The first time I walked into an Easter Seals’ hallway to learn about Special Gathering, it was a hot, steamy Sunday morning.  From that first encounter, I had no doubts that I’d wandered into the gathering of a cloistered sub-culture.  These were the men and women that I’d tried to find for 20 years.

God had spoken to me as I read Corrie ten Boon’s book, Common Sense Not Needed, when I was barely 25 years old.  From that moment I knew that this was the ministry He had called me to do.  But I had not been able to find more than one or two people scattered here and there.  These folks did not go to any of the churches or Bible studies where we attended.  I believed I had missed God.  Then I walked into my first meeting of  The Special Gathering and I was shaken.  There were almost 25 people gathered to learn about the Lord. 

There were several things that surprised me by the people I met.  Loving and gracious, I’d never been received with such acceptance.  Nevertheless, there were several other things which concerned me.  The most perplexing was the language barrier.  Yes, each person spoke a form of English.  However, I could not understand what the members were saying because their various disabilities.  The young woman, Debbie, who was the Melbourne program director smiled and responded to their inquiries.  She laughed at their jokes.  I hardly knew when they were calling my name.

I mimicked Debbie.  I smiled and shook my head but I was stumped.  What was wrong with me?  I questioned.  Why can’t I understand what the people are saying?  However, this language barrier did not deter me.  I continued to come and within a few months, I began to decipher the nuances of each individual’s foreign tongue. 

Over the years, I’ve seen little written or spoken about problem.  I’ve wondered how many people eventually leave because they aren’t able to understand the language of the people.  When you travel to a strange country, everyone expects to encounter a language barrier.  You are taught that in addition to the differences in the vocabulary, there are different dialects and accents.  Yet, in this sub-culture, everyone speaks English.

I learned that our members know when I am faking it.  My smiles and head shakes don’t impress or fool them.  Now when I don’t understand, I apologize, explaining, “I can’t understand your accent.”  As I’ve gotten older, I complain about my fuzzy hearing.  I find that the more I’m around our members, the more I can translate their conversations.  I’ve learned stop and listen to them.  But the thing which works the best is simply familiarity. 

For about two years, I thought Mickey was non-verbal.  Sure there were lots of grunts and groans.  I would often say, “Too bad Mickey cannot talk.  He has so much to say.”  I was surprised one day when his parents called me asking about a complicated concept that he relayed to them.  Obviously, he was communicating with them.

After three years of spending several hours with him, one day I realized I understand his grunts and moans.  In fact, he has an excellent vocabulary.  I don’t think I”m listening any more closely; but I know when he grunts a complaint or gives me a compliment. 

I so grateful that I didn’t let the language barrier of the disability community keep me from knowing and loving this important population.

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