I stood by the window observing the people who were gathering into the small waiting room.  Folding chairs had been moved into small groups of three and four.  People were greeting friends from all over our large county.  As usual, many of the people within the mentally challenged community had come early for the Brevard County Recreation Sweetheart Dance.  I had taken a small group to the big event  from Special Gathering’s annual trek to a local barbecue restaurant. 

We do an “I Love You, Jesus” celebration at a local restaurant the Sunday before Valentine’s Day.  We use the time to celebrate God’s love for us; and we talk about our relationship with our boyfriends or girlfriends.   Leaving the restaurant, we went directly to the County party.  We were an hour early.  It was too cold to walk the mall or sit in the van so we waited in the anti-room for the party to begin. 

As more and more people arrived, several companions and caregivers came into the room to visit with The Special Gathering members.  They hugged each other as old and dear friends. The hallways were crowded and uncomfortable and there were chairs in the room.  Therefore, it was soon filled with people waiting.  Many of them were dressed formally.  Others had on the familiar Florida formal attire, which means clean Levi’s.

Within our community, many professionals move from agency to agency.  Additionally, they often do private companion or respite care to help make ends meet.  Therefore, if one professional has worked in an agency, they will encounter people from the community again and again, even though they may no longer work with them directly.  This was the case at the dance.  Professionals and men and women who are mentally challenged greeted each other as old friends and dear relations.  Even though some of these men and women who make their living working within this community have their Master’s degrees, they continue to work long hours with lower pay because they genuinely love the people they serve.

Yesterday, I was proud to be a part of this community because of the love that was shared among all the people who gathered for the party.  I had listened that morning to a teaching by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a native of India and an outstanding Christian apologist.  This is not a direct quote but Zacharias had said that we cannot truly be effective in the lives of a displaced people until they can get close enough to us to see the color of our eyes.

I understood the principle he was teaching.  I’ve attended lots of large churches; and there is an interesting trend among the pastors as their churches grow larger and larger.  They perfect the technique of walking through a crowded room without looking at anyone, without catching the eye of one single person.  I never blamed them or craved their attention.  As a family, we were always involved in small groups.  We actively served in the ministry of the local congregation.  We knew that we could get the attention of the pastors, if we needed help. 

Later, as the Valentine’s party slowly fizzled into a few couples savoring the last few minutes they would be allowed to hold each other.  I talked with friends and said good-bye.  Parents came to pick up their children.  Companions gathered up balloons and candy to assist the individuals they had transported.  Promises were made to see each other again…real soon.  The last farewells were mumbled as our members dragged their tired bodies to waiting vans and cars.

 I remembered the words of Dr. Zacharias.  The mentally challenged community is a group of people who are valued by the men and women who know them best–their families and the professionals who work with them.  Most of all, the Lord values them.  Yet, at times, it seems that the Christian community has not understood their true worth.  When we encounter a person who is developmentally disabled, how often do we make sure  that we walk purposely, insuring that they will never see the color of our eyes?     

Felicia and James live 50 miles from my home.  I only see them a few times a years.  As we hugged good-bye before they loaded into the van, I stopped for a moment to insure that they could see not only the color of my eyes but also the love in my eyes.