Fun and Games

The Lord initiated the Sabbath.  The fourth commandment tells us that we are to take one day to rest each week.  Following the lead of our Jewish brethren, we use this day to honor the resurrection and it is the Christian day of worship.

Perhaps it is ironic that God’s fourth law is the only commandment in which Christians feel extra spiritual when we break it.  That is especially true if we are employed by the church, pastors or heavily involved in ministry.  Additionally, what does this rest consist of?  In the deep South, where I was raised, it was thought sinful to kill anything on Sunday.  Therefore, hunters and fishermen were expected to put away their poles and guns on Sunday.  In our family, we didn’t go to the movies and we seldom ate out because this would cause others to have to work on this holy day of rest.

Sunday was the day that family got together for a big meal.  In our household, when we were teenagers, it meant a quick-lunch or picnic and then we spent the afternoon skiing.  We broke away from the river just in time to hurriedly prepare for evening worship.  I’ve read that Billy and Ruth Graham tried to make this day especially fun for their children.  No one was allowed to watch television.  It was the only day that they were allowed to drink Coca-Cola.  Sunday afternoons were spent playing board games with their parents and having an extra piece of pie.  My husband insisted that the only way to honor Sunday afternoon was by taking a nap.

This past year, I seen that more and more our teaching rests on the simply principles of the commandments.  As we teach our members the importance of following God’s law, I find myself zeroing into the importance of worship on Sunday, neglecting the rest part of the fourth law.

Here are some suggestions that may help you teach your members to learn how to rest on this holy day.

  1. Learn to rest one day a week yourself.  Put away the lame excuses and do it.  It must be important or the Lord would not have placed it immediately after the three laws that mandate how we are view and worship Him.  Because of transportation issues at Special Gathering, I cannot rest on Sunday.  Therefore, Monday becomes my day of rest.
  2. Help your members to appreciate things that are beautiful.  Try to teach them to stop during their rest times to see the beauty of God’s creation.
  3. Encourage your members to develop friendships with each other and attempt to use this time to deepen those friendships.
  4. Use your unique gifts to help your members learn to enjoy God’s blessings in a fun creative way.  A program director in NC makes sock puppets for her members’ entertainment and to teach Christian principles.  Tony and Karol Piantine, program directors of Camp Daniel in Wisconsin, are gifted artists.  Everything they do and teach is steeped in excellence and artistry.
  5. Help your members incorporate music into their rest time.  Listening to, playing and singing music is a great stress reliever.

These are only five ways to help your members learn to rest.  I’m sure there are others that you have learned.  What are they?  Or perhaps–like me–I’ve not thought much about teach the mentally challenged community how to rest.  I know the Lord is encouraging me to listen, learn and rest.

I hope you will enjoy this incredible story, which was written by Mark Hanlon, Senior Vice President of Compasion International.

Every so often, you come across someone who truly inspires you. Recently, for me, that person is a teenager from the Philippines.

Emilda Soriano, now 18 years old, was left behind by her peers in kindergarten.  As a toddler, a high fever left Emilda with severe brain damage.  She was unconscious for six days and when she woke up she was never the same.  Today she is still unable to correctly identify letters, colors or numbers. Despite her mental limitations and their financial limitations, Emilda’s parents were committed to giving their daughter every opportunity to flourish. Pooling their meager wages as a tombstone maker and launderer (when they could find work), they managed to send Emilda to kindergarten—for five consecutive years.

At age six, Emilda began to participate in a program with Compassion International. Compassion staff quickly noticed Emilda loved running around the cemetery next to her shanty. And, though she only has the mentalcapacity of a three year old, once she learned not to crisscross from lane to lane, she was very fast.

Today, while Emilda still can’t tie her shoes, she has learned how to use them to run circles around her limitations. Emilda has qualified to compete in the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games inAthens, Greece, June 25 – July 4. A girl that many people thought would live a life of struggle and obscurity now has the opportunity to win a special Olympic medal. The trip to Greece is made even sweeter by an earlier missed opportunity. Emilda¹s talent qualified her for the 2009 Shanghai Special Olympics but financial difficulties made it impossible for her to attend the Games.

As big a hurdle as her disability has been, Emilda’s journey to Greece was nearly made impossible by her family’s poverty. Her father earns just $6.25 (USD) per week.  Knowing that they couldn’t afford the necessary bus fare to travel to a training facility, Emilda and her mother regularly ran to the Iloilo City Sports complex. On days that they didn’t make the journey, Emilda ran around the cemetery. With the pressure of poverty weighing heavily on the family, her parents feared that Emilda would never be able to demonstrate her talent beyond her local community.

But as her story began to make its way through Compassion International staff workers around the globe, something amazing happened. The story of the teen began to impact those close to home as well as those in far-flung places. In her home village of Iloilo, a squatter community in the Philippines, many people search through dumpsites scavenging for valuables. Though Emilda was teased for most of her life about her mental disability, she has now given hope to her community. The poor community sees that if Emilda can go to Greece, there is no limit to what God can do—even in Iloilo.

Across the world, people began to hear about Emilda and her opportunity to participate in the Games in Greece.  Inspired by her story, hundreds of people from Uganda, Canada and the U.S. raised the necessary funds for her trip. This month, Emilda, her mom and her Compassion program director will head to Greece, carrying with them the encouragement of supporters from around the globe.

At the Special Olympics, Emilda will represent the Philippines in Athens.  But she will also represent something more than one community, disability or country.  She will represent the one billion vulnerable children who live in poverty. Emilda demonstrates that every child is unique and deserves a chance to thrive.

We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the world. Stories like that of Emilda remind us that people aremore than the labels we put on them and it doesn’t take much to be part of a miracle.  By championing a child in poverty, we can all be part of the next inspiring story.


Mark Hanlon is the Senior Vice President, USA, for Compassion International. Compassion is the world’s largest Christian child development organization working to release children from poverty. Founded in 1952, Compassion successfully tackles global poverty one child at a time, serving more than 1 million children in 26 of the world’s poorest countries. Recognizing that poverty is more than a lack of money, Compassion works through local churches to holistically address the individual physical, economic, educational and spiritual needs of children, enabling them to thrive, not just survive. Compassion has been awarded eight consecutive, four-star ratings by Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. Additional information about Compassion International is available at

At Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we often say that we survive because of the good-will efforts of many people.  Today, I’m extremely grateful to a staff member from our Brevard programs, Carmine DiBiase.  After a hard day at work and long ministry evening, he came home to make a new CD of  Fun Songs for our New Year’s Fun and Game program in Vero today. 

Thank you seems to be small payment for something that means so much to me.  However, a thank you is sometimes all we have to give for such a great gift.  In teaching our members, one of the things we try to instill is sense of gratefulness.  “Do you express gratitude for the rides people give to you?”  is a question we often ask them.  “Are you telling people how much you appreciate what they do for you?”  Our members are mentally challenged or mentally retarded.  The main focus of our ministry is evangelism and discipleship.  Therefore, teaching (and reminding) our members of the basic essentials are an important part of what we do.

However, it’s at times like this that I’m reminded how grateful I must be for the efforts of others.  Whether they are our co-workers, our partners in ministry, our sponsoring congregations or our volunteers, we could not do what we do without their help and energetic support.

Thanks, Carmine.  And thank you to all the wonderful people who hold up our arms as we share the goodness of God to people who need to hear about God’s goodness and grace.

I never want to admit my mistakes. However, they come so often now that they are hard to ignore. Yesterday, was a great example.

The day started at 5am when I slowly but with resolve crept out of my bed to go to the Cocoa Special Gathering Corporate office (a half-hour away) to collect the some information and papers.  Then I would go to the Vero post office (an hour away) and return by 8am.  I needed to go by the office, post office and bank to complete my tasks for the year.   I’m the area director of SpG of Indian River.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our goal and mission is to disciple and evangelize our population.

The problem:  I couldn’t find my office or PO box key.  The ExecDir of Special Gathering had an early morning meeting and wouldn’t be in the office until 10am.  He laughed as I collected his office key to make another one for myself.  “As soon as you remake all the keys you need, you’ll find your keys.”  I actually was hopeful that this was true; but I completely doubted it.

I cruised into Vero at 10 minutes before noon.  I paid to have a new PO box key made. it was the last key I needed.  I’d replaced all the others.  I opened my box with the new key and there in the PO box were my old  keys.  Somehow, the last time I’d been in the PO, I’d dropped the keys and didn’t realize it. 

I returned home in plenty of time to prepare for our New Year’s Eve Fun and Game Party.  Our main entertainment was to be the music for some group dances.  I’d stolen a couple of great games from our SC program director.  Those were set. 

I had carefully guarded the music CD I’d used during the last Fun and Games sessions.  And I knew exactly where it was.  As soon as I returned home, I rechecked the CD on my computer.  Much to my horror, it was a photo CD, not the music CD. 

No problem,  I thought.   I knew I had a Veggie Tales Double-Feature CD sitting on the coffee table in the family room.  The CD is geared for children but that wouldn’t be a problem.  Our members would love them.  We could all sit together, eating popcorn, laughing,  making fun of the story and characters, pretending not to like them.  However, the CD was gone.  My daughter had taken it by mistake when she packed this morning heading back to Virginia. 

 Now I had to find the music CD and I had no idea where it could be.  I looked; then tried to pull music from the Internet.  After a few unsuccessful tries, time was running out.  I picked up a couple of Karaoke CD’s I’d purchased in the past and headed to the church. 

 My prayers were purposeful.  “Oh, God.  Help!  Oh, God, Help me!  Oh, dear God, Help!”

In reality, God answered the prayer.  We had about 30 people who came and we had a blast.  The games were a big hit.  They were simple but challenging.  Most of all they were fun and involved candy prizes. 

I’ve come to learn that sometimes God can change our mistakes into assets.  I won’t go so far as to say that happened yesterday.  However,  God helped me and our volunteers to look at the bright side of a crazy, bad situation.  “It’s amazing how easy it is to please our members,” one of our volunteers had told me soothing my distress.  “If you are having fun, they will have fun.  That simple truth changed everything.

And God taught me another great lesson.  Attitude may not be everything but attitude is vitally important to our members.  In fact, it’s vital with everyone.  Last night, we danced and played and sang and laughed.  Our members, even the most low functioning, were excited to play the games.  They won candy and played some more. 

With ministry to people who are cognitively disabled, there is the impression that this is hard work.  It can be hard but it isn’t as much work as it is a pleasure to be in the company of people who delight in the small things of life, like laughter and applause and pizza.

What are some lessons you’ve learned that has made your ministry easier?

At 6pm we’ll begin Fun and Games at First United Methodist Church in Melbourne.  It is open to everyone within the mentally challenged community who would like to have a Christ honoring New Year’s Eve.  I confess the last three New Year’s Eves have been spent with my grandchildren shoot fireworks in our front yard. 

This year my grands have gone home and I’m going to play and sing with some of my other favorite people.  Come and join us in the joy. 

And remember have a God-honoring and happy New Year!

Last evening at First United Methodist Church of Melbourne, Special Gathering of Indian River had our first Fun and Games Night.  It was a whopping success.  While Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community that does evangelism and discipleship, we firmly believe that part of discipleship is fellowship and fun.  We had over 50 people who attended. 

All of this began because the Brevard County Recreation Department has its summer camp in July and August.  The rec employees are tied up doing a day camp for children with disabilities.  Therefore, they aren’t able to do the Friday night socials.  Special Gathering of Brevard and Indian River decided to pick up some of the slack and have a party.

Of course, parties are the best thing I do.  And this one was great fun.  We began with pizza and salad.  Then one of our wonderful SpG volunteers, Barbara Kenney, led us in more than a hour of line dancing.  Everyone got into the action and we learned or refreshed our skills in step/toe/heel. 

After more than an hour of this aerobic exercise, we played games.  While they were fun, it ended up being a bit confusing because we hadn’t allowed enough time to organize them properly. 

Lessons learned from this event:

  • There were more than 15 members/parents/volunteers who helped with set-up, tearing down, serving and clean up.  Without a good number of helpers, the night would have been impossible. 
  • Serving food was great.  Pizza is the easiest thing.  With church special discounts given by Domino’s Pizza, the cost was only $2 a head.  Everyone can eat for that amount of money.
  • Serving food was a big pain.  Many more volunteers are required to make food service advisable.  Praise God, people were willing and able to help serve.  We had seven people who were dishing out the food and pouring drinks.  However, there was an additional five or six who were helping people who are physically disabled to get their food.  Most of these helpers were SpG members. 
  • The line dancing was perfect.  Even our parents loved the music and our members loved the fun.  I, being extremely straight-laced, loved the movements.  It was heel, toe, step forward, step backward, spin.  There are no touching or holding.  Perfect for a church event.
  • To do the games, we needed to allot much more time to organize properly.   I would say that at least 5 to 10 minutes was needed to organize the members into groups. 
  • There should be about three or four people to each group with a helper person in each group.  The helper could be a member/leader or a volunteer.  (Unfortunately, because of time restrains, we only had three large groups and no leader of the group.)
  • We had three games going at the same time.  Each game had its own table and one person stationed at the table who helped the members to play the game.
  • The games were the simple standards.  First, eat three crackers and the first person to whistle won.  Second, blow soap bubbles.  The person who blew the most bubbles on the first blow, won.  Third, everyone got a piece of bubble gum and the first person to blow a bubble, won.  Each winner was given a colored card.  Each game had different colored cards.  In this way, we knew who won which games.  We were to then have the winners of the individual games have a tournament.  (We ran out of time and we weren’t able to do the tournament either.  However, we had enough game prizes to give each person with a card a prize.)
  • Our members in Melbourne are pretty high functioning but they weren’t able to whistle or to blow bubbles with bubble gum.  They were all able to blow the soap bubbles. Your members will all be different.  We played the same games in DeLand where the members are much lower functioning and they were able to whistle and blow bubbles with bubble gum but they weren’t able to blow soap bubble. 

    Blowing soap bubbles was the best game we played

    Blowing soap bubbles was the best game we played

  • Soap bubbles are such fun for our members that I plan on incorporating them into more of activities in the future. 
  • We also had two games of Dominos going for those people who didn’t want to play the other games. 

Have you been able to find games that your members especially enjoy?  What are some of them?