June 2008

Vero Bible Class

Teaching the Bible in Vero Beach

In the Special Gathering, we teach the simple essence of the Gospel,

Jesus loves me

This I know

For the Bible

Tells me so.

This is what our members understand and it’s the heart and core of the Scriptures.  In addition, every church and denomination agrees with this simple premise. As a parachurch ministry we understand that God commissioned the local church with the task of evangelizing and discipleship.  Therefore, we endeavor to not by-pass the local church but to become a part of the local church by asking to become a part of their budgets.   This strategy does force us to use the KISS theory (Keep It Simple, Stupid.) in all our teaching.  Nevertheless, it is amazing how much you can preach and teach in these small boundaries.

Below is an excerpt of a comment left on our June 29, Sermon blog.  I’ve included it for several reasons.  First and I admit it, I’m starved for comments.  While this blog is picked up by several national organizations each day to carry on their blogs, the other comments are few and far between.  Even though this a boiler plate comment that Rev. Billy leaves on many blogs to draw people to his blog, I’ve included it.

But there is much more.  The most important reason why I’ve included it is:  What Rev. Billy is espousing is the very thing that you need to avoid like the plague when teaching your members.  There are many rational arguments I could use to counter his beliefs.  For one, all the books he mentioned are an interesting read but they are riddled with mistakes.  There have been no factual mistakes found within the 66 canonized Scripture texts. 

However, back to the point.  The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We aspire to bring the gospel to our people who are intellectually disabled and then to train and disciple them.  However, there are developmental deficiencies that they face in any attempt to understand complex concepts.  An argument regarding the validity of the more than 600 Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts which exist but are excluded from the canon of Scriptures is not an argument that our members will understand or be of interest to them.  Therefore, it is an argument that we avoid. 

Here is the comment left by Rev. Bolitho: 

In the Protestant church only the 66 books approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, which today is known as the Authorized King James Bible, are allowed.

Fourteen other books, which were included in the original King James Bible, and 22 other books which were mentioned or quoted in the King James Bible, are not included today.

There was no specific list or accounting of all the books that made up the Bible until the commission of the first Bible by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century AD.

It is believed there were up to 600 books, taken out by the formation of Catholicism by Constantine; even one lost book is a great loss.

Also many do not know that the Apocryphal books were actually included in the King James translation until they were officially taken out by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885.

My conclusion is that if these books mentioned by God’s people in the Bible, was good enough for them to read and to study, and to accept that it is the word of God, then I to accept that these other books mentioned in the Bible is the word of God. And to reject them would be a grave loss to me. But we do know that if man has any involvement in writing God’s Word, he makes mistakes and sometimes changes the Word of God, therefore we must always seek the Holy Spirits teaching when we are reading holy scriptures today, for the Holy Spirit will always lead us into all truth as Jesus said.


Show Me the Church

Acts 2:41 to 42


Central Theme:  The church is an active group of believers.



       1.     Show a picture of church building where I was raised.  Ask what is this?

       2.     Ask is this the church?  No


       I.     You are the church.


              A. Have a member read Acts 2:41 to 42…


           II.     We are going to look at what the church does


              A. We learn the teachings of the Bible and our faith fathers.

              B. We share by giving. 

              C. We break bread or fellowship.

              D. Prayer.


     III.     How do we do it.


              A. Our teachers help us to understand the Bible.

                   1.  They teach us what is important to know

                   2.  They teach us how to live like Jesus

              B. You give in the offering.

              C. We eat together, play together

              D. We pray. 

                   1.  Our deacons.

                   2.  Gloria White, we had special prayer


Conclusion–     The church is you but the church is actively doing and learning.

World Trade Center site   Site of the World Trade Center March 2007

Over the past two months, I’ve been thinking.  What wonderful things could have happened if Jacob had given his twin brother, Esau, the bowl of soup he requested, rather than selling it to him?

What would have happened had Jacob decided against tricking his father? What if he had decided against pretending to be his brother Esau?

What would have happened if Joseph’s brother had chosen to ignore their younger brother’s silly antics and their father’s favoritism toward the boy.  Understanding instead to bless their old father and the young son of his old age.  What would have happened?

I know. I’ve had the same thoughts.  God in his foreknowledge used their sin and selfishness to bring about his glorious deliverance of the entire nation of Israel. 

But what would have happened had these men and women chose to do the best thing, the holy thing?  If God can work such glory out of hideous mistakes, what can he do with obedience and submission to his will and ways?

In chosing our own way as Jacob and Rebekah and Issac and the Joseph’s brother did, we have seen the fulfillment of Romans, “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”  But the lingering question has stirred my heart.  What if I choose God’s way, instead?  What would be the glory the world could encounter?  Dwight L. Moody said,  “The world has not seen the impact one man sold out to God can have.” 

Parents of children who are born with disabilities are often plagued with the what if questions of life?  My question today is “What if our choices become Godly, holy choices?  Salvation means that we can choose God’s way.  What if we DID choose God way?  What would happen then?


Of course, she won’t come or bring her two children because she ended the telephone conversation with “I’ll think about it.”  In polite language that means “No.”  And I don’t blame her.

I’d called this mother to invite her to come and bring her children to our Special Gathering that meets on Sunday morning at First United Methodist Church in Melbourne.  I liked her immediately.  The vibrancy and confidence of her personality was exposed in her voice.  She was polite and careful not to reveal the offenses she’s experienced over the years.  But I’ve worked with The Special Gathering of Indian River which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community for almost 20 years.  We do classic ministry, evangelism and discipleship. Too often I’ve heard the signs and her conversation screamed with desperate undertones of rejection. 

There are several reasons why she won’t entrust her precious treasures to The Special Gathering.  The most obvious reason is that they are her children and she isn’t convinced that I care enough about them to care enough about them.  Too many people have promised to care, only leave her and her treasures stranded in that all-too familiar corridor called Hope.  Unfortunately, in our world, Hope usually leads to an empty room labeled Loneliness.  She’s seen her children sitting quietly in Loneliness too often.  She chooses to not risk the hurt this time.

Second, they’ve been rejected by normal society once too often.  Rejection by her church was more than she could bear.  “Can you imagine how much it hurts to see everyone else included and my children left out more times than I can count.  Every single time.”  It was a retorical question.  She didn’t expect me to understand.  So there was no question mark and she didn’t wait for an answer.  But in our 20 minute conversation, she repeated her question three times.

Third, she doesn’t know me, Linda Howard, well enough to trust her must precious gems into my care.  My schedule doesn’t permit me to go to Saturday bowling anymore because I’m in Vero.  She mentioned it to me, “I don’t remember ever seeing you at Saturday bowling.”  If I really cared, wouldn’t I be at the things her children care about?  Wouldn’t I show up at least some time?  Sure, I’m busy doing a van route during that time and I’m at their workshop weekdays but she isn’t there during the week.  Where am I during the rest of the week?

Fourth, her children aren’t able to speak and she’s not confident that her children won’t be ignored, again.  “They have no behavior issues.  So they are usually shuttled into a corner and left to stare. That’s normal for them.”  She explained that she’s learned how to engage them but most people don’t even try.  While I endeavored to explain that our program is geared to minister to mentally challenged individuals, she ears and head heard but her heart was not listening.

There are probably several other reasons why she won’t come now.  But she will sometime in the future and the children will become more confident disciples of Christ.  God will work in her heart as I pray and reach out to her children.  She’ll begin to develop at trust level with The Special Gathering program because she really wants to be able to trust the Church, her church, again.

But for now, she won’t come.  And I don’t blame her.   

Note from specialgathering:  Once again, I’ve stolen from Aaron Nangle’s newsletter for Special Gathering weblog.  I wanted to use this as an opportunity to remind you of the great work he is doing.  And to let you know that if you would like to subscribe to his newsletter you can do so by going to WaiverProvider.com

Much of what he has to say this month, applies to only providers and Support Coordinators but parents and advocates need to understand what is happening to providers through APD.

Will Providers and Support Coordinators be Working For Free?

Do You Have Your Service Authorization?

Provider and Support Coordinators, do you have your service authorization? The new fiscal year starts on July 1, 2008.

You Can Work Without a Service Authorization, But Don’t Expect To Get Paid.

Do you have your service authorizations for the new fiscal year? Many of you do not. And, even if you do- they are most likely outdated with the old provider rates. You can work without a service authorization, but don’t expect to be paid. In this time of fiscal crisis and uncertainty, APD could very well say, “Thank you for your donation.” It has happened before, we just predict this year to be much worse.

There is Very Little The Support Coordinator Can Do.

The Allocation and Budget Control System (ABC) is now controlled by the Agency For Persons With Disabilities (APD). Therefore, APD puts the cost plan budgets into ABC, which in turn, will create service authorizations for providers. Support Coordinators can only VIEW and PRINT service authorizations. They can not even make a simple provider change. So, come July 1st, if you don’t have your service authorization.

Services Are Medically Necessary

When services have been deemed as medically necessary, the provider is faced with a difficult choice. Should my company work without a service authorization, and risk not getting paid? In many cases, that is not even an option. Not providing the service is in essence, neglect.

Are You Up To Date With The Billing Changes?

ACS is No Longer The Medicaid Billing Agent.

ACS is no longer the Medicaid Billing Agent. The new agent is EDS. This went into affect on June 19, 2008. ACS is no longer accepting or processing WINASAP or 837 X12N electronic claim transactions.

During the week of June 30, 2008, providers will not receive a payment from Medicaid.

According to Medicaid, “This week for non-payment is standard operation.”

Outside church, Tom and friends

Her buggy was full of garden items.  A couple of expensive but unnecessary statues, two rare and costly orchids, several upscale flower pots and a couple of bags of fertilizer.  She stood in the middle of the aisle.  Her conversation was loud and engaging.  She was obviously entertaining the entire garden section with her antidotes and comments. 

“There is no middle-class anymore,”  she concluded her rhetoric.  “You are either very, very rich or very, very poor.”  Disliking the jingle that threatened to interrupt her, she silenced her cell phone with precisely manicured nails.  Her Liz Claiborne shorts had not come from Wal-Mart and neither had her Aigner sandals.

“So which are you?  Very, very rich?  Or very, very poor?”  I asked.

“I am very, very poor,”  she smiled, cheerfully.

“No, ma’am,” I said, smiling back.  “According to the standards of the world, you are not very, very poor. And neither am I.”  I wanted to tell her that her shopping basket, clothes, cell phone, shoes and nails all told me that even according to the US standards, she was not very, very poor.  But I didn’t.

Somehow, we have adapted within ourselves an I’m-so-poor mentality.  The first time I heard this silliness, we were sitting eating steak in a large four bedroom home in one of the nicer residential sections of town.  The dinner guest sitting next to me carefully cut a large piece of rib eye.  She perched the beef morsel on her fork, readying it for her mouth, and said, “We are living in a high-class depression.”  Unfortunately, I erupted into loud laughter and then I realized from her face that this woman was not kidding.

While I know there are large pockets of poverty that rip through our nation, most of us aren’t going to bed hungry.  So why do we pretend to be part of the down-trodden masses pining for food and shelter?

Is it a great guilt that we all shoulder because we are such a  blessed nation?  Or is it our insatiable need for more?  I work with the poorest of poor in our nation.  People who are intellectually disabled exist on welfare, food stamps, rental subsidies and Social security checks.  And believe it or not, they have greater wealth than my family had when I was a child. 

 Yet, in those years, we were considered middle-class.

Because of my position in The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I have the privilege to work with people who are developmentally disabled.  They are a group of people who are poor but rich in thankfulness and gratitude.  Downtrodden and misunderstood but seldom envious of what others have.  Their broken bodies and undeveloped minds don’t rob their gifted spirits of the wonder they enjoy by being a child of the King of the Universe.  It’s great to live in a holy place.  I only wish that dear woman with her expensive purchases and lovely clothes knew the riches that my members know. 

How many of your members are wealthy?  How many are considered poor?  Does their wealth or lack of wealth make them happy? 

Riding the bus in Vero

In Brevard County, we have what has been rated as one of the best transportation systems in the nation.  Space Coast Area Transportation (SCAT) has won national awards for service, their employees and drivers.  Their drivers have been finalist in the state and national bus rodeos for many years.

Within the mentally challenged community, riding the bus or a van route is a daily adventure or a total pain.  Most of the Special Gathering members enjoy riding to their day programs or to their job in the community.  I’ve been doing van routes for more than 19 years.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the developmentally disabled community.  We do classic ministry, discipleship and evangelism.  However, our members don’t drive. Van and bus routes are a necessary part of what we must do to have successful programs.

In my years behind the steering wheel of a bus or van, I’ve learned that for our members, it is a time to spend with their peers.  It’s more than a journey from one spot to another.  It is the only time many people who live within this sub-culture are able to enjoy each other without the pressure of something to do.  There’s no pressure of the next bowling frame, no parents, no dance floor, not much supervision.  It’s merely a few hours of non-pressured time for fellowship, fun and flirting. 

Many professional and most parents hate the fact that as much as four or five hours of their consumers’ or children’s day is spent riding the bus.  But within the context of a “normal” day.  It’s probably not a bad thing.  I have to spend about three hours traveling each day that I have an appointment or commitment in Indian River County because I live in Brevard.  And that time is spent with myself, in prayer or with the radio.  Riding the bus with a couple of friends looks attractive to me.

As the gas crunch is pushing more and more people to the bus stops, Brevard County residents may learn a few lessons in public transportation that our members learned long ago.  

The first lesson:  Bring a friend or bring a book. 

The second lesson:  Conversation with your riding companion is good–unless they are reading a book. 

The third lesson:  Expect some delays.  It is public transportation.

The fourth lesson:  Be at the bus stop on time–even if you have to wait.  The bus can’t wait on you or anyone else.

The fifth lesson:  Make friends with the bus driver.  They are great people and they can really be good friends.  Going the extra mile for their passengers is what they enjoy, even more than making their stops on time.

The sixth lesson:  You can bring your bike.  You will need to attach the bike on the bus yourself; but having your own wheels, will give you transportation to your final destination.

The seventh lesson:  Sharing your faith becomes a natural outgrowth of a bus friendship.  One of our most faithful members and a deacon in our Melbourne program came to The Special Gathering because Ted, his friend and bus companion, invited him.

What are some lessons you’ve learned about using public transportation from your members?  I think much of their great patience has been learned from their time riding the bus.  What do you think?

Richard O. Stimson Photo

           By Richard O. Stimson

A reprint from Connecting Point.  This is a monthly publication of The Special Gathering, Inc., written for and by the mentally challenged community.

      At the writing of this article things are changing quickly, so there may be mistakes in the facts by the time you receive this. Also, the Advocacy Center has a class-action lawsuit against the State that has put the Tiers on hold. That being said, there are a few things I would do before the Tier system is put into place:

            I would ask my support coordinator what is the annual amount of my cost plan.

            I would ask my support coordinator what tier they suspect you will go in. If they tell you they do not know, then ask them which tiers are impossible for you to qualify. Many of us will end up in Tier 3 ($35,000-a-year limit) and Tier 4 ($14,792-a-year limit).

            You then need to see if the amount you are now approved for is more or less than the tier into which you will fall

            If it is less, I would:

       Once I was officially notified of the reduction I would ask for a CHAPTER 65B-8 TERMINATION, SUSPENSION or REDUCTION OF CLIENT SERVICES.

I would follow that hearing with a Due Process Hearing. The Chapter 65B is an informal process and I think it is different from the Due Process hearing which is more of a formal process. Part of what I would be trying to do is to buy time.

      Before you receive any official notification of which tier you will be placed, I would meet with my Support Coordinator. I would try to change my support plan to request more services.  Your support coordinator should document your real needs.

       It seems that around the state, many of us have been trying to not ask for too much.  This has proven to be a mistake. It appears that the State is not basing the Tier in which we are placed on what the assessment showed our needs to be. But on what we have spent in the past.

            I know of Group Homes who were trying to be good corporate citizens and not ask for every Res Hab Hour every client could qualify for. They tried to ask for what their consumers absolutely must have. The result of this will be clients–who had not tried to milk the system– will be cut. Many of these clients would have qualified for Tier 2 ($55,000 a year limit) but now will be in Tier 3 ($35,000 a year limit). If this is your case, go ahead and request the increase in hours now.

Melbourne at worship

Buying Bread or Expecting a Miracle

John 6:5


Central Theme:  Jesus wants to give us a miracle when we want to buy food.


Introduction–I have had some miracles in my life.  Tell something miraculous that has happened in your life.  A small, everyday happening is the best.  For example, I have only one Sunday off a year in my job with Special Gathering.  In order to spend the maximum time with my children and grandchildren when they are born, they need to be born on Sunday.  Three of my grandchildren have been born on Sunday.  And I’ve been able to be there on the day they were born.  But everytime I am faced with an impossible situation, I want to work it out myself rather than trust God.


       I.     Have a member read John 6:5. 

              A. They were faced with an impossible situation.

              B. Jesus asked a question, “How will we feed these people?”

              C. Philip tried to work it out. 

                   1.  Got out his calculator to figure the cost of 20,000 Big Macs, etc.

               D. Jesus did not want figures.  He wanted Philip to trust him for a miracle.


      II.     I never seem to expect a miracle first.

              1.  I want to figure out how to make it happen first.

                   A. I get out my calendar or day planner.

                   B. I try to work it into my plans and week.

                   C. I try to figure if I have the money.

              2.  This is not all bad.  Jesus tells us to plan ahead.


     III.     I think Jesus was looking at the impossible.

              A. We can trust him to do the impossible when we cannot.

              B. He wants us to say, “You have to do this one, God.”

              C. He may ask, “What are we going to do?”  but he probably wants your answer to be, “What are you going to do?  This one is too big for me to handle.”


Conclusion–There are many things I cannot handle but nothing is impossible for God.

Yesterday, I attended a Persons with Disabilities Assessment Project, Emergency Preparedness Workshop at Cocoa Library. Chip Wilson, Statewide Disability Coordinator for Emergency Services was the main speaker.   While Mr.  Wilson was interesting and even entertaining.  His presentation was pretty rudimentary.  Here are the things I gleaned from Mr. Wilson:

1)  Have a plan.

2)  Implement your plan.

3)  Contact anyone who needs to know your plan.

4)  Both public and private emergency shelters must be wheelchair accessible and open to the general public.

If you have any questions regarding accessible emergency shelters you can contact Chip Wilson at 850-413 9892.  His cell phone number is 850 264 4705. 

These are some of the things I learned from the Brevard County workers that were new to me:

1)  You must register each year for Special Needs Shelter placement. 

2)  To obtain a registration form, you can go to this link, or call Lacie Davis at (321) 637-6670.  

3)  You must register each year for Special Needs Transportation to a General Shelter or a Special Needs Shelter. 

4)  The Special Needs Transportation request is on the Special Needs Shelter request.  Again, here is the link. 

5)  You can get Special Needs Transportation FROM the shelter, ONLY if you had Special Needs Transportation TO the shelter.  Therefore, if your independent living coach or your parent or agency person takes you to the shelter, they must bring you home from the shelter. 

6)  NOTE to supported living coaches:  If you take a person to shelter, they cannot get home on the SCAT bus or with other public transportation.  You must provide them with transportation home from the shelter.

7)  Special Needs Shelters are for medically fragile people.  You will not be accepted into a Special Needs Shelter, unless you are medically fragile.

8)  Cots are not provided in general public shelters.  Bring your own bedding (including a cot, if you need it.) 

9)  It is still an APD requirement that an independent living person be accompanied to any shelter with a companion.  The person who will accompany your consumer should be part of their Emergency Preparation Plan.  Supported-living coaches or support coordinators should insure that this companion cost is included in the Support Plan.

7) If you have any questions regarding this, call 211.  This is an excellent resource hotline.  These volunteers are knowledgeable and they can get you in contact with the person to whom you need to talk.

Interesting sidebar, there was only one support coordinator and two independent living coaches who attending this meeting.   

Outside the lunch room at Camp Agape

Last Saturday, the Brevard County Recreation Department, South Sector, hosted a marvelous barbecue picnic for people with disabilities and their parents.  There was an ample surplus of food.  The day was warm with a soft summer breeze that refreshed everyone, except the cook, of course.  He was kept busy all day.  He was preparing the food, cooking the food, making up plates for people who wanted to take food home with them and finally cleaning up as the others disbursed.

After the wonderful barbecue and the paper plate mess had been thrown away, scrap papers picked up, and table wiped, my good friend, Marlo,  went up to the man who had cooked all day for the picnickers.  “Thank you so much.  I know how hard you worked today.” 

Marlo is a Special Gathering volunteer who is also a parent.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people with developmental disabilities.  After the picnic, Marlo had helped clean up the mess along with Barbara Mitchell, the South Sector Director, and a couple of other people, including the cook. 

“Yes,” the cook said in response to her comment about his hard work.  Marlo had found out during the course of the day that the cook had also supplied most of the food.  This man is not a parent or a professional working within the mentally challenged community.  He is a volunteer who wanted to do something to help people with disabilities.  “It was my pleasure,” he continued, “but I don’t understand something.  You are the only person who came up to me to say thank you.”

Marlo’s questioned me later in the week, “Why do some people in the mentally challenged community have a sense of entitlement?  Can’t we see that the government and other people can’t do it all.  We must be able to do something for ourselves.  Can’t we see that because of our great need, we must have a great deal of gratefulness?  When did we become takers who aren’t thankful to all the people who give to us and then give again?”

Of course, I’ve seen the same thing.  Though I must say that I’ve never experienced this myself.  I am greatly appreciated by all my members and parents.  While probably 90 percent of people in the mentally challenged community are hard-working people who only want a job so they can pay their fair-share of taxes, there are some who have come to expect others to do for them.  This is not a good trend. 

I’ve seen over the years, that people will do anything for me, as long as I am grateful.  In fact, I’m the same way.  I’ll do and do, as long as I sense a grateful heart.  Yet, my gut grinds when I feel I’m being taken advantage.  

Please and thank you are still those charmingly old-fashioned words that open doors and tell the world that we are grateful for the help we receive.  What some ways you’ve learned to be grateful by your members?  What are a few things they do for you that show their gratitude?

Ed at church

“You can get government funding,” we have been told more than one time.  And, yes, that is probably true.  However, our purpose as a Christian ministry is to evangelize and disciple people who are mentally challenged.  The government does not pay to make disciples for Christ.  Reviewing church history, that is probably a good thing.

Over the years, we have seen ministries begin with the purpose of evangelizing/discipling and providing a serivce for people with disabilities.  Perhaps they are a head start program, early intervention, or a group home.  Maybe it is a sheltered workshop.  Things go well for a time.  Then when financial realities slap the founders in the face, government funding begins to look more and more attractive. 

This is not a criticism but reality.  Doing social work within this community is expensive.  In order to stay in existence, country, state and federal funding must be used.  But government funding comes with strings.  One of those strings is that evangelism and discipleship will suffer.  There are homes which have made a valiant effort to continue with their original purpose but with the additional public funding, there are compromises required.  That is understandable and perhaps even acceptable, if you are providing housing or education or rehabilitation.

With The Special Gathering, our one purpose is the one thing the government cannot support while still maintaining their Constitutional integrity.  In addition, we believe that the church, not the government, is commissioned to do the task of discipleship.  At times, we sweat out funding in a way that we wouldn’t if a government grant were possible.  But in the end we don’t have to hide what we do or our purpose.  We can stand tall beside our members, knowing that the local churches in our community have cared enough to give to the very best.

What are some of the things that you would need to give up should public funding be used by your program?  Are those things worth the extra effort it takes to solicit funds from local churches?


Life can be a roller coaster ride

Because Special Gathering fosters a project called Networks which is a Faith in Action program, I receive a lot of calls from people with needs.  Our funding must go to people who are developmentally delayed and none of these folks fit into that category but I can help with most inquiries, steering people to state and local agencies who can help.  Therefore, I do need to find out some information about the people who are calling.

On Monday a received a call from a woman who was seeking help for her friend.  He has cancer and he has lost his voice box.  One of my first questions was “Are you active in any church?” 

Her voice became curt, “No.  But I’ve called a lot of churches and they refuse to give me any help.  I was surprised because I thought churches are here to help people.” This is the usual response and almost without exception, the bitterness drips from their voices. 

This is not a problem that Special Gathering encounters.  All of our funding must go to people who are developmentally delayed.  And our ministry doesn’t have the resources to help the general population, even if we could.  We deliberately own nothing so that all of our resources can go into evangelizing and discipling.  For those reasons, I feel that I can speak freely in regard to this issue.

For years the church has been seen as a rather convenient social services organization.  That image has been promoted by the extremely effective efforts of Salvation Army and Compassion, Int., as well as many other local churches, denominational and parachurch organizations.  Feeding the poor, helping the weak, visiting the prisoner and downtrodden is more than a ploy to recruit more members, it is part of the New Testament mandate to the church.  (There is some discussion about whether the command extends to the general population or to active participants.  But that’s an issue we won’t address in this column.)

However, the Church does not have unlimited resources.  In addition, local congregations have become a brasen target for petty con artists, who will make up amazing stories to get money from what they consider easy prey.  Also, the demand on resources has ballooned.  As the congregants have gotten older and more frail, the demands on financial resources and man power has increased.  On the other hand, offerings and volunteers have decreased.  Many churches struggle to peddle fast enough to keep up with the demands within their household.  They are not able to finance the unknown concerns–even those most valid–that arrive on their doorsteps at 5pm Friday afternoon.

Almost every Christian would like to meet all the needs around the globe and many of them give sacrificially but is it fair to take from those who have sacrifieced when the people in need don’t want to return the favor? 

These are some of the reasons that people give to me who have refused public funding and resources.  “Can’t take the bus.  I’d have to walk a couple of blocks to the bus stop.  They won’t give me door-to-door pickup.”  Or the retiree who lost his driver’s license because of his eyesight,  “Do you know how long it takes to go anywhere on the bus?  I could get to the grocery store in 15 minutes in my car.  With the bus, it takes at least 30 minutes.  You can’t expect me to waste my time that way.” 

Another lady  never got her driver’s license.  She had depended on the genorosity of her friends to transport her.  As everyone she knew got older, it was suggested that she ride the bus.  “Are you kidding?  It cost $1 everytime I have to ride a bus.  I won’t pay that amount?”  Guess she had never contributed to the vehicular expenses of her friends who had been transporting her for more than 60 years.

“I went to a church and they had a whole pantry full of food and they allowed me to take only one bag of groceries.  I couldn’t believe how stingy they were.” 

“Well, the church on the corner wouldn’t give me money for my electric bill.  all they would do is refer me to the Sharing Center.  Then the Sharing Center demanded to see my Social Security card.  I just walked out.  I’m not showing them my Social Security card.  That’s none of their business.  Anyway, they’ll only pay my bills once every six months.  I’ll not go back there again.”

There are the adult children who call from Pennsylvania or New York or Michigan because their parents have dementia or cancer or a broken leg.  The parents must have someone to take care of them.  “Why can’t a church send someone out to help them? My parents are desperate.  Doesn’t anyone down there care?” 

Okay, I could go on and on.  We are facing a national crisis as baby boomers age.  Statistics show that about 50 percent of boomers aren’t prepared financially to retire much less for a health emergency.  Is this a church crisis or a societal crisis?  Perhaps it is both but I contend that it is a crisis that is bigger than the local church (and our younger generation) can sustain.  People can no longer expect the church or society to pick up the burden of poor planning and excessive expectations.

Carlos takes up offering

Each week an offering is taken at Special Gathering.

Several years ago a local church wanted to give The Special Gathering of Indian River a special love gift. We strive to become part of a church’s budget and this congregation gave us a monthly donation but they also wanted to give something extra for the end of the year.  The missions committee requested that we use their gift to purchase something that our members needed.  So they asked us if there was something that they could give to each member. 

We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people with developmental disabilities.  I shared that many of our members don’t have Bibles and we would like to give them a Bible.  The youth pastor of the church was a good friend of mine.  He took me aside and said, “I’ve learned that people appreciate what they have more, if they earn it themselves.  You need to teach your members how to tithe.  Then you can buy them the Bibles they need.”  I understood and agreed with his reasoning. 

However, within the mentally challenged community where we minister there are several problems with this logic.  First, most of our members have little access to money.  Unless they have an outside job, they are probably paid to do piece work.  This means their pay checks are minimal, perhaps $.50 or $4 a week.  If they receive a Social Security check, it is without a doubt handled by a parent or a group home staff.  If they live in their own apartment, it will be used for rent, groceries and household necessities, again the money will be handled by an independent living coach.  Most of the business end of their money will be parceled out to them.

Second, the members of our population have been taught in ten kajillion ways to not buck authority.  If their independent living coach or house parent says, “This is what you give to Special Gathering.”  Then that is what they give…no question asked.

Third, there are definate deficiencies in the understanding of many men and women who are developmentally delayed.  Often when we think of developmental difficulties, reading, conversation and socialization come to mind.  Nevertheless, these aren’t the only deficiencies that exist.  Tracy doesn’t know a nickel from a 50 dollar bill.  Of course, she can tell the difference in the shape and the structure but the significance goes beyond her reasoning skills.  Deb is married.  She is an excellent reader.  Her conversation skills are superior.  But Deb’s deficits lie within the realm of those scary numbers.  People who struggled with Algebra in school can perhaps grasp their dilemma.

  Simply put, they don’t understand the concept of money.  To them, $.05 is as valuable as $5,000.  Therefore, giving an offering has a different significance to them.  A tithe is well beyond their intellectual reach.  Deb always brags that she gives beyond her tithe, as she puts her quarter into the offering plate.  I believe God understands Deb’s heart and multiples her blessing.

The fourth reason is that if our members tithed on their pay checks, most of them are giving much beyond what is required.  If your pay check is $6 a month and you put $1 into the offering plate each week, you have given 66 percent of your earnings.  Incidently, $1 is what most of our members put into the offering plate.  As to what their pay may be, $6 is probably a stretch. 

These are several of the reasons that we depend on the generosity of local churches to help with the expenses of evangelizing and discipling this important population.  Christ commissioned the local church with this essential task. 

How are you able to empower your members to give to the Lord?  Are many of your members stumped by the concept of numbers and money?  Is this an issue that you have dealt with in a positive way?


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