Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It Only Takes One: Jenny and Helen's Story

(This is a guest post from my friend Marda, who shares her experiences teaching the Bible to people with physical and intellectual difficulties.  We have much to learn! -- Glenn)

It Only Takes One: Jenny and Helen's Story

Helen had arrived early at church that morning.  Since there was time before
her Bible study class, she headed for the church library to check out some
books for the week.  Helen loved to read and it was one of the few pleasures
left to her at age eighty-seven.  She smiled and greeted several people as
she walked slowly toward the library.

The incongruous sound of a television blaring cartoons caught her ear.  She
knew her hearing wasn't as acute as it had been but this was unmistakable.
Why, she wondered, would a video of cartoons be playing in the church

Intrigued, she looked into the room.  One young woman sat alone in front of
the TV.  Helen went in and greeted the young woman.

"Hi.  I'm Helen.  Are you waiting for Sunday school to start?  It's almost

"I am in Sunday school," the girl replied in a matter-of-fact and somewhat
distracted tone.  "They always let me watch cartoons in Sunday school and
church time."

Helen was stunned.  What was going on here?

"Enjoy your cartoons," she said, waving a goodbye as she left the room.

Helen went on to the library and to her Sunday school class and church.  But
she couldn't get the image of the girl in front of the TV out of her mind.
When the girl was there again the next week Helen resolved to find out more.
Maybe she was being a busybody but something just didn't seem right.

She began with the Christian Education Director.

"I'm not trying to pry," she said when they sat down together.  "But I
couldn't help noticing this young woman in front of the TV during Sunday
school time.  Do you know what that's all about?"

"Oh, that's Jenny," the director said in a tired voice.  "She just doesn't
fit in any of the Sunday school departments.  She has the mind of a child
but if we put her in a class with the kids or teens, she gets teased and
bored and then acts out.  If we put her with adults, she can't follow what's
going on and gets bored, paces the room and finally leaves to wander the
halls.  We just don't know what to do with her.  We don't want to discourage
her family from coming to the church so we keep Jenny busy, she stays out of
the way and enjoys herself."

Helen had had no previous experience teaching people with disabilities.  She
wasn't a teacher by profession.  She had been a hairdresser all her life and
even after retirement she volunteered to do hair at nursing homes.  But
standing on her feet was getting to be too much and she had recently stopped
doing that.  She needed fulfillment in her life and wanted to minister.  She
had taught children in Sunday school in the past.  Still, she hesitated.
She knew this woman needed to hear about the love of Christ.  But should she
get involved?  Or should she?

"How would it be," she began slowly, "if I started teaching her about Jesus?
I'm not sure how; I've had no experience.  But I can't get her out of my
mind.  It would sure beat the Roadrunner," she laughed gently.  "I could use
that room with the TV that she's familiar with.  I was always a good
storyteller to my kids and grandkids.  I'd be willing to try to teach her."

"She might not have the attention span," the director was doubtful.  "But
maybe one on one . . . You could try.  She may be resistant to giving up her
cartoons though.

"Nonsense!  She can watch cartoons at home.  She probably does.  Let me give
her some special time.  I've been praying about it and I really do feel that
it's what God would like me to do."

Arrangements were made and Helen began teaching Jenny the next week.  Using
an illustrated "Good News for Modern Man" Bible, she began to talk about the
love of Jesus.  It was slow going.  But after a year, Jenny had understood
enough that she knew she was a sinner in need of Jesus and she had accepted
him.  In addition, she had asked two of her friends from the goodwill store
where she worked to come to the class as well and they were attending on a
regular basis.  In church, she learned to sing some of the songs and
actually had a nice singing voice.  She began reaching out to others,
spontaneously greeting them on Sundays.  Helen convinced church staff that
she would make a good greeter so she began passing out bulletins at the
church door.  It became clear that Jenny was starting to pray as she often
prayed for requests in her small Sunday school class.  And Helen?  She had a
new lease on life.

Do you have a Jenny or a John in your church who may be in a similar
situation?  Is there someone who has an intellectual disability who just
doesn't seem to fit anywhere?  If an eighty-seven-year-old woman could reach
out and start such a ministry, could you accept the challenge?  If not,
could you pray for someone who would?

(Marda's next article will be published tomorrow.)

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