October 2008

The least expensive way to allow babies two years old and under to enjoy a Disney World experience is to visit Downtown Disney.  It is off of I-4.  There is a train ride and a carousel.  The intricate water spouting feature will keep small children and their parents entertained for hours.  There isn’t the hassle or pressure of trying to get every penny’s worth of entertainment because the day is virtually free.  There are shops and live entertainment. 

While everything at the Earl of Sandwich Shop is delicious.  The tuna melt sandwich at the Earl of Sandwich is worth the ride from any part of Central Florida.  Ghirardelli’s Ice Cream Parlor is a must for the afternoon I’ve-got-a-headache break.  There is all the charm and pizazz of a day at Disney in a relaxed atmosphere of a village shopping center.  Perfect for wee ones and their parents.

Yesterday, we took three excited toddlers to the park.  There were four adults, a two year old and two one year olds.  We arrived at noon at left at 5pm.  There was more than enough adventure for any three babies and we didn’t visit half the shops. 

I had two interruptions to our day at Downtown Disney.  Two people interested in attending Special Gathering called.  Will they come?  I think so.  They are young people, under 30 years old.  They both have the same story.  One parent raised them and now the dominant parent has died or is terminally ill.  The other parent is picking up the reigns. 

We are happy and excited that more and more young people are finding Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship of people who are developmentally delayed.   As these young adults graduate from high school or near graduation, parents begin to see friendships fall apart and loneliness set in.   Sometimes reluctantly but always with a sense of relief, they inquire about Special Gathering and find it a welcome extension to their child’s social outlets.  While we feel that we provide much more than a time of socialization, it is this interaction with their peers that parents see voided during the young adult years. 

I watched all the children at the Disney Village yesterday.  We laughed at and enjoyed the three babies in our small troupe as they interacted with each other and their mothers. Tired from the laughter, we all climbed into the vehicle heading home and I was reminded of the importance of social networks.  We–as human beings–must have them to live happy lives.  When God saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, he made a woman as his companion and family was established.  The mentally challenged community is not exempt from those needs and pressures.  This important population desires to have a social network of loyal friends who can share in their faith, their adventures, their joys and their sorrows.   

Who are the people who support you?  Do you include any of your members as part of that network?  If not, why not?

Richard Stimson who is the Executive Director of Special Gathering, Inc., often says that specialized ministry is the best-kept secret in Christendom.  I must agree.  When people think about full-time ministry within the mentally challenged community, they usually think of teaching a special-education school class or starting a group home or agency. 

Yet, ministries like Special Gathering that do classic ministry of evangelism and discipleship are still needed.  In case you didn’t know.  There are so many benefits to serving within this population.

  1. We minister to the best, most appreciative people in the world.
  2. Everyone in our congregations loves us.
  3. We are required to get to know area pastors and visit other local churches.  In this way, we get to meet the best men and women within the community. 
  4. In addition, we come to understand the hearts of these pastor.   
  5. In a  unique and wonderful way, we come to learn the pulse of the Church that resides in our community.
  6. Everyone in our congregations loves us.
  7. The professional community that we interact with on a daily basis consists of outstanding men and woman who are some of the best educated, most dedicated people in our nation.  They are committed and love what they do.  (If there is someone who doesn’t like to work long hours for less pay than their peers, they usually leave the profession to work somewhere else.)
  8. While none of us will get rich doing this, our salaries are as competitive as we want to make them.  We use the United Way formula that says that half of what we take in can go to salary.  Of course, when we grow, we find that we most of us need additional part-time staff.  This means slashing into our personal salary budgets but having extra paid eyes and hands is too beneficial to cut. 
  9. And, of course, the top benefit is that we work with the best people in the whole world.  Everyone in our congregations that we work with loves us.  …Or did I say that before?

Are there other benefits that I’ve forgotten?  I’m sure that you can name a few of them.

After four week of absences, I was able to contact the Twins.  These are two adorable young women who have been attend Special Gathering for more than a year.  They were moved by their Support Coordinator into a different group home.  She called me and told me about the move but I wasn’t given the phone number of the new home. 

After a bit of investigation, I was able to find the cell number of the weekend care giver.  She brought the Twins to our chapel program on the Sunday I didn’t attend because I was in Hawaii.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally delayed.  Having the Twins back meant a celebration for our Melbourne program.

While in Hawaii, I called the caregiver to inquire regarding the possibility of them attending regularly again.  “No,” she said.  “Unless you can provide transportation.  It’s too hard for me to transport them very often.”  Then she explained that she would have to get all three of them in the van and it was too hard for her to do that every week.

When I got off the phone, my seventeen year old grandson, Sebastian, was in the kitchen.  He had overheard my side of the conversation and sense my frustration.  “What was that about?”  he mistakenly asked.

I flew into aggravated verbiage explaining the situation.  “Sorry, you have to listen to my whining,” I said to him, after I had exhausted my irritation by venting.

“Oh, I don’t think you were whining,” he graciously said, “I think you are merely disappointed in the level of commitment shown by this caregiver.” 

I smiled at this youthful wisdom and thanked him for being understanding.  However, it made me think about my own level of commitment.  How often is my Boss disappointed in my level of commitment?  After all, He gave his very life to redeem this population. 

Of course, we all fail or we whine about the failures of others.  However, Jesus is the Model we follow.  He was fully committed to the task His Father had placed before Him.  The Scripture tells us that the resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing that the crucifixion lay at the end of that dusty road. 

How many times have we whined about the commitment of others, only to be caught short by our own lack commitment of duty?

In one word.  Badly.  You notice this isn’t a HOW TO entry because today was not a good day for interruptions. 

My day began at 4am and every minute was carefully planned.  I would end my day at about 11pm.  Meetings I am required to attend in other cities would make that necessary.  

I had not planned to include a visit to a home of a past member who lives more than 20 miles from Melbourne and has not attended our program in 11 years.  He has another pastor but somehow I seemed to be required to drop all my concerns for the day and visit him.  Yes, he is dying.  Yes, I love him and I would want to see him before he goes to be with the Lord.  However, not today.

The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We evangelize and disciple people who are intellectually disabled.  I am a one person staff for two chapel program in two cities.  In my two programs, we have about 100 people who attend each week.  We meet each week in our chapel programs. 

This elderly man had attended every week for more than three years.  Then he was unceremoniously moved from his group home to a private home by his support coordinator.  The home he moved into is managed by caring young woman.  It is a small mom and pop operation.  Somehow, Special Gathering could not be arranged as part of his new life. 

The long and short of the adventure was that I went to see him.  I intended to stay for five minutes but the Lord obviously meant for me to stay longer.  I couldn’t get into my car for an hour.  I was stuck and I’m glad.  The Lord slowed me down and forced me to minister to the whole household.  I was blessed more than they were.

Our call to worship at Special Gathering for this quarter is “I will walk with you and be your God and you will be my people.”  Later in the day at a Volusia board meeting, I was reminded by Pastor Mark Malcomn of Port Orange Baptist Church that the Lord said, “Walk” not run.  Interruptions sometimes are given to us to bless us and to slow us down. 

Maybe someday I’ll learn to listen and enjoy the adventures these interruptions present, even if my day is already too full.

God is always with us

Genesis 28:15 and 16

Central Theme:  We cannot go anywhere away from God.


Introduction–I have never seen my face.  I have never looked at me. 

                  A.  But I know that I have face.

                  B.   I even know what I look like.

                  C.  Bring out a mirror.  I have seen a reflection of my face in a mirror.


          I.      I cannot see God but I know God is with me. 

                  A.  Have a member read Genesis 28:15 and 16. 

                  A.  Tell the story of Jacob.


         II.      Jacob did not know that God was always with him.

                  B.   Jacob thought that when he left his father and mother, God        would not be there.

                  C.  We learned last week that God will always love us. 

                  D.  Now we learn that God is everywhere.


       III.      I can see my face in the mirror, so I know what I look like.


                  A.  How do I know God is always with me?

                        1.   The Bible tells me so.

                        2.   I have been surprised, like Jacob by God’s touching me.

                              A.  I was listening to music the other day; and God touched                                     my heart and I started to cry.

                              B.   I felt his love for me.

                        3.   I have been helped when I was in need.

                              A.  There was a time that my car stopped in a rain storm                             when it should not have stopped.


Conclusion–When I look into a mirror, I see what my face looks like.  I know I have a face, even if I have never seen my face.  I see God in my life and I know that he will never leave me or forsake me.

Okay, I’ve been back on the mainland for five days, but my jet-lagging, internal clock is still telling me that I’m in Hawaii.  Understand, I’m not an expert at achieving sleep under the best of conditions.  Yet, this is manic.   I go to bed exhausted but I can’t seem to get to sleep until 3AM. 

Yes, I get up at 7 or 8AM and I’m not sleeping during the day; but…sleep still doesn’t come.  If I weren’t too exhausted to think, I would philosophy that our bodies are wonderful pieces of machinery that are intricately made and operate with exquisite precision. 

However, on nights that in an attempt to fall asleep, I am counting the seconds flicker along on my bedside clock, I cannot help but wonder about people with developmental disabilities.  You see, getting a good night’s sleep may be the least of their internal-clock concerns.  For the past 20 year or so, I’ve pastored and ministered to people who are mentally challenged through The Special Gathering, a ministry which evangelizes and disciples people who are intellectually disabled.  I’ve walked with them through a myriad of transitions in their lives.

Arthur is a high-functioning man who is wrestling with a mid-life crisis.  One day he’s up; the next he is frailing angrily at everyone he loves.  What is his internal clock telling him that he can’t understand with his rational mind?

Sissy carrys a life-like doll with her when she is not at her job.  Her parents are insistant that others treat her as a normal 25 year old; but what must people think when they see her with her doll stroller?  Wouldn’t they wonder as she carefully straps the doll into an infant seat in her parent’s car?  But Sissy’s internal clock is screaming.  It’s insistant that her life as a woman won’t be complete without a child.  Are her parents doing the right thing or not?  Should they cater to this desire to caress and love an infant?  Who is to say what is truly the correct answer?

As much as we try to romaniticize the care-free life of a mentally challenged person, there are real, hard-core struggles that they face which are too familiar for every woman and man.  Richard Stimson once said, “Considering the discrimination and abuse our members must suffer, they are amazingly well adjusted.”

I would agree and add.  Consider the struggles people with no mental deficiencies have in understanding the urges, demands and alarms of our internal clocks and bodily urges.  It is nothing short of miraculous how stable our members’ lives remain. 

In a couple of days, the jet-lag will disappear and I’ll be back on schedule with my sleep patterns.  But Eric will still be struggling with his personal misgivings.  He won’t be able get a new and better job.  He can’t support a wife.  Sissy won’t have her baby.  Yet, with God’s grace and abundant mercy, they will remain amazingly well adjusted.  And that isn’t romanitcizing or fantasy.  It’s a fact.

Are there some quirky things your members do that could be explained by internal and normal urges they are not able to release because of their development disabilities?  What can we do to help them face and understand what is happening to them?

Each year Good Shepherd Ministries endeavors to provide Christmas gifts for the 2,500 students they educate in their schools in Haiti.  Special Gathering of Indian River is proud to be a part of their effort.  When we decided to do the “Christmas Shoe Box” collections, we opted for a small ministry so that we would be able to have a more personal contact with the children.  It’s exciting to get pictures of smiling boys and girls who have our toys and gifts in their eager hands. 

For the past five or six years, we have started collecting gifts in September and continue through October.  It has become a highlight of the church calendar for our members.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our members are developmentally disabled.  By and large, they exist because of the love and care of others.  Our goal is to evangelize and disciple our members.  This mission’s effort is a forward step in developing them as loving and giving disciples of Christ. 

During the time we are collecting the Christmas gifts, our members bring toys, personal-care items, socks, underwear, towels, washcloths, candy, shampoo.  Some people, like Floyd, get creative and bring handmade items such as jewelry.  Others save their dollars for months and gleefully fill a whole shopping cart with items that the boys and girls will need.  Then there are those members like Eric.  He fills a shoe box each year with items for one child.  Eric is careful to insure that one child has been blessed by his gift.

We emphasis the needs of the Haitian children each week and make a pretty big show of the items that are brought and the people who bring them.  In this way, everyone is a part of the joyful atmosphere that fills our worship services.  For the past four years, we have contributed toys and supplies for 45 children.  This year we included two adult teachers and an additional child.  That means that a total of 48 Haitians will be blessed by the members of Special Gathering.  We are told year after year that our small ministry provides many more gifts packages than some much larger churches.

My contribution to this effort is to fill in the gaps, to sort and to pack the gift bags.  This week I spent two days and most of two night sorting and packing the bags.  Haiti has been hit by four hurricanes this season, leaving many parts of the country devastated.  Food is scarce because they don’t have the fruit from the trees that they depend on to maintain their nutritional needs.  With this year’s urgent deficient existing in the Haitian food supply , a pound each of rice and beans was added to the bags. 

Because the packages we provide were already bulging, it was a five to ten minutes effort to get the commercial-grade, zip-lock bags closed.  However, every minute was worthwhile.  

One of our most important goals is to teach our members that others must sacrifice for us to able to have as much as we have.  How can it be that giving makes us understand how much we have been given?  Yet, that is one of the secrets to the Christian life.  Are you experiencing a time of giving in your ministry?  What are some of the fruits that you have seen grow as a result of teaching your members to give?

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