Last night, I was on a Christian cable TV show in the West Palm Beach/Vero area.  There were several questions that we explored.  Can mentally challenged people receive Christ into their lives?  Do they need a salvation experience to go to heaven?  Have you seen a change in people who are mentally challenged once they are saved?

Over the weeks I have been writing and passing things on to you via this blog, we’ve explored the first two questions but we’ve not worked together on the question regarding life changes once mentally challenged people receive Christ into their lives.  Does it really make a difference when people who are developmentally disabled have a salvation experience?

Ask Barbara’s mother.  She will tell you that the changes in Barbara have made such a big difference that she and her entire family have returned to church and come to know Jesus as their Savior.  Sarah’s mother will tell you the same thing.  She was impressed that Sarah goes into her room almost every evening after work and supper to listen to her Bible tapes or her Christian music.

These families are good people, anyway.  They work and play by the rules of living honestly.  They taught their children the moral principles of right and wrong.  Yet, there was something so attractive about what Jesus did in their children’s lives that they wanted a taste of it also. 

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We do classic ministry evangelism and discipleship.  We want to give our parents and caregivers a respite time.  In this way, they can attend their own churches.  Of course, we want parents to know that their children are safe.  Therefore, we encourage our parents to visit at any time but none of our programs are geared for parents. 

We don’t ask parents to volunteer.  We even provide transportation because we want to be sure that parents have as much respite time as possible.  Nevertheless, Sherry’s parents began attending one of our north Brevard programs because they were so impressed with the pastoral attention that Sherry had received over the years.  Now they attend regularly.

In Volusia when our programs began, they were held on Sunday afternoon. Susan and Carol didn’t come the first weeks that their children attended.  They dropped their sons off at the door and went to grocery shop or use the time to just hang out with friends.  However, it didn’t take long for them to want to see what was happening.  They became vital volunteers and tireless workers. 

We were invited to attend a county-wide church picnic a couple of years ago.  We gathered 88 of our members from Melbourne and Vero.  They joined another 100 people for a 4th of July picnic.  I lost count of the number of people who came up to me and said, “I’ve never seen such joyful Christians.”  Many of them had tears in their eyes.

Last fall there was a bit of a crisis at an agency that involved one of our members.  After the feathers had stopped flying, one of the professional from that agency said, “I’m an atheist.  Yet I’m so impressed with the Special Gathering members who work here that I wondered if I can attend your Melbourne program?” 

Does change happen?  Yes and people see it.  Parents, professionals, the church and the community.

What about your members?  How has their relationship to the Lord impacted your community?

I first met Carolyn in 1989.  She was a pretty young teenager who is high functioning but mentally challenged.  In 1991, her family moved to another city.  Much to my surprise, Carolyn appeared at Special Gathering in October.  During the years she was absent, her mother and sister died of cancer and she has fought the disease.  Carolyn is now in her late 30’s. 

One week, she came with a gift.  Because we were taking up gifts for Haiti, she said, “This isn’t for the Haitian children.  It is for you.  You are the only pastor I ever had.”   

Mentally challenged persons who move away can usually find a workshop or job that suits their needs.  They can find good doctors who will help to cure their ills. They can find other group homes.  The state, by hook or crook, will take care of their physical needs.  But what about their spiritual needs?  Again and again, we hear, “We could never find another Special Gathering.” 

It is because of the financial support of our local churches that this ministry exists.  There are more than 90 churches in Florida and South Carolina who make this ministry possible.  We receive support from congregations in denominations of every strip and creed.  We teach the simplicity of “Jesus loves me.  This I know for the Bible tells me so.”  Our members can understand this message and every church believes and teaches this simple doctrine.  

Years ago, Special Gathering decided that we would become a part of congregations’ budgets rather than ask for donations from individual members of a church.  This has meant that there has been a slower growth in the finances of our area programs, but this slow steady growth has meant financial stability that many parachurch ministries don’t enjoy.   Carolyn and the other 350 people who attend the eight Special Gatherings each week need the spiritual support they receive from The Special Gathering. 

Is there a method that your ministry uses that has made your ministry financially stable?  Can you share it?