For our 2012 Special Gathering Christmas music, we are using the score from a children musical,  Stranger in the Manger, by Johnathan Crumpton and Sue Smith, published by Brentwood-Benson Music Productions. Brentwood Choral holds the copyrights.

Even though it is a children’s musical, it will adapt easily to the needs of the adults in your program.  You will need to buy the Demo CD and the Split-track practice CD.  There is also a great orchestration CD and books available.  This music is certainly worth the expense.

Crumpton and Smith’s music and words are wonderful.  The words to the songs are not childish. They tell the message of the miracle of God’s son’s birth in a touching and anointed way.  In fact, everyone has their favorite song. Most of our choir members tear up during one of the song. I’ve had to almost harden my heart to the song, “This is Such a Strange Way to Save The World,” because the words are so powerful that the first 500 times I heard it, I cried.  Even now, writing about and remember the powerful words of the song, I am fighting back tears.

The musical score can easily be adapted to adults who may have a difficult time learning choral parts.  While many of the words may be difficult to say for people who have speech impediments, I’ve found that our members are learning the words because they love the music.  The big band, upbeat sound of the orchestration and musical score make this musical easy for our members to learn because they want to work hard to learn the words and be a part of this choral expression.

Through the Roof Disability Ministry Summit is designed to give you practical training and education while equipping churches for disability ministry. Sign up and be a part of this enriching event, which will be held May 18-19, 2012 at First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena.  For more information regarding this important summit put on by Joni and Friends, click here.

In preparing a teaching for a Bible class of mentally challenged adults, one of the most rewarding things you can do is to allow discussion and questions.  In fact, a good portion of the class time should be left for participation by your members. I like to leave half of the class time for the members to give their input.

If left on their own, a class of mentally challenged people will react the same way any other group will act.  There will be one or two people who will monopolize the conversation, not allowing anyone else to answer.  To avoid that, there must be guidelines that you follow and insist that the class follows.

1.  Be sure that you ask them pointed questions that need a direct answer.  For example, you can ask, “What is one way that you can show love to your parents?”

2.  Answers should be direct answers to the question.  “Love them” is not an answer.  “Buy them lunch one day this week” is an answer.  “Do the dishes after supper” is a direct answer.

3.  I find that writing the answers on a board or a large sheet of paper that everyone can see validates the answers and give their words importance.

4.  On occasion I invite everyone to make a commitment (to be more loving or pray each day) by writing their names on the board.  I will write, I WILL PRAY EACH DAY.  Then the class is invited to come to the board and write their name to make a commitment to do this.  The members of the class have learned to love this time of commitment.  I only do this about once or twice a year.  In this way, the commitments are important to them.

5.  Keep the questions related to the Bible lesson and a daily application.

6.  At times, I will ask someone to read the memory verse and we will go over it to memorize the verse.  i have one member who does not want to read the Bible verse but she wants to have it read each week.

7.  When the class was much smaller, I would have the members play games that reinforce a Bible verse or truth.  An example is tossing a penny to a line.  Before each person could toss their penny, they would have to say the Bible verse.  I would help those who needed help.  The person who got the closest to the line may or may not get a prize.  The prize was often allowing them to lead the class in saying the Bible verse again.

8.  Prayer requests may also be a part of the application portion of our lesson.  Be sure to allow time to pray for each request.

To reinforce the Bible lesson, I retell the Bible story they heard during the devotions two times. Then I have the class retell the story but they must tell it backward.  I ask questions regarding the story and they answer them.  I find that the members who have been in my classes for a couple of years are able to retell the story.  However, even after hearing the Bible lesson three times, those who have not been trained to listen or who are new in the class are not able to answer even the most simple questions.

Teaching a Bible study class for people who are mentally challenged is one of the most rewarding things a person can do.  What are some of the things you do that you find to be effective in teaching your class?

 For almost a year, I thought Peter was non-verbal.  Unaccustomed to his speech patterns, I didn’t understand that his low-bass mumbles were words.  I had started our DeLand Special Gathering program, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, with two members, Peter and Dale.   Our purpose is evangelism and discipleship of this wonderful population.

Dale was less than four feet tall, vibrant, truly nonverbal and thin. His black hair was straight and kept trimmed.  Dale’s dark eyes sang with joy.  The smile pasted on his face was a sincere expression of a grateful, cheerful man.  

Peter was overly thin and stood at least six feet, two inches tall.  Solemn, serious, observant and quiet, Peter makes a variety of noises that mimic perfectly the sounds of various vehicles and pieces of equipment.   He loves to eat; but he doesn’t like ice cream. 

That first year, we met in the YMCA.  I carefully and meticulously set up the room each week for 12.  Soon Greg  joined our trio. 

It was after his friend Greg began to attend regularly that Peter joined our Bible study discussion. Each Sunday, during our refreshment times that bled into our final session which was a Bible study, I would engage the three in conversation.  Dale had many signs that he used to communicate; but they were his own made-up language.  His mother sat  discretely at another table and interpreted for me. 

One afternoon, I asked the men to share about the Lord with me.  “Why are your coming to Special Gathering?”  “Is Jesus your best friend?”  “Do you love Jesus.” 

Dale signed excitedly that he loved Jesus.  Normally-talkative Greg smiled and shrugged, shaking his head in agreement to Dale’s signs.

After the others had responded Peter began to speak loudly and clearly.  “When I lived in Georgia, I went to church every Sunday.  I loved going to church.  Then we moved to Florida; and I couldn’t go to church any more.  I prayed and prayed.  For nine years I prayed.  Every day I prayed that I could go to church again.” 

He paused as though the burst of words had taken his breathe away. Then with an intense seriousness that I’d seldom seen from anyone, Peter said, ”Now I have my own church.”  His eyes welled up with tears as he took a large gulp of his juice.

I fought the tears as I absorbed Peter’s words.  During that first year, I prayed almost every Sunday after the program, asking God,  ”Why am I in DeLand?” 

This city wasn’t even in our Master Plan for Expansion.  The next place we planned to grow was Vero, not DeLand.  But a delegation of parents and professionals had met with our executive director and asked that we start a program in DeLand, which is 100 miles from my home and 20 miles from Daytona where we had another program.  We had started with two people and after one full year of faithfully teaching and visiting and struggle, our numbers had grown to three.  I could not understand why I was making this long trip each Sunday afternoon for three people.

I packed up my equipment, jumped into my vehicle and headed for Daytona.  There 40 people would gather for a Sunday evening Special Gathering worship service and Bible study.  Feeling more humbled than anytime I could remember, I could not hold back the tears.  The familiar highway blurred as I cried.  Out loud, I repeated again and again, “Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for allowing me to come to DeLand.  Thank you for allowing me have a part in your answering Peter’s prayers.”

God does not always show his hand to us.  Often, he desires simple obedience in the middle of questions and puzzlement.  After more than 15 years, Peter still attends every time we have Special Gathering.  And I’m still awed by the fact that God allowed me to participate in the answer to Peter’s nine-year prayer journey

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About fifteen years ago, a widow wanted a quality group home to be built in our county for her son.  For years, her son had been associated with Special Gathering (SpG).  She desired that once built, SpG would oversee the supervision and run the home.

During a SpG board of director’s meeting, there was a heated discussion when the proposal was presented.  One board member adamantly opposed this arrangement.  She argued that group homes require authority, control and oversight on a daily basis.  She believed that our healing mission of evangelism and discipleship would be compromised.  The prophet Isaiah speaking for the Lord agreed with her.  His approach had been “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”

her logic prevailed, even though the other board members resisted her for a time.  One at a time, each person saw the wisdom of her line of reasoning.  It was finally voted that SpG would not own or operate group homes.

The Lord has made our mission clear.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  Many things come under this broad heading, but the daily operation of group homes is not one of them.

Staff members of SpG do believe that under most circumstances group homes are a better alternative for mentally challenged people than living alone in their own apartments.  Our concern is not a preference of housing arrangements; but it is a concern over the  level of supervision that is provided in most states for people living in their own apartments.  However, this the personal opinion of our staff members, not the policy of our SpG, Inc. board of directors.

As I was leaving a Brevard County Recreation social recently, I spoke to the parents of a young couple that I did not know.  This  young man and young woman were small in stature.  Perhaps their disability was Down.  I didn’t pay that much attention to their disability because I was enraptured with their obvious love for each other.  She was shy and demure.  He was attentive and caring. 

“They are so wonderful,” I said to their mothers as the other partiers gently pushed them out the double front doors.  “You must be very proud of them.”  The group fanned out heading for their cars and vans.  The parents looked at me as though I had fifteen heads.  Neither mother responded to me, not even changing their facial expressions.  But their eyes showed a hint of concern.

Oops! I thought.  I knew immediately that I’d broken community protocol.  You see, parents are extremely aware of the potential for abuse for their children.  These loving, caring and naive young adults are ripe for exploitation.  Unless you know the person and their parents personally, it is unwise to assume that you will receive a friendly reception from parents. 

Having been a part of the mentally challenged community for more than 20 years, I tend to forget that newer parents may not know who I am.  I painfully remember my first ventures into the bowling leagues and dances.  The bowlers or attendees of the social events would rush me with joy and excitement.  They knew me from the agencies that I visited at lunch time and the classes I taught at the agencies.  They knew me from Special Gathering chapel programs and events.  Parents had not met me yet.  They were not as welcoming and charming as their adult children. 

Over the years of being a public speaker, I’d learned how to move into a group where I was unknown and fit right into the group.  But this was different.  There was an invisible, almost impenetrable wall that hindered me from even carrying on a conversation with these men and women.  I understood their concerns and fears but it was hard for me not to mildly resent their rudeness. 

It has taken years and lots of hard work for me to become a part of the parent group in Melbourne and Indian River County.  After more than a decade, some parents in Indian River County are still leery of me because I came on too strong while establishing a new program in Vero. 

Here are some things that make it easier for a person doing ministry within the mentally challenged community to break down the wall of concerns and fears among parents.

  • Be consistent and faithful when attending social events.
  • Don’t rush. 
  • Adopt the attitude, “I’m not going away.  I’m here permanently. I don’t have to be in a hurry.” 
  • Allow patience will blossom within you.
  • Pick one parent to befriend. Chose someone who smiles or speaks to you.  Sit with them.  Allow them to talk with you or ask simple questions.
  • Be quiet for a long time.  Don’t offer opinions but gather as much information as you can about the families.
  • Remember their names and the names of their children.
  • If you know a professional who is attending, having a conversation with them will be a bonus.
  • Because more and more professionals are taking mentally challenged people to social events, develop a relationship with them by speaking with them and offering casual conversation.
  • If you see a new parent, introduce yourself.  Becoming friends with a new parent means that as they are accepted, you will also be more easily absorbed into the parent circle through their friendship.

Remember that eventually you will be the person they will call in the middle of the night.  You will be the one parent’s will consult about the best future for their children as each parent becomes frail and life is tenderly seeping away.  Eventually, you will become like the one pastor in a small frontier community.  Everyone will expect you to minister to those who are hurting, sick or dying within our cloistered sub-culture.

Even if parents are closely associated with a church family, you will be the one minister who has invested their lives into the well-being of the mentally challenged community.  Parents will come to know that you are deeply concerned about their child’s spiritual future. 

The developmentally disabled  population is growing as new diagnoses and new syndromes are found.  We are a vital part of the lives of parents.  It will take time.  However, God will lead you slowly–“line upon line…here a little, there a little.”

Too often, I play the “if only” game regarding Special Gathering ministry.  One of my “if only’s” concerns funding.  You know the drill.  If only we had enough money for…The end of the sentence has a multiple of different variables. 

Yes.  I know that money is not enough to have a successful and godly ministry.  However, I occasionally think that I’d like to try to find out for myself.  Then something will happen to make me thankful for where I am.

A few weeks ago, I learned about a ministry that became fully funded.  They’ve become complacent regarding growth and future events.  At first, under the founder, there were little changes, except that the founder retired early because he was assured that the ministry would survive.  And they have survived but is only survival enough?

Additionally, a small church in our area was once the largest congregation in the county.  Years of transition have paid a costly toll.  Over the past 20 years, they have continually declined.  About five years ago, they inherited almost a million dollars.  They have lived for the past five years on this inheritance.  The pastor got a large raise; even, their missions funding increased.  Because there is a large campus, they hired a caregiver.  Now the money is depleted.  They will have a difficult time even surviving over the next few years.

In speaking to an elder, I asked him how long the church will be able to keep its microphones on.  He laughed.  “I’m not sure we should stay open,” he confessed.  He didn’t explain but I understood.  Is the congregation doing what God originally called them to do?  If not, is it time to close the door?

I walked back to my van, playing with my car keys.  I could not help but thank the Lord for struggles for survival.  Perhaps, as a ministry, we will one day be more than holy struggles.  However, slowing walking away from the elder, I confirmed to the Lord that His ways are wiser than mine.  I thanked him for the struggles and for his faithful answers to our prayers.