February 2009

Here is an e-mail I received that was a copy of an e-mail sent to advocates, supporters and citizens.

From: “Charlie Crist” <NFTC@eog.myflorida.com>
To: Betty5901@comcast.net
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2009 3:31:09 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: A Special Message from Governor Charlie Crist, February 20, 2009

February 20, 2009
Dear Friends,
Today, I unveiled my budget and policy recommendations for the 2009-10 fiscal year. My 2009 legislative priorities are aimed at investing wisely so that we can move Florida’s economy forward. These budget and policy proposals will make our classrooms world-class so that we train the best workforce possible. They will keep our air clean and diversify our energy. They will lower property taxes and ensure fiscal responsibility in local government. And they will help businesses thrive so they can create and retain the jobs that we need, now more than ever, to fuel our economy.
There is no doubt; these are historic times of economic challenge for our nation and for our state. But I believe that there are better days in store for Florida. Times like these provide a unique opportunity for elected officials to make government better, more efficient, and more accountable.
In developing my recommendations, my highest priority is to avoid further deficits – yet continue to move Florida’s economy forward. Now more than ever, we must create jobs for the hard-working people of Florida. Second, we must continue critical services to Florida’s most vulnerable – our children, elders, and persons with disabilities. And we must continue our investment in Florida’s classrooms and hard-working teachers, in public safety and in health care. The taxpayers of Florida deserve nothing less.
The $66.5-billion budget I propose includes $4.7 billion in federal stimulus dollars for 2009-10 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Without these funds, we would have had to tighten our belts another $3.4 billion. My budget proposal reflects Florida’s greatest needs – allocating $25.2 billion to Health and Human Services, $21.5 billion to education, and $10.3 billion to transportation and Economic Development. I also maintain my commitment to public safety, with $4.9 billion that will help keep criminals off the streets and our neighborhoods safe.
My recommendations include a significant increase in per-student funding: $183 more per student, for an average of $7,044 per student. That is increase of 2.67 percent over the current fiscal year.  The money we set aside for schools must be spent wisely. I want to thank Representative Robert Schenck and Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla for supporting legislation requiring our school districts to spend a minimum of 70 percent of operating funds on direct classroom expenditures benefiting students.
Strong universities are vital to creating the competitive workforce that will keep Florida’s economy vibrant for generations to come. I thank Senator Ken Pruitt and Representative Will Weatherford for supporting legislation that will clarify university governance and provide more teaching resources for Florida’s 11 universities — while maintaining access and affordability for students and families. Under the proposal, each board of trustees may adopt a tuition differential beginning in fall 2009, with Board of Governors approval. Overall tuition cannot rise by more than 15 percent a year, and 30 percent of the revenues must go to need-based student financial aid.
Despite the economic challenges facing Florida, the Sunshine State has been recognized as a national leader in terms of our greatest resource – our workforce. To continue supporting Florida’s workforce, I recommend $2 billion in workforce initiatives, including over $800 million for career education and employment services that will create or retain 3,000 jobs. I also recommend $621.2 million for school readiness. This investment is expected to create or retain more than 12,800 jobs for child-care providers.
Continuing my commitment to public safety, I recommend $4.9 billion to maintain support for Florida’s increasing prison population and continue programs that reduce recidivism, prevent juvenile crime and keep violent criminals off the streets. My proposed budget also maintains funding to support local law enforcement agencies.
We must make every effort to preserve direct health care services to our children, our elderly, and our disabled populations. I am recommending an increase of $45 million for cash assistance and food stamps for families and their children, and $52 million to support an additional 46,000 children in the KidCare program.
We must continue our efforts, started in August with Accelerate Florida, to maintain Florida as a friendly place to do business. I am urging the passage of legislation sponsored by Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Trudi Williams that streamlines and reduces burdensome licensing requirements for contractors and other professionals.
Now more than ever, as families are faced with economic challenges, we must reduce the tax burden on Florida homeowners and business property owners. I propose a set of reforms that build upon previous legislation resulting in the largest property tax cut in state history.
I support the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Evelyn Lynn and Representative Carl Domino that encourages homeownership and enhances the tax savings provided by Amendment One. It further reduces the growth cap on non-homestead residential and commercial properties from 10 percent to 5 percent. The amendment also grants a 50 percent exemption, up to $250,000, to homeowners who previously have not owned a home in Florida.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Fasano and supported in the House by Representative Marcelo Llorente protects Florida homeowners from having to pay more in taxes when market values are declining. The proposal repeals the automatic three percent increase on the assessed value of homesteads when their market values decrease. In addition, legislation sponsored by Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera provides fairness for property owners who challenge the property appraiser’s assessment of their property value.
Local governments, like state government, must be accountable in how they spend taxpayer dollars. Legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Haridopolos and Representatives Dean Cannon and Anitere Flores keeps our local governments accountable by limiting increases in local revenues to inflation and growth, based on the value of new construction. Only through super-majority votes by governing bodies can revenues increase by more than the cap.
I again call on the Florida Legislature to quickly approve the 25-year compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Over time it can provide billions of dollars to Florida’s schools – with $150 million guaranteed in 2009-10 alone. The tribe also reports the compact can create 45,000 new jobs. I am also encouraging the Legislature to support SunRail, the proposed 61-mile commuter rail system that would serve Orlando and Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties.  A recently released economic impact study found construction and operation of the commuter rail project will infuse more than $1 billion over the next 30 years into Florida’s economy and create more than 13,000 construction and operations jobs.
I look forward to working with the Legislature on these proposals. Together, we can put in place new laws that strengthen our economy and make life better for Floridians. May God continue to bless the great state of Florida for now and into the future.

Disclaimer:  I hope in this entry to offend both genders equally.

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We have more than 60 supporting churches from one county.  Church budgets are our support base.  We aren’t social workers or do social work.  We are ministers of the gospel.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.

Over the years, we’ve learned a few things.  These aren’t all my ideas but things which have been passed on to me by my mentors in the ministry.  They would-I’m sure–put these guidelines more diplomatically.  Understand, your ministry needs financial support to survive.  Hope this helps.

Rules of the road

If you come into a group of pastors who are mostly men, there are some strict rules of the road.  All the pastors who are truly accepted adhere to these rules.  Male and female parachurch ministry heads are equal offenders of these unwritten laws. 

  1. Give your information regarding your ministry in sound bites of  information.  Men love sound bites.  The reason that our 24-hour-a-day cable news programs are filled with short snippets of information is because men want the bottom line.  News stories are written with a short summary of the information in the first sentence.  The first paragraph contains all you need to know about the article.  Then the information gets less and less important as you read through the article.  As a whole, we all process information in this matter.  Be sure that people know what you do but keep it pithy.
  2. If there are questions, keep the answers short and simple.  There will be one person who is interested in what you do.  S/hewill want to know more.  Don’t bore the rest of the group explaining things.  Ask if you can make an appointment to answer his/her questions.
  3. Silently, remain engaged in the flow of the conversation.  People want to feel valued and one way to make everyone feel valued is to look him/her in the eye, smile when they are talking.  Lean forward when people are speaking.  Listen and learn. 
  4. Don’t fake concern.  People can smell fakery a mile off.  Be truly engaged.
  5. Turn off your cell phone.  If it does ring, do not answer it under any circumstances.  While everyone in the room may answer his/her phone.  Don’t do it.  Answering your phone tells everyone that other things are more important to you than a pastors’ meeting.
  6. Greet new people.  Introduce yourself, sit with them, if possible, and engage them in conversation.  Men will especially appreciate these connections, while women may resent them.  Several women that I’ve endeavored to befriend have told me, “If you continue to monopolize my time in these meetings, I’ll never get to know any of the male pastors.”  On the other hand, male pastor ALWAYS come up to me months later and say, “Thank you for being my friend when I first came to the group.  Those first meetings your were the first–and sometimes the only–person to speak to me.”
  7. If you are asked to be the speaker for the group, leave them wanting more.  Keep it short. Sprinkle your vital information with short human interest examples. 
  8. If you are asked to speak, have notes that you can distribute and a pamphlet, if possible.  No information isn’t good but too much will be thrown in the trash.
  9. Pick out one thing that is vital to your ministry that you push one time a year.  I begin asking for prayer for camp in February or March.  Giving snippets, I try to arouse the pastors curiosity without boring them.  “Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine how amazing it is to have 250 people with disabilities praising and worshiping God.”  Or “we understand that one day someone may have a serious health issue at camp.  God has had mercy for 2 decades, pray for his mercy to continue.”
  10. Let the pastors know that you appreciate their graciousness to you.  Pick out one pastor who spoke to you and write him/her a note or drop by her/his office and leave a message.  Say, “Thanks for being my friend.  You can’t imagine how much I appreciate that.”
  11. Remember the thing which draws these men and women together is a common bond in ministry and their love for the Lord.  Each one has taken time from his or her day to embrace each other and to gather strength and wisdom from each other.  They are basically battle-weary men and women who huddle together to draw energy and to be reassured that they aren’t alone in their struggles.  Let them nurture you.  Let them love you.  As they come to love you, they will come to trust you and your ministry.

Of course, there are more rules but this is a tiny bit of information that I hope will help.  Perhaps you won’t make the mistakes I made and I’ve seen so many other people make over the years.  Your ministry is important to the Lord.  You want to be sure that you present it with in the most positive way to the faith community.

What would you add to this list?

In discussing building a funding source, it is vital to obtain the trust of people who may eventually become sponsors of your ministry.  At Special Gathering, we understand that trust is not something that can be assumed.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our goal is to evanglize and disciple people who are part of our population.  To be able to accomplish our goal, we believe that a specialized ministry that is community-based is the most effective tool.  This means that we must have support from local churches.

Perhaps the first rule of thumb in gaining the trust of pastors and their congregations is to be patient.  Trust must be earned and that takes time.  Most people will have a small base from which they can spring.  There will probably be at least one pastor or congregation that knows and trusts you from day one.  These men or women may be willing to invest in your ministry.  If the Lord gives you special favor, they will be willing to spend their political capital on you. 

In building trust, most of your work will be done in networking situations–pastoral meetings or community prayer meetings.  Understand you must first promote yourself.  Then you can promote your ministry.  (Please don’t offended by my use of the word promote.  If you can think of a better word, let me know.  I’ll be happy to substitute it.)  There are some people who are fundamentally opposed to promoting their ministry.  I understand that.  However, your ministry isn’t YOU.  It is the people who need to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.   It is the mentally challenged people in your county who don’t have the slightest notion about how to be come a Christian or how to live a Christ-like life. 

Proverbs tells us that even a fool will be thought wise, if he keeps his mouth shut.  My advice in gaining trust at meetings where pastors meet is to be quiet for a long time.  Introduce yourself, tell the name of your ministry and a short tag line.  “I am Linda Howard, with Special Gathering.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.”  Then sit down and be quiet for the rest of the meeting.  Smile and show from the expression on your face and your body language that you are engaged in the meeting but don’t talk. 

Having been a part of ministerial meetings for more than 20 years, I’ve seen ministry after ministry come in and try to take over the meeting.  They talk too long and they try to say everything all at once.  Often, heads of parachurch ministries will become preachy and try to convict the pastors into supporting their cause.  That almost never works.  Keep quiet, smile, laugh and leave.

Be humble.  These men have heard everything.  Your ministry isn’t a surprise to them.  They will ask your questions, if they want to hear about what you do.  Otherwise, they will not be impressed with your orations about the great need or how much God moves in your meetings.  Even when you are asked questions, keep your answers short and acknowledge that you could talk all day but you don’t want to bore them so you will shut up. 

Remember every pastor or ministry head there shares a passion for their ministry.  They could go on and on about what they do with equal passion but they don’t.  Therefore, be humble.  Humility, patience and trust are godly virtue that the Holy Spirit will use to touch the hearts of pastor.

When you become a part of the group–“one of the guys”–then you can meet privately with pastors and ask for support and you will probably get it.  However, that may be after several years.  Yes, I said, after several years.

Okay, this isn’t going to be as easy as you thought.  However, God is faithful and he will provide, if you will continue to be faithful and trust him.

In  regard to  building their trust, what are some of things you’ve learned about interacting with pastors?

Part 1–The Importance of Trust 

One of the questions that Special Gathering is now being asked by other ministries is how do you gathering supporting churches for a parachurch ministry, such as Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our members are developmentally disabled.  We have one purpose:  to evangelize and disciple people who are cognitively delayed.  In Brevard County, where three of our programs reside, there are more than 60 supporting churches.

As a rule, specialized ministries are on the bottom of the totum pole in regard to support.  It isn’t that local churches don’t care about our population.  It is almost always that local churches don’t know what to do with our population.

On occasion, their tentative foray into this type of ministry has ended in disappointment or even disaster.  I remember that for years I knew I was called to this population and I attempted to begin a ministry for people who are mentally challenged in my church.  However, I thought that doing this was impossible because of the different functioning levels.  Other local congregations have found the same obstacles and drawbacks. 

There are many things which are involved in garnering supporting churches.  I will touch on only one in this entry and that is developing trust levels.  Without a doubt, the foundation of our support comes from developing trust with local congregations.  We do this in varying ways.  First, we don’t try to usurp the authority or support of local congregations.  We keep our support mailing lists limited to pastors and missions committees in the local congregations.  We explain that we want their support but acknowledge that God has ordained the local church to evangelize and disciple.  We want to be an extension of local congregations.

We ask that local churches put us into their budgets–rather than our raiding their membership for monthly contributions.  In this way, we have a more consistent support level.  In addition, someone in this church has to think about us and will probably pray for us each month.  Each year, they must evaluate us and pray about renewing our support.  Some churches give us an annual lump sum.  Others give on a quarterly basis.  Still others give monthly. 

In addition, we don’t ask for the moon.  The most frequent starting amount given from churches is $50 a month.  However, as their trust of us grows, churches tend to increase the amounts given.   Most of our churches support us at the $100+ level because they understand that they can trust the fruits of Special Gathering ministry.  We celebrate and honor the churches that give a widow’s mite.  There are several churches on our list that give more than sacrificially.  I wonder how they can continue to give the $20 to $30 a month they faithfully contribute each month.

Have your found that trust is an important element in your ministry.  How do you work to develop trust in your community?

I spoke yesterday about going to Boston Market on US1 in Vero Beach with our Special Gathering program on Saturday for a dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  On Sunday, our Melbourne program made our annual trek to another wonderful restaurant, Charlie and Jakes Barbeque at 6300 N Wickham Road in North Melbourne. 

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our members are developmentally disabled.  Many of our members are also physically involved.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple our community.  We feel that the church accomplishes this through the instructions found in the Book of Acts.  We are to pray, study the scriptures and doctrine, and fellowship with each other.  As part of our fellowship, I see in the Old and New Testament that sharing a meal is a vital part of getting to know each other.

If you are new to specialized ministry or you’ve never tried to take all your members to a restaurant for a celebration, you may wonder why I would even mention these events.  It is the wonderful hospitality at these restaurants that makes them so special to us.  In years past, we have found it hard to find restaurants that were happy to have us.

I remember one trip our advocacy group took to Tallahassee, Florida.  We sat at a Bennigan’s for more than an hour while party after party was seated and our 17 sat waiting for a table.  Finally when another bus load to normal folks was seated almost immediately, we got the hint.  They didn’t want us there.  We left.  Again and again, we have been told by restaurants that they could not possibly accommodate our party after they find our who we are. 

However, it is extremely different at Charlie and Jakes.  They open their restaurant an hour early for us.  They give us an amazing price for our lunch.  The waiters and waitresses fight over who will be able to serve us on that morning.  In all, it make us feel like honored guests at their restaurant.  On Sunday, the general manager, who is no longer responsible for the event, made a special trip to visit with us, shaking hands and renewing old friendships, forged over the years of serving us. 

The waiters and waitresses sing with us and cry when we leave.  “This is what church should be,”  they have told us again and again.  “Try to come more than once this year,” the Sunday manager said to us as I paid the bill.  “It is such an honor to have you here.”

Do I recommend Charlie and Jakes to everyone.  You can be sure I do.  Do I pray for those young men and women?  Yes, yes, yes. 

Thank you, Charlie and Jakes and all your wonderful staff.

Have your found it hard to have restaurants and other places of business accommodate your members by being kind?  Is there a restaurant in your area that we could recommend that is especially gracious to your ministry?

On Saturday, our Special Gathering program of 40 people gathered at Boston Market in Vero on US1 for a Valentine “God is Love” Party.  It was a wonderful time.  The food was abundant and the staff was extremely helpful and polite.  Each year, in February we go to Boston Market for our annual Banquet

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship.  Part of our discipleship is fellowship.  This usually means  loving each other with fun and food. 

Because The Vero Special Gathering program is from 3:30pm to 5pm on Saturday afternoons, Boston Market welcomes us.  We take over the place and provide a healthy ticket during a normally down time for the restaurant business.  Just as we are leaving at 5pm, the faithful customers begin to gather in the restaurant.  Over the years, the non-disabled clientele have reacted in interesting –almost never impolite–ways to our invasion of their favorite eating spot. 

Saturday was an exception.  One woman in her sixties, showed in her face and reactions her displeasure with our presences.  In short, she was horrified with us.  She muttered and puttered around the restaurant for about 15 minutes gawking and snarling.  Finally, one of our sweetest and most congenial members, Lucy, walked close to her brushing the woman slightly with her arm.  In horror, the woman jerked away.  She took a napkin and wiped her arm as though it had been contaminated by the offending brush. 

Lucy and several of her friends was standing around a table, waiting for their driver to get her keys from her purse.  The woman glared at them.  I reacted.  In truth, I reacted badly.  I said to the lady in a stern, measured tone, “It’s all right.  She won’t hurt you.” 

I suppose the woman became aware of her bad behavior because she said.  “I was only curious and smiling at the girl.”  Without another comment, she moved away from us. 

“I’m sorry,” I said to Lucy, aware of her possible embarrassment.

“Oh, she didn’t mean it” was Lucy’s gracious and kind returning comment.  Then she whispered softy to herself, “I know she didn’t mean it.”

One of our volunteers said quietly to the young women gathered around the table, “But there is no excuse for rudeness.”

Lucy didn’t say, “I didn’t notice anything.”  She acknowledged the insult; but rather than take offense, Lucy chose to give her offender the benefit of love. 

I have never loved what I do more than that moment.  You see, as part of the disability community, I’ve come to know and love gracious people like Lucy.  She isn’t pretty in her face but her heart is incredibly lovely.  Some of her body was deformed by medications her mother was prescribed by her doctor when she carried Lucy.   Yet, inside there is a wholeness and holiness that whispers with love and understanding, “She didn’t mean it.”

 I’m not sure whether that kind of graciousness is a learned trait from years of offense, or if it comes from a heart trained by God’s love.  Perhaps it’s both.

Have you see your members be especially gracious in the middle of offensive behavior?  Have you been able to react with the same kind of graciousness?

We can help in the time of disaster

Philippians 4:13

Central Theme:  God desire us to be helpful in times that others are in a disaster.


Introduction–Our community has gone through some hard times in the past few years.  Hurricanes.  Sickness of our members.  Deaths.  I think God wants us to be people of action during this time.  We shouldn’t let our disabilities keep us from being like Paul.   Paul was a man of action.   

      A.     He seemed to be always getting into trouble.

              1.  God always gave him the ability to handle the trouble.      

              2.  He was shipwrecked and bitten by snakes and beaten up and put in prison.

              3.  Have a member read Philippians 4:13.


       I.     Paul was confident that whatever happened, God would give him the ability to handle it. 

          A. Tell the story of the shipwreck found in Acts 27.

                   1.  Paul was able to help the other people be calm.

                   2.  Paul gave them words of assurance that God would help them all stay alive.

          D. God wants to use us in a time of crisis.


      II.     Most of us faced some crisis times.

              A. There was a van wreck involving people who are mentally challeged about 15 years ago in Brevard County. 

              1.  Everyone was injured and 7 people were killed.

              2.  Everyone in the mentally challenged community came together to share the love and sorrow of that time.

              B. When family crisis hit, we can show love and courage and help our family and friends.

                   1.  Remind everyone about what Paul did in the shipwreck.

                   2.  All of us can do that Paul did.


Conclusion–Paul was able to save everyone‘s lives by helping them to remain calm and giving them instructions.  But the greatest thing was Paul was sure that God would save them.  We need to help others see that God will take care of them not matter what happens.

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