Bible Studies Provide Solid Foundation for Adults Living with Intellectual Disabilities

When perusing resources in any Christian bookstore, prepare to be overwhelmed with Bible study choices. Whether looking for a study on one book of the Bible or something on a specific topic, people from every denomination, ethnicity, gender, or country are hungry for what the Lord has to say to them through the Scriptures.

But what if you have an intellectual disability? How do you learn about Jesus? Are there studies for this population? Mary Jane Ponten, the Executive Director for Mephibosheth Ministry, and her friend, Elsie, visited a local Christian bookstore to find out.

Mary Jane has cerebral palsy and can be easily identified as IMG_0358someone who lives with an intellectual disability. Using it to their advantage, Elsie asked the clerk if he had a Bible study for her friend. “She reads at a second grade level,” Elsie said.

The clerk scratched his head and led them to the children’s section. Mary Jane, stomped her foot saying, “I’m not a child!”

Immediately Mary Jane stopped and apologized. She told the clerk that she was doing research on the availability of Bible studies for adults with special needs and wanted to confirm her theory that there was very little for them.

The clerk searched his files but did not find anything.  Mary Jane is working to change this.  She has been writing Bible studies for adults with intellectual disabilities for many years. “People living with intellectual disabilities need the Gospel presented to them in an appropriate way,” Mary Jane explains. “They don’t want children’s books.”

Ponten has written more than forty Bible studies. Most are in a 13-lesson series, while some are stand-alone books. She has also written training manuals and inspirational books.

cvr I Want to KnowThe cornerstone study, called, I Want To Know is a 96-page beautiful book that takes students through the basics of the Christian faith. It is divided into four sections:

Who Am I? – My Identity in Christ

How Does Jesus Want Me To act? – My Attitude

What Does Jesus Want Me To Do? – My Behavior

Where Will I Go When I Die? – My Eternity

Each study is in simple language and uses Scripture from The English Version for the Deaf, a Bible that translates the Scripture using concrete language.

The sections have activities, such as puzzles, to reinforce the lesson being taught. Many students are non-readers but do know the alphabet and can match letters with symbols.  They can do the work – which makes them proud, then the assistant will tell them what they have written. There are also activities students can talk through with a partner.

Carol Brown, a graphic artist collaborated with Mary Jane on the studies. Besides graphically tailoring the studies for the target audience, Carol has also taught the bible studies and experienced them first hand. She is passionate about empowering folks to come to know Jesus and who He really is, and then to grow and serve Him.

“The wonderful thing about disability ministry is the total gambit of abilities within
a group we call ‘disabled adults,’” Brown says. “Some may be very bright, but unable to verbally express themselves, some may be deaf or hard of hearing, have personality disorders that are part of their disability but prevent them from learning in a traditional format.”

Mephibosheth Ministry, located in Colorado Springs, is well known in disability ministry circles. Its mission is to train churches to not only accept people who have disabilities but also help them understand how people with disabilities can serve in their local churches.

Mary Jane recounted a mother’s reaction to her son’s new relationship with Jesus. With tears of joy in her eyes the mother of a mentally challenged gentleman who was in his forties told his Sunday school teacher with these words.  “After using the study I Want to Know, for the first time in his life my son understands his relationship to God and Jesus.”  If Mary Jane and Carol never hear another victory, this one man’s experience will be worth the investment they place in lives of people living with intellectual disabilities.

For more information about Mephibosheth Ministry and Bible studies, please visit Mephiboshethministry.org or email Mary Jane at mephiboshethmin@comcast.net.