For the past decade, The Special Gatherings of Melbourne and Vero have held 4th of July picnics either the Sunday before or the Sunday after the actual date.  We call them our “I’m Free in Jesus” picnics.  It’s your usual fun-fill event with too much potato salad, fried chicken and hot dogs.   We hold it during our regular meeting times.  Everyone brings a dish of food to share.

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community and many of our members have secondary, physical disabilities.  For that reason we have had “indoor picnics” for the past four or five years.  I coyly introduce the idea of a picnic to our members well in advance of the actual date by asking, “Do we want to have our picnic outside with the ants, mosquitoes and other bugs in the dirty, hot and sweaty outside?  Or do you want to have our picnic inside with the air conditioning and clean tables with no ants, bugs or mosquitoes?”  Of course, they chooose the indoor picnic over the bugs and other varment that will surely attack their cake and chicken.  Then I declare, “You are a bunch of wimps!” which they love.

In reality, our members are among the bravest people I’ve ever met.  A few of our members have served in the milatary.  They have fought in the Army, usually on the front lines of the battle.  But most of our members would not mentally or physically qualify to serve, though they would be willing.

These folks who have lived with a lifetime of disabilities stand tall in the face of their difficulties.  They are not daunted by the taunts and slurs they receive from the general population.  Being mistrusted is as bad as being mistreated; and they receive both indignities each day.  Bravery runs deep and strong in this cloistered sub-culture.  Inspite of their hurts and deformaties, most of them get up each morning with hope and smiles thoughout the day.

Additionally, our members desire to know the Lord with a deep relationship.  They don’t complicate their love for the Lord with dark platatudes or obscure theology.  “Jesus love me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is the most advanced their minds will ever take them but it’s enough.

There are only a few things that I’m most proud of in my life.  One of them is my close association with this brave, humble community of people.  During our Fourth of July celebration, I’ll deliberately take a moment to pause and reflect on the joy of being able to minister to the mentally challenged community. Men and women who are the free and the brave.

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