Today, I heard again the Christmas song about the little boy who’s mother is dying on Christmas eve and he wants to buy her shoes to wear as she goes into heaven.  He doesn’t have enough money to buy the shoes and a person in line gives him the money he needs.  It’s never been my favorite Christmas song because of the obvious sentimentality.  The song was never realistic to me.  Yet, it deliberately strokes my heart strings with grief and sorrow.

However, I heard it in the context of a devotion by a pastor who shared the song.  He spoke about his wife who died of cancer when his two daughters were teenagers.  Unashamed, the Man of God cried as he read the words, remembering the first Christmas his daughters experienced without their mother.

Many people who are intellectually disabled come perplexed to the crossroads of Christmas with mixed emotions.  During this time, why struggle to walk in joy when it seems easier to become swallowed by grief? We must not forget that people who are mentally challenged may not have the cognitive ability or possess the navigational tools which help them to choose the joyful paths which help them experience peace as they remember loved ones lost through death or separation.

Distraction may be the best way to redirect their thoughts.  However, I try always to pray out loud for our members who are grieving during this time.  A hug and quick prayer for them works miracles.  The prayer I often pray is, “Father, bless my good friend as she grieves for her loss.  Help her to remember that her loved one is no longer in need of prayer.  Let her find your peace for today and for the rest of this joyful time.”  As I release them from the hug, I smile and encourage my member to also smile.

Does it always work?  Nope.  But at least he knows that God and I love him and God cares enough to take time to hear his prayer.  That is, of course, the work God has called us to to do.  What is something that you use to help your members who are grieving during Christmas?

Life is Precious to the Lord

Exodus 1:16-17

Central Theme:  If life is precious to the Lord, then life should be precious to us also.


Introduction—I asked a young mother who was a volunteer to bring up her baby.  I asked her to tell about feeling him before he was born.  Was he alive?  Was he a child before he was born?  Was he a baby right after he was born?

       5.     Have a member read Exodus 1:16-17.


       I.     Tell the story of Moses as a baby.

              A. God’s people had respect for human life.

              B. They would not kill the little babies.


      II.     No matter who tells you different, you must have respect of life.


              A. God wants us to respect life, even our own lives.

              B. We are sometimes encouraged to do dangerous things.

              C. I had a good friend who was encouraged to go out to the bars and drink and even get drunk.

              D. She became an alcoholic.

              E.  She is now a very sick person.  If you had known her years ago, you wouldn’t recognize her now.

              F.  She listened to other people; she did not have respect for her own body.

              G. God made each of us and we should have great respect for everyone.  We should start with respecting our own bodies.


      II.     Each of us should respect human live.

              A.  Not just little babies but each other.

              B. We show respect for life by living clean and good lives.


Conclusion–God‘s people did not want to kill the babies.  They respected and wanted to save lives.  We should show respect for life also.  We should start with respecting our own lives.

As a program director for a ministry called Special Gathering, I find myself in the interesting place that I’ve seen the parents and caregivers of our members in for several decades.  I am now a full-time caregiver for a person with a disability.  Yes, my husband has had a disability all our married life.  However, his disability was never a handicap for him or our family.

My husband, Frank, worked hard at not letting the disability that he inherited from his mother limit him.  And by and large, it has not.  He was an Aerospace Technologist for NASA until he retired in 2002.  (They almost had to force him out the door.  He worked his maximum time.)  He rarely missed work.  He had many inventions and innovations within the space industry.  He was known as one of the world’s leading experts in the field of cryogenics. 

He never thought of his having any additional drawbacks.  He was contantly endeavoring to insure that he had as few physical obstacles as possible.  His off-the-charts IQ didn’t hurt him either. 

Because of a small inheritance, we have been able to continually upgrade our home to accommodate his growing physical needs.  Thereby we have been able to minimize his increased weakness and maximize his abilities.  However, his vascular dementia has added an increasing concern for both of us.  He has become increasingly dependant on my physical presence.

I still work full-time with The Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our sole mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are intellectually delayed.  However, in my position as area director, I have a flexible schedule that allows me to do much of my work in my home office.  Computers, Internet access and cell phones are amazing wonders that make any office job as mobile as you want it to be.  Yet, I find myself needing time away.

In February I’ll be going on a cruise with the Special Gathering program director.  She is taking three or four of her members on a Disney cruise.  They will be sailing from Cape Canaveral which is 20 miles from my office.  Recently, people have said, “Why are you doing that?  You need to really get away.  Not go with some of your members.  That isn’t a rest for you.”

Actually, it is.  I will be rooming with our SC program director.  She will be in charge of her members–not me.  I’ll be able to enjoy them, without having the responsibility of their care.  What could be better?

You see, of all the people I’ve ever met, I think I enjoy teenagers (especially junior highs) and mentally challenged people the best.  They are playful, unassuming, grateful and easy to please.  Of course, they are also people and they can be prima donas and bullies.  They can pitch fits and work the system.  But their lack of sophistication and child-like desire to please limits their ability to hold a grudge or pout for years and years. 

All in all, the mentally challenged population is a group of amiable and pleasant adults who like to have fun, shop and eat.  What better group could you vacation with?

Do you find your members to be fun or a burden?  What do you enjoy about your members?  What do you not enjoy about your members?

After 45 hours on my feet with only three hours of sleep, my feet and legs ache.  However, our Christmas play was a great success.   

How do I know it was successful?  There were at least 350 smiling people who left the Saturday and Sunday evening performances.  Most of all, our actors and choir members were rejoicing that they were able to be a part of this annual Christmas event. 

Our members are developmentally disabled.  They participate each week in The Special Gathering of Indian River which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  At Special Gathering, we don’t do social work, but evangelism and discipleship.  Our annual Christmas play is a thank-you gift to the community.

Most of our members who participated had worked hard for three months, and they were reaping the rewards of a difficult  job well done.  The choir sang with boisterous gusto.  They were dressed, polished and shining.  They’ve been practicing since July.

In Vero, our play director was Diane Wihlborg.  In Melbourne, the director was Barbara Kenney.  They did exceptional jobs.  However, even they couldn’t have been successful without the 20 or so volunteers who stepped in and worked extra hours.   They give and give beyond what can ever be expected.

Whenever a big event is endeavored, the “play is the thing.”  However, it’s the volunteers and leadership who truly make any endeavor successful.

Give us some ideas.  What do you do to make your volunteers and leadership team know they are valued and needed?

Richard Stimson who is the Executive Director of Special Gathering, Inc., often says that specialized ministry is the best-kept secret in Christendom.  I must agree.  When people think about full-time ministry within the mentally challenged community, they usually think of teaching a special-education school class or starting a group home or agency. 

Yet, ministries like Special Gathering that do classic ministry of evangelism and discipleship are still needed.  In case you didn’t know.  There are so many benefits to serving within this population.

  1. We minister to the best, most appreciative people in the world.
  2. Everyone in our congregations loves us.
  3. We are required to get to know area pastors and visit other local churches.  In this way, we get to meet the best men and women within the community. 
  4. In addition, we come to understand the hearts of these pastor.   
  5. In a  unique and wonderful way, we come to learn the pulse of the Church that resides in our community.
  6. Everyone in our congregations loves us.
  7. The professional community that we interact with on a daily basis consists of outstanding men and woman who are some of the best educated, most dedicated people in our nation.  They are committed and love what they do.  (If there is someone who doesn’t like to work long hours for less pay than their peers, they usually leave the profession to work somewhere else.)
  8. While none of us will get rich doing this, our salaries are as competitive as we want to make them.  We use the United Way formula that says that half of what we take in can go to salary.  Of course, when we grow, we find that we most of us need additional part-time staff.  This means slashing into our personal salary budgets but having extra paid eyes and hands is too beneficial to cut. 
  9. And, of course, the top benefit is that we work with the best people in the whole world.  Everyone in our congregations that we work with loves us.  …Or did I say that before?

Are there other benefits that I’ve forgotten?  I’m sure that you can name a few of them.

This article was written by Rev. Richard Stimson, pastor and executive Director of Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  It was published in the October newsletter, Connecting Point. 

      Well, my brother got his Tier letter and we are left with some hard choices. The best I can tell, depending on whether my brother, Bill, has to pay for transportation or not, he will receive from the State enough money to pay for two or perhaps three days to go to his day program.

            Here is what I do not get. Before the Waiver, Bill lived in the group home and went to ARC five days a week. He was transported to his day program by SCAT. The State of Florida decided to draw down federal dollars by using the money they spent on Bill to match money from the federal government (45 percent State, 55 percent federal). This meant a major increase of money.

            Agencies were given a major increase in what they were paid, and we still have thousands of folks on a waiting list.  But my brother will get less than before the Waiver. Can we at least do no harm? The State of Florida used my brother’s funding and thousands of other people’s funding to receive a 55 percent increase in funding from the federal government.

            Now Bill is being told he will receive fewer services than he received before the Waiver. The State of Florida used Bill’s funding to draw down money from the federal government. We were told this would mean more services for Bill, higher pay for agencies, and more persons receiving services.

            Can we at least do no harm? The State of Florida used my brother’s funding and thousands of other people’s funding to get federal money. Now they keep the federal dollars but take services away from Bill. Why do the cuts have to be applied to disabled folks?

            Are State employees’ paychecks being cut to what it was before the Waiver? Are agencies’ executives being paid what they were being paid before the Waiver? Are agencies’ reimbursement rates being cut to what they were before the Waiver? Oh no! We can’t do that, but we can cut services to persons with disabilities to below what they received before the Waiver!

            As my brother told me, “I don’t like this. It’s not fair!”