Hundreds of churches worldwide took part in the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom events for people with special needs last weekend. Unlike the last six years of the annual Valentine’s Day weekend tradition, this year's prom gatherings looked different.
In a tweet Friday, Tebow shared that six months ago, they did not know how to approach Night to Shine 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But, canceling the event was never the alternative.
“COVID can cancel a lot of things but it can’t cancel celebrating people’s value and worth,” Tebow tweeted.
Night to Shine exists to provide a night centered around God’s love to honor and celebrate those with disabilities by providing an unforgettable prom night experience. Through hundreds of host churches, Night to Shine Virtual and Shine-Thru events took place across the United States and over 30 countries, including Israel, Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Kazakhstan.
Tim Tebow Foundation President Steve Biondo told The Christian Post that canceling Night to Shine “just wasn’t an option.”
“We began to think and pray and brainstorm about alternatives because what you can’t cancel is these image-bearers’ value and worth,” he said. “What compelled us was the consistent understanding that these image-bearers are so worth it. … We as an organization [had] to come up with alternatives because you can’t cancel that work. And it’s such a powerful truth that we want to run definitely even through COVID.”
Night to Shine exists to provide a night centered around God’s love to honor and celebrate those with disabilities by providing an unforgettable prom night experience. Biondo said the goal is to continue to grow Night to Shine and make it available in every nation through partnerships with local churches.
With COVID-19 precautions in place, this year’s celebration was different but not diminished. According to the foundation, thousands of people were involved in various capacities with this year's event.
Biondo said it was even more important to host Night to Shine this year because so many special needs individuals have been even more isolated during the pandemic since they are at a higher risk. He said they need to know they are loved, seen and not forgotten.
Tebow and his wife, Demi-Leigh Tebow, traveled to three Shine-Thru locations this year at Nevada and Arizona churches, celebrating with the individuals and “spreading as much love and hope and faith as they possibly could,” Biondo said.
The Tim Tebow Foundation produced a Virtual Night to Shine video hosted by Tebow and his wife. The experience allowed viewers to virtually walk the red carpet, surrounded by cheering individuals waving encouraging signs, as well as sing and dance along to songs.
The foundation highlighted past Night to Shine events from around the world and featured messages from celebrities like Carrie Underwood, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Tori Kelly, Harry Connick, Jr., Sadie Robertson Huff and Bethany Hamilton.
Tebow shared the love of Jesus through John 3:16 at the end of the video and announced every one of the attendees as kings and queens of the prom.
“You are the king. You are the queen. You are a masterpiece. We love you so much,” Tebow said in the video.
The video was translated into multiple languages, as well as American Sign Language.
“In a new way, we were able to get this Gospel presentation embedded into a really powerful, virtual experience …,” Biondo said. “More people through this mechanism are hearing the Gospel than ever before.”
Waterfront Church in Washington, D.C. has participated in Night to Shine for six years and typically hosts the event in the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium.
“The greatest part about this year’s Night to Shine is that they were reminded that even (in this year), they were not forgotten,” Waterfront Kids and Special Needs Minister Lauren Pagett told CP. “In everything that is going around, they were still very much a priority. They still are a priority.”
Pagett said she and Autumn Randles, who helped spearhead the event years ago, prayed for 200 guests to attend. Though it was smaller than in previous years, over 230 individuals virtually attended the event from their homes.
For the full virtual prom experience, Waterfront volunteers delivered “swag bags” to the guests before Friday. The “swag bags” were filled with unique sneakers, an Uber Eats gift card, a card, a flower, a crown or tiara and Night to Shine merchandise.
In years past, Pagett shared that Waterfront’s Night to Shine guests would take a limo ride from the church located in D.C.’s Navy Yard district to Nationals Park and walk on the red carpet surrounded by volunteers to the prom dance party.
Along with the Tim Tebow Foundation’s virtual video experience, Waterfront offered an individualized virtual red carpet video where they announced the name and a fun fact about each guest at the virtual gathering.
“The kids got to hear from all over the world that they were loved by God and created perfectly by Him,” Pagett said.
Cartoon characters like Buzz Lightyear, Batman, Olaf, Mario and Luigi virtually welcomed the Waterfront guests down the red carpet with balloons and handmade signs reading, “You are Amazing,” “Shine Bright” and “Superstar.”
“Each year, our number one goal is that our friends with disabilities will know how loved they are and how celebrated they are, and that’s what’s so special,” Pagett said. “The affirmation [is given] to them and their caregivers that they are very much welcomed at church and welcome in the church and how God loved them and who Jesus is. That is the number thing at Waterfront is getting to pour into them and present the Gospel.”
Biondo said the goal is to continue to grow Night to Shine and make it available in every nation through partnerships with local churches.