February 2008

Several months ago Steve came from Louisiana to Brevard County in Florida wanting to look over The Special Gathering because he was interested in beginning a ministry for individuals who are intellectually delayed.  He came, viewed us, asked questions and then went home.  Richard Stimson, our founder and executive director, has been in contact with him over the past months. 

This Monday, we received an e-mail from Steve.  He has started a ministry similar to Special Gathering.  Here is his exciting e-mail: 

 Thanks for your help and guidance! This is just to give you an update! We started our Gathering yesterday. What a blessing! We had two for Sunday school.  For the church service, we had seven! Everything flowed very well, with times and music.  I have a wonderful piano player. Some of the members overslept so they were late.  One member Brother Bill actually read with some help. (He cannot speak.)  He also took up the offering. Brother Roy, another member, sang a solo for us.  One of our ladies, Ms. Jessica, told her Mother not to stay at the beginning of Sunday school.  As she was leaving we could hear her telling her mom repeatedly that this was her church now.

Often we are asked how many programs like Special Gathering there are.  The answer is we aren’t sure.  There are eight programs that are under The Special Gathering, Inc. umbrella but that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Over the years, many people have come to see and taste and figure out if what we do can be duplicated in their area.  Most of them see that this is the best kept secret in ministry.  They go home and begin something that looks and feels a lot like The Special Gathering but with a different name.

Stimson is in the business of freely giving away whatever expertise Special Gathering has.  He has often said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” 

Thanks, Steve, for the update and for following through with your commitment to people who are mentally challenged.

Shelly is a young woman in her early 30’s.  She is an avid writer.  Some of her articles appear in our monthly newsletter, Connecting Point.  Terry’s passion is kitchen duty.  Anything that involves dirty dishes or grimy pots and pans presents a welcome contest for her.  Steve is stingy to a fault but he loves unconditionally.  When his girlfriend became sick, rather than dropping her, he became even more devoted to her and her growing needs.  Larry’s girlfriend has been faithful for almost 20 year.  Larry can muster up faithfulness for about 20 minutes, if she is in the room. 

People within the mentally challenged community are sometimes lumped together as though they have one personality.  But they are individuals with individual needs and desires.

There are actually three personality types usually designated to our population.  The first is the congenial “Downs Forever Child.”  She is petite and wears an eternal smile.  Our Downs Forever Child (DFC) is compliant to a fault and loved by everyone.  She never gives anyone any trouble and is the perfect little person.

The second personality is similar to the DFC.  He is Forrest Gump (FG).  FG is tall and strong but shy and unable to effectively communicate with people but he is a sage with wisdom beyond his IQ.  He can be greatly misunderstood but things seem to happen for him that are wonderful because he is such a good, wise and kind person.  He is as gentle as a kitty cat and though people don’t understand him, in the end, everyone loves and admires him from afar.

 The third personality is the Mice Killer.  He was made famous by the book, Of Mice and Men.  MK is similar to Forrest Gump except he cannot control his emotions and therefore you never know when he might snap off the head of his pet mice or a pretty young woman he greatly admires. 

Like all stereotypes, none of them are real.  People with Downs can be cranky and stubborn.  Forrest Gump isn’t a great fountain of wisdom hidden in the body of a mentally challenged individual.  And our population is seldom involved in crime, mass murder or mayhem. 

The wonder of this population is that they are not phonies.  They don’t wear masks to hide their imperfections.  Henri Nouwen wrote about his experiences within the developmentally disabled community and in doing so, dared the church to become authentic in our relationship with the Lord.  We love to quote and read Henri Nouwen and his famous book, In the Name of Jesus.  However, there are a few people I know who dare to live the Nouwen experience.  There is a family in our community who opened a group home in their house.  As their corporation grew, young couples moved into the different group homes and became a part of the mentally challenged community 24 hours a day. 

And there are others.  We have many faithful volunteers who come and live four days out of the year within this exciting cloistered, sub-culture at our Camp/Retreat held once a year.  Usually they come from curiosity or concern.  Some teenagers come, dragged there by their parents.  But they almost always come back year after year.  They work and play and clean messes and receive abundant love.  They learn the rich variety of personalities within the mentally challenged community and they come back for more.

 Have you seen the great variety of personalities within this community?  Who are some of the most interesting people you have met?

I first met Carolyn in 1989.  She was a pretty young teenager who is high functioning but mentally challenged.  In 1991, her family moved to another city.  Much to my surprise, Carolyn appeared at Special Gathering in October.  During the years she was absent, her mother and sister died of cancer and she has fought the disease.  Carolyn is now in her late 30’s. 

One week, she came with a gift.  Because we were taking up gifts for Haiti, she said, “This isn’t for the Haitian children.  It is for you.  You are the only pastor I ever had.”   

Mentally challenged persons who move away can usually find a workshop or job that suits their needs.  They can find good doctors who will help to cure their ills. They can find other group homes.  The state, by hook or crook, will take care of their physical needs.  But what about their spiritual needs?  Again and again, we hear, “We could never find another Special Gathering.” 

It is because of the financial support of our local churches that this ministry exists.  There are more than 90 churches in Florida and South Carolina who make this ministry possible.  We receive support from congregations in denominations of every strip and creed.  We teach the simplicity of “Jesus loves me.  This I know for the Bible tells me so.”  Our members can understand this message and every church believes and teaches this simple doctrine.  

Years ago, Special Gathering decided that we would become a part of congregations’ budgets rather than ask for donations from individual members of a church.  This has meant that there has been a slower growth in the finances of our area programs, but this slow steady growth has meant financial stability that many parachurch ministries don’t enjoy.   Carolyn and the other 350 people who attend the eight Special Gatherings each week need the spiritual support they receive from The Special Gathering. 

Is there a method that your ministry uses that has made your ministry financially stable?  Can you share it?

Part of what I would like to happen with this blog is to give voice to relevant issues that could help to connect people who work with persons with disabilities to each other.  I have searched the web to find similar blogs to connect with but I haven’t found any.   Do you know of other blogs that may be willing to connect with this one?

There is one blog written by a mother of an autistic child that is really good but I’m not sure that she would have the time to interact with folks.  The information is pretty specific to the autistic population but it is well-written and factual.

 Part of my hope is to be able to put a human face and expose the heart of this often misunderstood population.  Perhaps even dispelling the really bad information that can be found in written material everywhere.  I am so happy that I didn’t read Of Mice and Men until after I had come to know and love this population of people. 

I seem to have no problem finding misinformation and distorted views like the blog written by a movie critic who wrote about sitting behind a group of mentally challenged people in a movie theatre.  His thesis was that the horror movie was taking place in the theatre, not on the screen. 

 Guess your help is needed in this adventure.  I would love to have other contributors and other comments.  What would you like to see happen with this blog?

Prayer among FriendsPerhaps the most important thing I have learned from the computer age is the wonderful power of forgiveness.  I remember that one of the first things I was told about my computer was “don’t worry they are very forgiving.”  Interestingly, this is also one of the great lessons I’ve seen in action within the mentally challenged community. 

My first foray into the world of computers was with an Apple 2E.  My husband, Frank, had purchased it and our third-grade daughter, Carol, gave him his first lessons in turning on and using the machine. 

I had a red IBM Selectric Correcting Typewriter and I was reluctant to let go of my prize machine.  Then I got a job with a Christian magazine.  I was required to write at least 200 pages each month, in addition to numerous assignments with ridiculous deadlines. 

My husband convinced me one night after supper that I should try the word processor.  At 2am after completing an unheard of number of pages, I slipped into bed next to Frank and whispered, “I will never use my typewriter again.”  The thing I loved was that the computer made corrections so simple.  You just backspace and, WaLa, all was forgiven.

When I entered into the world of disabilities, I found the same forgiving and loving spirit.  Yes, people who are mentally challenged are people like everyone else.  However, their life experiences have taught them the great value of forgiveness. 

Maybe, it’s because their lives are so hard and so filled with missteps that they are grateful to receive forgiveness from others.  That is certainly the reason that they enthusiastically embrace the redemptive Christ into their lives and heart.

Maybe it’s because they experience so much mistreatment and misunderstanding that they have to forgive more than the rest of us.  However, I think the secret lies in what a mother told me several months ago.  We were talking about her family and some of the hurtful things they had done to her.  “Why do you continue to have anything to do with them?”  I asked.

“Oh, it’s too hard to hate and hold unforgiveness,” she said, while nonchalantly looking at her fingernails.  This dear mother had no idea the great secret of health, mental stability and happiness she had uncovered.  “It’s so much easier to love than to hate.”

My world was shaken.  Of course, she was correct but how had she discovered this wonderful promise?  I believe that the complexities of a hard life had taught her to seek for easy answers to life’s perplexing problems.  The mentally challenged community also seems to know the easy nature of love and forgiveness.  In Psalm 145 David confesses, “I have learned to not try to figure out things that are too high and hard for me.”

Perhaps that is the real attraction that people see when they venture into our cloistered sub-culture.  Maybe when we slip away from the crowd, there is a deep knowing that rings in our hearts,  I’ll never be the same person because I have experienced something genuine and deeply moving.  I have seen forgiveness walking in flesh and blood and I have seen the easy nature of love.

What have you learned about forgiveness that has changed your life and direction? 

Special Gathering received an e-mail yesterday that had been forwarded to us.  It was a short message from Agency for Persons with Disabilities.  Here is the content.  The first part, in blue, is from a Support Coordinator.  The second part, in red, is from APD. 

Have you heard about this?? I think she means 20 qh per day of meaningful day activity (companion, ADT and supported employment). Can they just reduce it when the handbook has not been finalized?

The new rule coming is going to be 20 hours of day activity for all three services
Joan Schneider
Agency for Persons with Disabilities, District 7 400 W. Robinson St. Suite 430 Orlando, Fl 32801
407 245-0440 ext. 606
S/C 344-0440 ext.606

Has anyone heard about this?  Can APD just reduce the number of hours paid without the handbook being changed?  I don’t think so.  However, we have seen in the past that APD seems to take liberties that aren’t “supposed to be.”

Too often, parents and consumers don’t know what is available to them in the way of services.  Sometimes, they may know but they don’t have the time or energy to invest in obtaining the necessary facts about the services they need.

  Now, there is an easy answer for everyone who would like more information.   

On March 8, 2008

there will be a




This is one day fair to provide individuals and families with information about services available in Brevard County for people who have a developmental disability.  

It will be held at


Melbourne Campus

Registration begins at 8:30am until 9am

Activities start at 9am and continue to 4:30pm

Lunch will be served and suggested donation is $5.

For information call

321 632-8610 Ext. 400

Pre-registration required for child care and sibshop

Pre-registration available on line at


Sponsored by Area 7, Family Care Council–Society for Exceptional Adults (SEA)Families Exploring Down Syndrome (FEDS)–Florida Diagnostic Learning and Resource System (FDLRS)–Brevard County School Exceptional Student Education

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