person after another.”

“Every time I saw where the twins were, Christian and Ian were either climbing up over the chairs, slithering under the chairs, or screaming at the top of their lungs,” she said. “They would be clung underneath the chairs, and Don (a church elder) would just be patting them on their backs, saying, ‘Jesus loves you,’ over and over.”  

As with most VBS events, Forest Baptist Church hosts a parent night, where the children perform songs they have learned throughout the week. For Sharon, this event was nothing less than nerve-wracking for her, wondering how her practically nonverbal sons who didn’t know how to “assimilate with other children” would react. But her son Nathaniel defied all odds when he got on stage with the other 200 children and performed the whole program.

“I remember smacking this man beside me. I tried gently, but it was just one of those knee-jerks, and I’m like, ‘That’s God at work,’” she said. “He just turned around very matter-of-factly and said, ‘Of course it is,’ and went back to his conversation. I thought I had this huge revelation, and he just said it so matter-of-factly like, “So, yeah, that’s God.’”

A New Home

Sharon and her family spent the next month living with her mother. When they returned home, Sharon’s emotions had “dropped to an even lower point,” she shared.

“I remember just sitting one afternoon basking in self-pity thinking, ‘What am I going to do?  I’ve tried everything, I’ve poured out my heart to try to help these children,’” she cried. “I don’t know what to do.”

In an act of desperation, the Huggins family went back to Forest Baptist Church that Sunday—amid fears of rejection and embarrassment. Her sons insisted the family sit on the front row. Sharon was encouraged by the boys’ desire to attend the service—until it actually started.

“They didn’t like the noise, they didn’t like the crowds, they didn’t like the people, and they certainly didn’t like anything that anybody was saying,” she said. “So as I’m sitting there horrified, I’m watching the pastor walk over our direction, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no. Here we go again. I want to be, I need to be here.’”

Sharon feared that history at a former church would repeat itself and they would be asked to leave “because the children did not accommodate the behavior that the minister deemed appropriate,” she said.

“I’m starting to shake and sweat, and he shook our hands with the most genuine grin I have ever seen in my life, and he said, ‘You know, you’ll never make good Baptists sitting in the front row,’” Sharon shared with a smile. 

Pastor Tyler Scarlett also remembers his first encounter with the Huggins family.

“Soon after that first visit, Sharon emailed me and explained [her sons’] autism and various special needs,” Pastor Tyler said. “She also explained that they had been asked to leave a former church because of how disruptive the children were. I think she was fishing around to see if that might be a possibility at Forest. I assured her that Jesus loved and welcomed those who were sick and had special needs—likewise, she and her boys were loved and always welcome at Forest Baptist Church.”

A True Friend

About a week after the Huggins family started attending the church, Marilyn reached out to Sharon by inviting her and her sons into her home once a week.

“She put aside her homeschooling and was obedient to Christ and invited us in and made an amazing cup of tea every week,” Sharon said. “The first month or so, she stood by one door and I stood by the other, and we watched. We counted heads—one, two, three, one, two, three—because they didn’t like anywhere for half a second.”

Throughout the time Sharon spent with Marilyn, the two talked about the boys’ social skills and how to adjust them to Sunday School. After some time, Sharon asked Marilyn to explain the concept of baptism to her.

“[Marilyn] will tell you that she pretty quickly discerned that I really didn’t need to know about baptism,” Sharon said. “I needed to know Jesus…shortly after that (we always sat at the table and her Bible was always fairly close), I pushed her Bible at her and with the waving of the hands, I said, ‘Okay, go ahead and do just whatever needs to be done, like just pray, whatever.’”

Marilyn’s response was simple: “No.”

“And I thought, ‘That’s it? No?’” she said. “Of course that was not it.  She started feeding me God’s Word, and that’s all she did. She just gave me verse after verse—emailed me Scripture. So after a while, I humbled myself and sat down and read it and thought, ‘Okay, well if this is all she’s going to give me, then I’d better take it.’”

While Sharon had been reading the Bible, the words, to her, were meaningless. One night, her children and husband went to bed early, granting her a “God-given moment,” she explained.

“My brain said go upstairs and go to sleep, and my feet walked me downstairs to the basement, and my hands opened up the Bible and grabbed all the verses,” she shared. “I started reading, and those words about jumped off the page,” Sharon said. “I almost dropped the Bible. I had to catch it, and I started crying.”

“Here was a holy, perfect God, and I was worthless, and I was humbled to the core,” she said. “I mean, here I was—I was teaching three autistic boys, I was accepting no help from anybody else (you know, my family was telling me ‘you know you’re disciplined, you’re good, you’re strong,’), and I was nothing before this holy, perfect God. I started sobbing, and I had no idea how to talk to Him.”

That night, God answered Sharon and gave her that “peaceful assurance that [she] had been craving,” she said. In that moment, “He satisfied my every need…and filled my heart with what I didn’t even know [I] was missing.”

Naturally, Sharon wanted to share her news with her friend.

“I didn’t tell Marylyn that I was coming over, and I walked in her door the next day,” she said. “I had prepared for that 20-minute drive to her house exactly what I was going to say to tell her what had just happened, and I walked in the door and she said, ‘My sister in Christ,’ and high-fived me before I could even contemplate getting my hand up. I thought, ‘Wow, she knew.’”

A New Beginning

Shortly after her conversation with Marilyn, Sharon and her husband visited Pastor Tyler to tell him about her salvation and discuss baptism. Tyler asked her if she would share her testimony at the church. Sharon refused.

“By Thursday morning, I was emailing him, explaining that I felt God was calling me to share my testimony on Sunday. I was shaking when I stood up to do it,” she shared. “I learned my first lesson in obedience to Christ above my comfort level…when he handed me the microphone, I didn’t see anybody in the congregation.”

After Sharon’s baptism, her oldest son Nathaniel pointedly said, “I am never getting baptized, and you can’t make me.”

“I have no intention to do what God alone can do,” Sharon stated matter-of-factly.

Two weeks later, though, when Sharon sat down to teach Nathaniel, he proclaimed, “I need to talk to Pastor Tyler right now.”

“I thought maybe he wanted to go play Legos again with him because that’s what he does,” she explained. “And I said, ‘What about?’ And he had mapped out salvation and what Christ had done for him. I was already dialing the phone, and Tyler grilled him, and we set up a date for him to be baptized.”

Pastor Tyler had one more question for Sharon before he ended the call: “Will he share his testimony?” Sharon replied, “No.”

“By the end of the week, he was dictating his testimony to me, spending an enormous amount of time just meticulously changing this word or that word because it had to be exactly what he felt God had called him to say,” Sharon shared. “He got up and gave God all the glory for his autism, called it what it is—a blessing—and reduced the majority of the congregation to tears in a matter of seconds.”

The cycle repeated itself two more times—once with her youngest son Ian and again with Christian.

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone coming to faith in Christ, and there is nothing even more special than your family coming to Christ,” Sharon said. “So in three years, God’s saved me, my three sons, my mother…and I have watched Him move in every manner of their walk.”

Despite her sons’ autism, the three boys are bold witnesses for Christ.

“Because He has saved all three of my boys, they’re ‘tunnel-vision Christ’—they want nothing else but to preach the Gospel to the nations,” she shared. “They go to the grocery store, and they minister to people waiting in line at the grocery. I have never said a word—they preach Christ while they are unloading groceries.”