March 2009


Who Are Our Customers?

Who are my customers?  My members, their parents, the professional community and the local church.  While not all mud that I throw against a wall sticks, some of it will.  Therefore, it’s important that when interacting with customers I must be sure that I keep throwing mud against the wall.  That is, that I continue to try new things and keep my mind open to learning and growing. 

In dealing with parents, I’ve found that over a twenty year period, the Holy Spirit has used us to slowly touch the hearts of almost every parent in our community.  Believe me, that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, I can honestly say that for years the opposite was true.  One specialized ministry in the area deliberately targeted Special Gathering telling their developmentally disabled church members that they were NOT allowed to attend.  That rejection stung because we had referred others to their ministry and we’ve continued to do so.

Yes, faithfulness seems to be the key in reaching our parents.  Dealing with professionals, there needs to be a different strategy in our pitching techniques.  They are much more impressed with credentials and having an understanding of “the unique language” of this population.  Many of the effective professionals have worked hard to gain their credential strips.  They will look with suspicion, if you earned your pitching skills on a backyard make-shift field, rather than a professional training camp.  Please understand I am not saying that this is a good attitude or that there isn’t great need for the practice time spent in the back yard pitching for hours to be able to effectively throw mud in this ministry.  However, if you are meeting with opposition or you aren’t taken seriously, it could be your credentials. 

Is this an obstacle that can’t be overcome?  Of course, not.  Competence will eventually win over the professional community every time. 

In regard to churches, you will need faithfulness, competence and a passion for what God has called you to do.  Like a tightly wound rope, churches will see and understand when God is using you to win your population for Christ.  They must respect you before they will buy into your ministry.

Our members are, perhaps, the easiest customers to satisfy.  They are won with love.  If you love them, they will come.  If you love the Lord, they will stay.  If you are able to introduce them to the Lord as their personal Savior, they will be changed.  And that is the basic reason why we are throwing all this mud anyway.

Are you able to work with one customer base better than another?  Are you able to keep your mission paramount?

Oh, my, I posted this incorrectly.  It was supposed to be on Special Gathering Stories.  However, since it’s here, I’ll share it.  Shelley is a member of our Melbourne Special Gathering.  She is an avid writer and gifted.   Here is one of  of her poems.  Be blessed!

Real Life is Full of Laughter

Real life is full of laughter and fun.

When we

                            laugh. 

                                                                         We feel things inside.

Put yourself into a funny time.  Watch a movie

                                                                                            act out the funny part.

                              Make funny faces in the mirror.

Think of Jesus laughing with you!

Moving to Follow God

Genesis 12:1

Central Theme:  We are to follow God.

 

Introduction–Have you ever had to move from one home into another one?  I’ve moved five times in my life.  All but one was in the first four years after I was married. Moving for some people is common but not for me and not for a man named Abram…until God spoke to him

 

       I.     Have a member read Genesis 12:1.

              A. Tell the story of Abram’s becoming a nomad. 

              1. A Nomad moves from place to place, living in tents.

              2.  Abram was 75.  His wife was 65. 

              3.  God told them to move from Ur to Haren a few years back and now he was telling them to move again.

              4.  Abram took his family and all his things and obeyed.

           II.     Moving can be a big problem.

          A. It can be harder to move than staying where you are.

          B. Sometimes we have to move.

              1.  From our home, where Mama waits on us to a group home where you have to learn to take care of yourself.

              2.  Move into an apartment–Some say it is the ultimate but if you are honest there is loneliness and big problems.

              3.  We might have to move to a relative’s house.

              4.  We might have to have someone move in with us.

     III.     In the Church and usually in our lives moving is good.

              A. Growing in God always means that we have to move from doing one thing to doing something else.

              B. Abram knew God would take care of him.

              C. Paul, Barnabus and Silas, Priscilla and Aquilla understood that God would them if they were willing to go to other cities.  God used them in mighty ways because they were willing to move when God asked them.

Conclusion–God is a God who moves and he wants us to go with him.

Because Saturday is one day in the week that there are not many hits on this page, I sometimes take advantage of it to vent or to become deeply personal.  Tomorrow is my son’s birthday.  Please indulge me.

The day that our son was born seemed to start in an uneventful way.  Of course, I was very pregnant but the due date was three weeks away.  At four in the afternoon, my water broke.  I called the doctor.  He said to get to hospital as quickly as possible. 

Though my husband was at work, he rushed home.  Within an hour, we were at the hospital.  Back in those days, husbands weren’t allowed in the delivery room.  My husband stood at the door looking in the window, much to the irritation of the doctor. On the other hand, I was comforted that he wanted to be a part of this wonderful event.

Our son came the a few minutes after midnight next morning.  That was 46 years ago tomorrow.  He was a wonderfully compliant child who laughed and sang almost all the time.  I remember how proud I was of him.  I was a young mother who didn’t always handle the pressures of motherhood well.  Yet, he has always been forgiving and merciful about my missteps.

In fact, it was my son who radically changed my relationship with the Lord.  One day when he was about six months old, I stood holding him at the sliding glass door.   It was raining outside.  I wanted to say to him, “God made the rain.”  But there was an awkward embarrassment that kept my lips sealed.

All alone in the house, I stood looking at the rain holding him tightly, quietly weeping.  I was shocked and dismayed by my inability to say the simplest thing to my son about my Savior and heavenly Father.   I thought I loved the Lord more than anything else in the world.  What made that simple sentence impossible for me to express. 

Even more, my mind raced asking myself, how could I claim to love my son with all my heart and not be willing to tell him about his loving Father God. 

That incident set me on a personal journey that has been exciting beyond my ability to imagine.  God has taught me and led me through wonderful paths of adventure and love.  Our son is now a retired major in the US Air Force.  He is an amazingly gifted artist. We share in the adventures of our lives’  journeys in telephone conversations and during our visits together.  He lives half way around the world but that doesn’t keep him from calling often to share with me.

It was a blessed and happy day when my first born came into the world.  He has taught me so much about myself and life.  I am deeply grateful to him for his love, forgiveness and understanding.  Happy Bithday, Mark.  I love you and God loves you.

Placement of the Member/Leader

Erin is back with us after a time spent working with another ministry.  Erin is a leader among our members.  He is also a quasi-volunteer.  Today Erin came back for choir practice. 

Erin is a high functioning mentally challenged adult who is always eager to help others.  A close friend of Erin’s needed volunteer hours in order to complete a important building  project.  Erin happily gave hours of his time and energy.  We were all excited to see him back.   Without a doubt, I was the one most happy to see him back because I know how much I’ve come to depend on his help.

Erin is a man on whom our program depends because of his cooperative spirit and high energy.  He is part of our prayer ministry, the choir and a greeter.  He helps to tear down and set up our audio equipment.  He helps our immobile members navigate from one place to another.  His car is available for use because his grandmother is one of our volunteer drivers.  And there is so much more.  In short, there is little that is done in Erin’s local program in which he doesn’t participate or help. 

Erin–like many of our members–is part of the Special Gathering Mud Throwing Principle.  We often ask ourselves, “When does a member become a valued volunteer?”  And “how do we successfully reward these men and women who work harder than some of our most loyal volunteers?” 

Felena is another leader in a different county.  She is willing to pick up the phone and contact anyone who is missing from Special Gathering.  When we have new paid staff, we have come to depend on Felena’s gentle help to enable the new staff  learn the nuances of the program she attends.

Next month, I’ll be in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, observing how Joy  Fellowship, another specialized ministry,  trains their member/leadership.  I’ll be attending a four-day leadership conference that includes these servant/leaders who are also members.  The Mud Throwing Principle includes observing what God is successfully doing for others and learning to adapt these techniques to our program.

When we are throwing mud against the wall, we know some of it sticks.  Those of the things we’ve kept in our ministry.  Those are the things that we may be able to export to enpower other specialized ministries.  In addition, the sticking mud of our sister ministries become methods and techniques that are great for us to imitate. 

Are there things that you have found that work for other ministries that have also worked for you?  Have you found that you must adapt most of those initiatives?  Or can you simply transplant them into your unique culture?

May I Help You?

Part of what we need to do as mud slingers is to be sure that courtesy is a part of the experience our members enjoy each time we meet.  We need to be sure that they see coming from us guinuine courtesy, not flattery.  What does courtesy do that no amount of flattery can do?  And what is the difference between courtesy and flattery? 

As I work my way through MK Turner’s book about the demise of K-Mart entitled K-Mart’s 10 Deadly Sins, I’ve been reminded of the last time I deliberately went into my local K-Mart store.  This memory amplifies to me the importance of feeling the graciousness of the Lord and common courtesy when we venture into an a new or familiar setting.  I had gone to K-Mart to purchase an item I couldn’t get at Wal-Mart.

For camp, I needed to purchase two heavy electric scooters that came in two large boxes.  I’m pretty strong but they weighed more than 50 pounds and I couldn’t lift them into the carts.  A male employee passed by me.  “Can you help me lift this into my cart?” I asked. 

Without looking at me, he said curtly,  “No.  That isn’t my job.  I’ll send someone to do it for you.”  I think I detected a faint smile.

I waited for 15 minutes.  The man came by me again two more times.  Each time I asked him about the person who would help me put the $500 worth of merchandise into my cart.  His smile became a smirk and stare the second time he passed me.  He ignored me the third time as he ambled casually past me and my waiting cart. 

Because I really wanted those scooters, I manhandled them onto my cart.  Then I remembered I also needed a baby crib mattress.  I located the baby section easy enough but I couldn’t find the price on the mattress I wanted.  A salesperson was on the other side of the counter.  “Can you help me find the price to this mattress, please.”

“No,” she said, “I’m busy.  The price is right on the box.  Find it yourself.”

I went back to the mattress and still couldn’t find the price.  Again, I approached the salesperson.  “I’m sorry but I’ve looked and I can’t find the price.  I need you to come and help me.”

The woman snarled and breathed heavy.  We rounded the corner and she began to look for the price.  She couldn’t find it.  “There is no price on this mattress,” she said and walked off. 

“Can you help me find a price?”  I went back to her and asked. 

“I am really busy but I guess if you insist, I’ll do it.”

“Yes,”  I said with an impatient edge to my voice.  “I insist.”

The woman found the price and again walked off.  I approached her, “Can you help me lift the mattress into my cart?”

“No,” she said.

“Can you find someone who can help me?”  I asked.

“No.  I told you I’m busy.”

After attempting to put the mattress on my already full cart.  I suddenly realized that if I were in Wal-Mart only a couple of blocks away, there would be people falling all over me to help me with my purchases. 

I left the store and never went back.  Within a year, K-Mart had declared bankruptcy and closed my neighborhood store.

Courtesy has always been the hallmark of the Wal-Mart experience for me.  A survey proved that the K-Mart employee interaction with customers was less than 30 seconds a day.  It has been determined that Wal-Mart employees interaction is drastically higher or they don’t remain employees. 

This example was set by Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart.  He would casually enter any one of his stores and talk with the customers, gathering facts and information about the local Wal-Mart.  Walton would interact with the salespersons, asking questions and inquiring.

It was well known by the employees that any unassuming male customer could be Walton.  They were kept on their toes by this knowledge.  People appreciated the courtesy and returned because of the gracious treatment they received.

What does that have to do with Special Gathering and other ministries within the mentally challenged community?  Everything. 

God is a gracious and loving father.  He is with us every moment.  The Lord is at your program each week, watching, taking notes.  In fact, Jesus said, “What you do to the least of these, you have done to me.”  How courteous is the teatment of my members?  Are they ignored when they tell me the same story for the 1,500th time?  Are they shooed away when their needs don’t come to the level of my expertise? 

I have to admit some of this makes me say, “Ouch.”  Our Savior walks among us each time we meet.  Are the needs of your members seen as His needs?  Or do I dismiss them as “not my job.”

Learning to Succeed

I’m currently reading Marcia Layton Turner’s book, K-Mart’s 10 Deadly SinsIt is a pretty academic manual that reads like a textbook.  However, it has many applications that apply to the church world and particularly specialized ministries. 

Of course, you cannot understand the demise of K-Mart without a pretty complete investigation of Wal-Mart’s success.  Turner provides that analysis also.  Before Wal-Mart’s amazing rise to become the leading retailer in the US, K-Mart was the stand-alone discount giant. 

The thing that is standing out to me as I read Turner’s thesis is how little energy K-Mart spent in learning about their customers.  The CEO once showed reams of data garnered from the spending habit of the customers at K-Mart.  He bragged that this gave the company all the information they needed. 

Before Wal-Mart moved into our neighborhood, I was a regular K-Mart shopper.  However, I was amazed at how little the organization (local and corporate) seemed to know about my spending habits and what I really needed.  The things I valued (like a clean store and good, courteous service) was void.  I leaped to Wal-Mart when it opened because I found these things there.

The mission statement of Special Gathering has always been:  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community, whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  The within part has been a great emphasis for us. Part of our deliberate mud throwing has been to experiment with new ways to get under the skin in the lives of our members. 

Our consistent goal is to get beyond the outside exterior of people who are mentally challenged.  To fully identify and fully know this segment of the population.  Do we always succeed?  Of course, not.  However, that is our goal.  It is a repeating rhythm that propels us into the community daily. 

How can I become a part of this community when I’m not mentally challenged?  I would be arrogant to say that it’s easy.  Yet by knowing, not just your members, but the entire community so well that I can speak in first person terms–us and we–rather than third person–them and they,  I can have a measure of success.  By not being afraid to fully integrate myself within their activities, needs and goals.  To be eager to identify with them as a shared participant, not just their pastor, I can participate in their eagerness and zest for life, as well as their woes.

Visiting activities where my members work and play is important.  But years ago, our Executive Director said, “You need to decide if God has called you to this community.  If he has, then our members deserve that your entire mindset and holy goals become ministry to this population.”  It was some of the best advice I ever received in ministry.  That day my focus and therefore my ministry changed drastically.

God became a man so that He could fully identify with humankind.  He wanted us to know that He understood our hurts, joys and despair.  That is the glory of the crucifixion and resurrection.  Christ came to live and died for me–for my sins.

My friend, Rick Parker, once told me, “If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.”  I’d asked him how he had become successful in business.  I was amused and interested by this remark. 

I remember the days when my brother and I would stand in the alley behind my parents’ ice cream parlor throwing mud again the outer wall of the movie theatre.  Rick, of course, was correct.  Not all of the mud would stick but my brother and I would do the obligatory dance when some of it did. 

Often when we try something new in Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, one of the staff will smile and ask, “So we’re throwing more mud against the wall?”   The others will smile back and acknowledge the throw.  We know that some of what we try won’t work but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the mud throwing anyway.

There are many things that we’ve tried that haven’t succeeded but as long as we keep the mud slinging mentality we escape the agony of defeat.  After a grand experiment, we often smile and say, “Not all the mud sticks, you know.”

Years ago, we tried to have Friday night rallies.  We would bring all of our Special Gathering programs in Brevard together in the middle of the county for a monthly “come together.”  Then on Sunday we would not have our usual church services.  We did this for about a year.  However, it didn’t work.  There were transportation issues for people who lived in the southern and northern part of the county.  They were getting home too late.  Parents complained. 

Also, our members rebelled.  Yes, they loved the monthly rallies.  However, they hated missing Special Gathering on Sunday.

We had wanted our members to attend their own churches one Sunday a month.  But either that didn’t happen or we were met with complaints.  “I don’t understand the sermon” was the most common complaint.  After a few months of mud slinging, we retreated back to our weekly chapel services.

There have been many mis-adventures.  In contrast though, there has been lots of mud that did stick.  Our monthly newsletter, Connecting Point, has been wildly successful and has actually saved us money in the long run. 

Recently, we had to be creative and change our annual retreat/camp for our members.  Several years ago, because of bus scheduling and an increase in Retreat/Camp Agape costs, we increased the hours of camp on Friday.  We tossed in an extra meal and extended the length of camp by one day.  At little cost to our members,  we are now able to offer a full three days and a half day at camp.  The bonus is that we are still able to offer Camp Agape at a much lower rate than most other camps.  Therefore, this has been a great success for everyone.

The problem isn’t throwing mud against the wall.  The problem is when you STOP throwing mud against the wall.  When we stop trying new things…stop working at listening to the Holy Spirit in order to make our programs different and exciting, then we quit growing and changing.  Nature tells us that when we stop growing and changing, we die. 

What is some of the mud you’ve thrown against the wall?  What have you learned from your mud slinging adventures?

This is a response to an e-mail I sent to Jim Liesenfelt regarding the State and County cuts which could be expected to effect Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT).

As of right now, we aren’t targeting any cuts to the disabled.  When I first arrived at Space Coast Area Transit, the Board’s mission for us was to serve the elderly and disabled.  In the late 90’s, the Board also wanted us to add focus on “Welfare to Work.” So that’s what we’ve done. 

 

If we “only” had to take a 20 percent cut in our local funding, we’ll be in decent shape. The reduction in fuel costs will let us cut 10 percent of our local funding right off the bat. We’ll probably have to reduce some fixed route service to reach the rest of the 20 percent; but it will be the lesser used routes like Route 5 (Mims), Route 24 (North/West Melbourne) and Route 26 (beaches south of Patrick).  We know this would affect some individual riders. There might be a way to help some of those folks with paratransit. 

 

Now a 40 percent cut…I really don’t know what will happen.  To be honest, I haven’t worked out that scenario.  It’s just too scary. 

 

Our budget is due on May 1, so I will have a better picture then.  At 40 percent, we have to cut $580,000 in staff and services.  The cost for 40 hours of bus service per year for just the driver’s salary and fuel is about $65,000.  Therefore, we’re looking at removing about 360 hours of service per week or almost 19,000 hours per year.  We run about 70,000 hours of fixed route service a year.  That’s a 27 percent cut to service on the road. 

 

We also have funds called balance forward. It’s basically funds left in the bank on September 30 each year.  These are funds left if we come under budget or generate higher revenue than budgeted.  I imagine that there will be a push to take that money away from us.  Since we don’t have reserves, we have always used that balance forward each year to provide transportation service.  Keeping as much of this funding will help to dampen the upcoming local funding cuts. 

 

In theory, you would cut the lowest performing routes.  However, we have to look at connectivity, time of day, time of week, etc. to determine what to cut.  In my mind, paratransit and contract routes are the base that would be one of the last things to cut; but I still could see us tweaking the contract routes.  If we did that, the biggest change the Med-Waiver folks would see is more part-time drivers on the routes and we make our scheduling more efficient.  Once we come up with something, it’s still up to the Brevard County Commissioners to make the final decision.

 

It doesn’t hurt to let the Commissioners know what’s important to your customers and how it helps to provide their independence.  Right now, we are doing okay with our state funding.  No cuts to the Transportation Disadvantaged funds or our general state transit aid are projected.  However, that could change starting next year, so we have to be vigilant. 

 

A real bright spot is that even with gas prices dropping, our fixed route ridership is up about 15 percent for the year.  Interestingly, it’s paratransit service that is struggling, since a number of our disabled riders have lost their jobs.  I’ve let Brevard Achievement Center and the School Board folks know about this.  We want them to know that if they had clients that needed transportation to work, we are there to help. 

God promises to bless us forever

2 Samuel 7:16

Central Theme:   God has promised to bless David‘s family forever and that promise blesses me also because of Jesus.

 

Introduction—I brought a picture of my mother.  All my members knew her.  She is sick and getting better.  But she has no fear of dying.  She knows that she will go to heaven when she dies.  I know that too.  I would miss her but I know she is secure in Jesus.  God’s promise to Mama began many years ago.  What God promised to David is meant to bless me also.  Have a member read 2 Samuel 7:16.

 

       I.     Tell the story of David and how God told him he would not build the temple but that God would bless him and bless the whole world through David’s life.

              1.  Jesus was part of the plan that would bless the whole world.

             2.  God was telling David, I will give you a part of your family who will be Emmanuel, God with us.

             3.  All of God‘s promises are meant to bless us because in all of them, he is promising to send Jesus.

 

      II.     God wants to bless all of us but there are conditions to his promises.

 

              A. The first thing he wants from us is to receive Jesus as our Savior.

              B. After that, he will work with us and bless us.

              C. Before we receive Jesus, we can’t make God happy.

             

     III.     God knew that the best thing he could do for us was to send Jesus.

              A. Now the best thing we can do for God is to ask Jesus into our hearts.

              B. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to ask Jesus into our heart.

 

Conclusion: God gives us his blessing forever through Jesus our Savior.

This is information I received in an e-mail this week.  It concerns APD reductions that will go into effect.  The concern is where to cut and how much from where.  Not will there be additional cuts. Some of it will be confusing.  I cannot copy the original attachment referred to in the e-mails.  However, I can forward it to you if you contact me at lhoward@specialgatherings.com.

(Formating note:  some of this is in bold type.  That is because I cannot get it to become normal print.  It is not for emphasis.  Thank you.)

I do not know if you have seen this e-mail but the attachment seems to be what was presented to the legislators. Sorry but  I cannot seem to get out of it current format and into this entry.  If you desire to receive this attachment e-mail me at lhoward @specialgatherings.com

# 7 on the attachment is confusing.  It appears (and I have heard Jim DeBeaugrine say) that we are going to group a lot of the service into one category.  This seems to means the state will have one service that can be used for ADT, in home supports, companion, etc.  If that is correct how does this interact with the 30 hrs a week limit on meaningful day activity?

How is # 13 different than #7?  Changes in supportive living is a concern.  The state encouraged people to move into independent settings promising to provide needed supports that we are now messing with. 

Is #15 just saying that we do not know where 59 million (over 50% of the cuts) are coming from?

Maybe I do not understand what I am reading.  I am looking for help here.

Thanks

  Original e-mail said

FYI-Attached the APD budget reduction exercise of today that all state agencies had to submit. Many of the same issues that have been on the reductions sheets are still on this one.  A summary of the reductions is as follows, see the attached for details:

BettyKay

 Reductions necessary to meet target………………………………………36,472,253

Balance of headquarters reductions…………………………………-439,030

Balance of Area office reductions………………………………..…..-109,190

·         Budget reduction in special categories…………………………….-1,359,557

·         Consolidate durable and medical equipment…………..………….-1,864,185

·         Eliminate behavior assistant servcies in group homes…………..-4,000,000

·         Reduce CDC accounts by 10%……………………………………..-3,286,586

·         Consolidate meaningful day activities and reduce by 8%…………-21,584,922

·         Cap Tier 1 at $120,000……………………………………………….-11,198,958

·         Eliminate Behavioral Therapy Assessments in Waivers…..-447,754

·         Eliminate Medication Review in Waiver………………………………………..—402,543

·         Eliminate specialized mental health assessment services in waiver………..-95,023

·         Eliminate specialized mental health therapy in waiver…-604,732

·         Redesign supported living program to reduce duplication……….-2,200,000

·         Redesign level of supported employment for recipient

                       with history of employment stability………………….-2,054,098

·         Further reductions to waiver services………………………………………-59,073,558

·         Subtotal Reductions (Annualized)…………………………………………-108,720,136

Most of these are repeat line items from previous presentations, they go beyond what the target was and Director DeBeaugrine did not recommend implementation of most of these.

My friend, Tony Piantine of Camp Daniel in Wisconsin, wrote on his Facebook wall, “It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”  That is a quote from Edward DeBono.  Not sure who Ed DeBono is but he must be important. 

(You see, Piantine writes lofty things on his Facebook wall.  He doesn’t know that Facebook is for more important stuff, such as, “I just finished a whole bag of potato chips.  I don’t even feel fat yet.  Searching the cabinet for another bag.”  Or,  “I haven’t brushed my teeth in four days.  Hope you read this because no one has come close to me in 48 hours.”)

In her later years, my mother–who was important in my life–often instructed me, “It’s amazing.  When I was actively doing ministry, there was always someone angry with me.  Now that I’m doing nothing, everyone loves me,” she would say with a whimzical smile.  “If you are busy doing work for the Lord, you are bound to do something that someone doesn’t like.  If you do nothing, no one has a complaint.”

Working with Special Gathering, I’ve also found Mother’s advice to be true.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship.  That is what we do and that is all we do. 

Interesting, there are people who don’t like us because of what we do.  These are usually wonderful people who deeply believe in a more  inclusive ministry for this sub-culture.  We applaud the work they are doing.  However, we also strongly believe that a specialized, community-based ministry is better able to reach the population with the dynamic, life-changing gospel.

There are equally adament folks who don’t like us because of what we do not do.  Often, these are people who believe that we should be more aggressive in our approach.  There are several areas, including funding and social work, that seem to get caught in their cross-hairs.  Several years ago, I sat in a meeting with a pychiatrist, well-known in our area.  I was surprised at how angry he became with our stand against taking federal funding.  “You are just lazy,” he concluded.  “There is money out there.  You simply need to access it for your ministry.”  After I questioned him about compromise, he said, “Of course, you’ll have to do a bit of compromising but the extra funding is worth it.  And you can find ways to work around the restrictions.”

We left the meeting without his agreeing with our principle.  In addition, he hadn’t convinced me that working around restrictions and additional funding was worth the compromise.  However, that is okay.  He had found ways with which he was enthusiastic in helping a children’s home obtain federal and state funding.  He only wanted us to tap into this supply of cash.  He was genuinely concerned and he sincerely felt we were wrong.

Other people believe that we are too aggressive in our advocacy for the population.  Our exec, Richard Stimson, loves to tell about a time that he argued before a day program staff in the same week.  He was representing two different people.  They wanted to different things in regard to the same issue.  Stimson first argued for the issue.  Later in the week, he argued again the same issue.

One of the staff members came out of the meeting and confronted Stimson.  “How can you argue for and against the same issue?” 

Stimson smiled, “Because each consumer wanted something different.  I try to obtain what they need and want, not what I need or want.” 

Without compromising our basic principles, we will argue for or against an issue, depending on what the people we represent desire.  This doesn’t always make the professional community happy with us.

We aren’t saying that our critics are right or wrong.  We are just different.   We value our supporting churches and the way we must depend on them for our existance.  And we desire to keep their contributions valuable to us.

What are some of the things that make people angry with you?  Would changing these methods go against your principles.  Or would they enhance your ministry?

Several months ago, I found that I could no longer use my credit card.  I couldn’t imagine why because we pay off the entire balance each month.  I thought little of it but decided to call the credit card company to inquire about the fact that charges were blocked.  The woman on the other end of the line said that $750 had been charged to the account, in $35 increments from convenience stores within an hour of one day.  After the credit card company realized what was happening, the credit card was flagged and a stoppage was put on the account.

According to the woman on the phone, all I needed to do was to speak to her and they would remove the amount from the card.  I was happy to spend the next hour on the phone with her answering her questions.  Naturally, I thought the entire situation was settled.

Much to my surprise, the $750 appeared on my next bill.  I went into my branch office and filled out about 15 pages of paper work.  Answering the same questions that the woman on the phone has asked me.  Another hour absorbed, but I was assured that this time the amount that had been fraudulently obtained would be removed from the account.

You guessed it, my next credit card statement I’ve just received still has the $750 debited to our account.  For us, this is a lot of money.  I am, of course, not happy that this amount hasn’t been removed from the account and that I must make yet another trip to my bank to take care of this theft.

Please understand that our credit cards have extremely small limits.  Therefore, the result of this action has been that I still am not able to use this account.  In addition, interest is being debited to the account. 

Do not ask me how someone obtained my credit card number.  I had not used the card in about six months.  I understand from the fraud department that there are many different ways to to obtain a number and a name may not even be necessary. 

My advice is that no matter how small your account, watch your credit card statements.  Go over the amounts charged to each account each month.  Be sure that the credit card lender clears any mistakes or fraudulent charges. 

Depending on the bank or credit union you are using, you may need to make several return trips to get the account balance cleared.  Small ministries, like Special Gathering, are not usually targets because we own little to nothing.  However, rampant theft is spiraling downward. 

Honestly, I wish there were great words of advice that I could share but I have little to offer except we must diligently and wisely protect what God has entrusted to our care.  We must pray for God’s continuing protection over us and the important work within the mentally challenged community that we are doing.

At Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we often say that we beg and borrow from everybody in the three counties.  Because we own only the bear essential of church (See “Church in a Trunk”), we must depend on the generosity of others to survive. 

That, of course, means that we must also be lenders.  Honestly, I didn’t mind begging or borrowing but the lending part was a rub when I first came to work with Special Gathering.  Not because I didn’t want to lend but because the results were disastrous. 

In the early days, when money was tighter than Madona’s mini-skirt, we purchased only a limited number of things.  However, what we did get was equipment or gear that would show the best side of our ministry.  This meant that we saved our money or obtained a grant to get quality stuff.   

It seemed that the people who borrowed from us were folks who didn’t have any problem with money.  Frankly, they didn’t know how to take care of the things that we lend them.  I remember one year, that I went to find our Christmas costumes a week before the first play.  That was plenty of time to wash and steam everything that was needed.  I couldn’t find them in their usual storage spot.  Then we remembered that a church had borrowed them the year before and they hadn’t returned them.  This was about 30 costumes. 

Several times, I called the church to inquire.  In a couple of days the pastor called me.  “I know right where they are.  Come tomorrow at 6pm, after supper and before my finance committee meeting and I’d get them for you.”  Unfortunately, the church had enlarged their space and somene had moved everything from the old building to the new building.  After hours of searching, the pastor and I realized that we could not find the costumes.  I had lost 4 days.  There was a very limited time to replace them.

How loud can we scream, “Panic”?    One person washing and ironing 30 costumes in a week is easy.  Replacing 30 costumes in couple of days is almost impossible for one person.  In the end, the costumes were found in an unused storage shed and so was my sanity. 

After four or five incidences like this one, I had an awfully sour taste in my mouth whenever anyone wanted to borrow our costumes or other equipment.  Two things happened to me.  First, I resolved anew that whatever we borrowed would come back on time and in better condition than when we borrowed it. 

Second, I know that I had to get rid of the bitter taste about lending forever.  That wasn’t as easy and it took a great deal of prayer.  As we all know the scriptures talk about a root of bitterness.  It is as though bitterness is a weed that must be eradicated from the root and the root system is the best thing about a weed. 

I’m told that most weeds that aren’t pulled up by the root will multiply rather than die.  For several years, I had to work on this bitterness.  Finally, I was able to say.  “Take it.  Don’t worry.  I’ll come and get it as soon as the event is over.”

When it is marred and scarred, I don’t smile but I also don’t cry anymore.  In fact, I’ve come to expect it to be harmed.  Then I can thrilled when it’s in good condition.  My father used to tell me, “When I lend things, I don’t ever expect to get it back.  Then I’m not disappointed when it doesn’t come back  or it comes back damaged.”

As a parachurch ministry survival usually demands borrowing and lending.  Borrowing means returning on time and in better condition.  Lending means giving as though it will never come back. 

Are you a good borrower?  Are you a gracious lender?  Which is the harder struggle for you?

Next Page »