If you spend any considerable length of time engaged in evangelism on the streets, you are going to meet people who may be described as “mentally impaired.” People who live with either permanent or temporary mental impairment need to hear the gospel, too. This article addresses this very important and sensitive subject.
What Does “Mentally Impaired” Mean?
According to the MediLexicon website, “mental impairment” is defined as:
“A disorder characterized by the display of an intellectual defect, as manifested by diminished cognitive, interpersonal, social, and vocational effectiveness and quantitatively evaluated by psychological examination and assessment.”
The same website defines the term “disorder” as follows:
“A disturbance of function, structure, or both, resulting from a genetic or embryonic failure in development or from exogenous factors such as poison, trauma, or disease.”
Here’s another important term, for the purpose of this article: “poison.” The MediLexicon website defines the term this way:
“1. Any substance, either taken internally or applied externally, injurious to health or dangerous to life. 2. A substance that inhibits a chemical reaction or inactivates a catalyst.”
In light of the definition of “poison,” it is necessary for this article to include a definition of the word “substance intoxication.” One online dictionary defines the term this way:
“Stimulation, excitement, or impaired judgment caused by a chemical substance.”
With the above definitions in mind, and for the purpose of this article, my working definition of “mentally impaired” is:
Any person who, as a result of a genetic abnormality, poisoning (which includes any form and/or level of substance intoxication), physical trauma (including injury in utero), or disease exhibits any level of intellectual defect, and/or diminished cognitive, interpersonal, social, or vocational effectiveness.
Keep reading. You will quickly understand why the above working definition is important.
What You Won’t Read in This Article
Having provided the reader with a working definition by which to understand what I mean when I use the term “mentally impaired person,” it is critically important that I take the time to make clear what you won’t read in this article.
- This article makes no case for or against the validity of what is commonly referred to as “mental illness.” I am not addressing here the long-standing, in-house debate among Christians regarding whether or not people can have brain illnesses (as opposed to traumatic brain injuries or physiological diseases such as brain cancer) that affect behavior. This article does not tackle the argument regarding whether or not negative emotions like anxiety, depression, unreasonable fear, etc. are, at times, involuntary byproducts of illness or are always the result of a sinfulness.
- In no way, shape, or form do I equate substance intoxication with mental impairment resulting from genetic abnormalities, physical trauma, or mental impairment as a result of diseases or disorders such as brain cancer, autism, down syndrome, and the like. My working definition of “mentally impaired” is intentionally broad to cover a wide range of causes for impairment, without making intentional substance impairment morally equivalent to the other before-mentioned forms of impairment. I understand the difference between substance intoxication and other forms of mental impairment.
- This article does not address the very real issue of demon possession and how to minister the gospel to those you believe may be possessed. I address the issue elsewhere.
- You won’t read any stereotypical language in this article. I understand that with each type of mental impairment there is a wide spectrum of symptomology and behavior. No two people are alike. The descriptions I give in this article of people’s behavior is specific to the people in the stories I share.
- This article does not attempt to address the in-house debate among Christians regarding the very sensitive subject regarding what extent God extends saving grace to the mentally impaired–specifically, those who are mentally impaired as the result of genetics or mentally impaired as the result of injury not resulting from sin. These, too, are subjects for a different article. Suffice to say, God is perfectly good in everything He does, whether or not we understand it or accept it.
- I’m not a doctor. While I have specific training and expertise in some areas, and while I’ve spent the better part of 20 years engaged in public evangelism, I readily admit that there is a great deal I do not know about the vast array of mental impairment.
My hope is that I’ve laid a firm enough foundation to allow me to provide some practical advice, based on my many years of experience on the streets, for communicating the gospel to mentally impaired people.
On the Corner of Locust and Marquette
As the Lord would have it (His providence is truly amazing), my most recent gospel conversations were with people I believed to be mentally impaired.
My brother Roy Sandercock and I recently spent some time on the corner of Locust Street and Marquette Street, in our hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Roy is able to slip away from work, during his lunch hour, most Tuesdays. We spend those hours together at one of our favorite corners, engaging in cross-walking and sign evangelism. It’s a wonderful time of gospel fellowship and ministry.
On this particular day, Roy and I only spent about 50 minutes on the corner. Even though our time of ministry was brief, God providentially allowed us to distribute a few gospel tracts, allowed the signs and the cross to be seen by many motorists, and allowed us to proclaim the gospel to four people. We discerned that three of the four people were mentally impaired. As best as we could determine, based solely on our observations and dialogue with each person, we believed one person’s impairment was physiological, one’s was drug-related, and the third’s was, in part, the result of a very invasive brain surgery.
I turned to wave at motorists traveling eastbound on Locust Street. As I did, I saw a middle-aged woman walking toward me. The smile on her face stretched from ear to ear.
“Thank you so much for being out here!” She exclaimed with an outstretched hand.
“Why, thank you!” I replied, putting my hand in hers. “What’s your name?”
“My nickname is ‘Snook?'” She answered.
“Hi, Snook. My name is Tony.” I said. I handed her one of my church’s gospel tracts.
“Would you come with me to my car?” She asked. “My friend would like to talk to you, but he can’t walk over here.”
“Sure,” I said.
Roy had not yet arrived. I had no back-up. My hope was that nothing bad would happen when we got to the car. You can take the deputy out of the uniform, but you can’t take the uniform out of the deputy.
I met Robert when we arrived at the passenger side of Snook’s car. A motorized wheelchair was attached to the back of the car. Robert (81), had a full white beard that seemed to brightly contrast with his dark Navy Veteran baseball cap. I introduced myself to Robert. We shook hands. His grip was very weak and his voice was soft and raspy. Though frail, Robert was lucid.
“What can I do for you?” Robert asked.
“Snook said you wanted to talk to me?” I replied, a bit taken aback by Robert’s question.
Robert smiled and pointed to my “Stop and Talk” cross.
“You want people to stop and talk. What would you like to talk about?” Robert asked.
“I want to talk to you about Jesus Christ and how your sins can be forgiven,” I answered.
Robert told me he is a Christian and presently attending a Baptist church in town.
Snook quickly interrupted and began to tell me her story. For the next several minutes, I listened to a semi-coherent tale of angels, miraculous healing, voices, an herbal cure for cancer, past relationships, and conspiracies. She repeated some of the stories multiple times.
Along the way, Snook pointed to what could best be described as a large indentation in the area of her left temple.
“For many years, I had bad migraine headaches, but the doctors never ran any tests. They just kept giving me medicine. Eight years ago, they finally ran some tests and found I had a baseball-size, malignant tumor in my brain.” Snook explained.
Snook soon became agitated as she went back to telling me stories I had already heard. I couldn’t be sure with whom she was angry. With each sentence, Snook spoke louder and faster. What structure her sentences had was soon lost. She eventually quieted herself.
Like Robert, Snook professed to be a Christian.
“So, how did you come to faith in Christ, Snook?” I asked.
Snook shared with me her testimony of always known Jesus and being baptized. She returned to telling me stories about seeing angels. Snook gave no indication she either knew or had ever heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I asked Robert the same question. “How about you, Robert? How did you come to know the Lord?”
Robert’s testimony was very similar to Snook’s. Sadly, his testimony was similar to many professing Christians in America. He hit a low point in his life. Someone invited him to church. He decided to make changes in his life, believe in Jesus, and get baptized.
Robert communicated more “Christianeze” than Snook, but it sounded like his hope was in Jesus and the changes he made in his life.
Snook seemed to grow more agitated. She was angry that people would not believe her doctor found a cure for cancer, in an herbal tea. She was angry with her ex-husband. In almost the same breath, her countenance changed to that of a joyful person as her thoughts returned to angels and bright lights and miracles.
“Can I share my testimony with you?” I asked.
Both Robert and Snook smiled and said yes.
I knew I might have just a brief amount of time to communicate the gospel to this interesting couple. So, I edited my testimony on the fly. I focused on the gospel proper. While my life before and after salvation are important parts of my testimony, the gospel alone has the power to save (Romans 1:16).
Before saying goodbye, I made sure both received gospel tracts. Snook and Robert thanked me for taking the time to talk to them.
Shortly after I began my conversation with Snook and Robert, Roy arrived. A man named Eric approached Roy and the two began to talk. Eric asked Roy for money, for food. Rather than give him money, Roy walked Eric over to a nearby Subway and bought him lunch. As the two walked to the sandwich shop, Roy explained to Eric that once Roy had bought his lunch the two would walk back to Roy’s truck. Roy put down the tailgate of his truck so Eric had somewhere to sit and eat, as Roy communicated the gospel to him.
Eric’s labored manner of speech, his seeming inability to focus, his repeated jovial verbal outbursts that had nothing to do with the conversation, and his overall demeanor, led Roy to believe that Eric had some kind of mental impairment. Eric claimed he had an issue with alcohol and frequently attended AA meetings.
Roy, having himself battled various forms of addiction before the Lord saved him and having attended more such meetings than he would like to remember, questioned whether or not Eric attended the meetings because he genuinely had a problem, or simply because he enjoyed the company of others. Whatever the case, it was a challenge for Roy to keep Eric focused on the conversation.
I walked over to Roy’s truck after I finished my conversation with Snook and Robert. I immediately noticed what Roy had noticed about Eric. I, too, believed he had some form of mental impairment.
I listened as Roy talked to Eric. I was blessed to hear my brother patiently direct and redirect the conversation back to the gospel. Roy never visibly lost his patience with Eric. He would allow Eric to speak, regardless of how many times Eric interrupted him. If Eric said something that allowed Roy to step in and speak gospel truth, Roy would take hold of the moment.
As the three of us stood at the back of Roy’s truck, another young man joined us. His name was John.
“I’m sorry I blew you off.” John interrupted.
While Roy talked to Eric on the corner, John walked by. Roy tried to offer John a gospel tract, but John refused to take it.
“No problem,” said Roy. This time when Roy offered John a gospel tract he took it.
Around John’s neck was a silver-colored necklace. John reached under his shirt and revealed that hanging from the necklace was a pewter cross. John told us that he had recently been baptized. He spoke of his baptism as if he accomplished a task on a list.
John readily admitted to an ongoing addiction to cocaine and alcohol. He claimed he was schizophrenic and bi-polar. He volunteered the information, not with a sense of pride (as many I’ve talked to have), but rather with what seemed like an attitude of acquiescence. It was as if he had resigned himself to the fact that his present circumstances also represented a future he could not change. This made his baptism all-the-more suspect since it seemed that he was just trying to cover all his bases–as if he wanted to have that “Get Out of Jail Free” card, just in case.
John exhibited similar symptomology to Eric. Whereas Eric’s mental issues appeared to be genetic, John’s appeared to be the result of years of self-medication and self-abuse.
During my 20 years of law enforcement, I was certified as a “Drug Recognition Expert” (DRE). I made hundreds of arrests of people under the influence of legal and illegal drugs, spanning all seven of the primary drug categories. I was trained to determine if people were under the influence of multiple drugs and to identify which drugs were in a person’s system before they submitted to any chemical testing. I trained other deputies in this discipline. I was also called upon to testify in court as an expert in the field.
Why do I share this? Even though I haven’t made a drug-related arrest in more than a decade, I know an intoxicated person when I see one. I believe John was mentally impaired as a result of intoxication.
I watched as Roy now engaged two men I suspected of being mentally impaired–two very different men, with different issues, as a result of different causes. I couldn’t help but smile as Roy patiently, kindly, and uncompromisingly spoke the truth in love to these two men.
After admitting to an addiction to cocaine, John, seemingly out of nowhere, asked Roy, “What makes you think I use cocaine?”
This gave Roy a wonderful opportunity to testify to the grace of God in his life. The Lord delivered Roy from his sinful addictions.
Roy is not a recovering addict; nor is he, as the world would like him to believe, forever an addict who is presently sober and fighting to stay that way. No; Jesus Christ saved Roy.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Jesus did not heal Roy’s diseases when He saved him. Jesus makes no such promise to anyone. While He is the Great Physician, and He can and often does provide people with physical healing, Jesus never promised that receiving the free gift of salvation meant a person is set forever free from catching the flu, or experiencing heart disease, or dying of cancer.
What did Jesus do for Roy? The Lord God Almighty gave Roy a new heart with new desires. The sins He once loved, which included various forms of intoxication, Roy now hated. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God gave Roy the gifts of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Roy’s sins were forgiven. They were removed as far as the east is from the west, and the Lord remembers them no more.
My dear brother Roy Sandercock was, and is forever, born again.
Roy had to return to work. He encouraged the two men to stay and talk to me, which they did for a few minutes. I bid the men good-day. They walked away with gospel tracts in their pockets, having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some Practical Suggestions for Communicating the Gospel to the Mentally Impaired
The above testimonies serve as a foundation for what you’re about to read. The Lord has given me a great deal of experience, both professional and ministerial, in the area of communicating with people who are mentally impaired. And I have enough experience to know how arrogant it would be for me to make a claim of having enough knowledge, wisdom, and discernment in the area. I don’t. There is much yet I need to learn.
With the above in mind, I would like to offer a few practical suggestions for communicating the gospel to the mentally impaired.
Love Them; Don’t Patronize Them
To patronize someone is to treat him or her with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority. Let the following passages of Scripture motivate and guide you.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
Your outward expressions of pity and your inward sense of self-importance and/or superiority will do absolutely nothing to bring a mentally impaired person to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Christian: you are not better than the mentally impaired person. You are simply better-off. That you are not in the shoes of the unsaved person standing in front of you, that you are not living with the mental impairment with which they live, has absolutely nothing to do with your intrinsic value. You are an utterly unworthy sinner to whom God determined to give eternal life, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, before the foundation of the world. God owes you nothing but His wrath for your myriad sin against Him (John 3:36).
America Evangelicalism’s Form of ‘Friendship Evangelism’ Will Not Work
It’s no secret what I think about “Friendship Evangelism,” as it is most commonly practiced by professing Christians. For those of you who are not aware, I don’t believe “Friendship Evangelism” is either friendly or evangelistic. In fact, I believe “Friendship Evangelism” is simply a cover for discrimination, which is endemic in American Evangelicalism, as well as an excuse for professing Christians to avoid engaging in evangelism.
From unbiblical forms of “Friendship Evangelism” come unbiblical beliefs and practices like:
- “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”
- “People won’t care what you believe until they believe you care.”
- “You have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life.”
- “You shouldn’t shove your beliefs down someone’s throat.”
- “People can see Jesus in me.”
- “You can’t just walk up to people and talk to them about Jesus. You have to take the time to build a relationship with them first.”
I can list more fallacious American Evangelical beliefs and practices, but I think you get the point.
The reason I assert that “Friendship Evangelism” won’t work is that those who practice this form of non-evangelism will, in all likelihood, never strike up a friendship with people like Snook, Eric, or John. Those who practice “Friendship Evangelism” tend to make friends with a specific type of person–people who are like them. They befriend people who look like them, live where they live, travel in the same social-economic circles, have similar interests and, for the most part, are safe.
Professing Christians who practice unbiblical forms of “Friendship Evangelism” will befriend lost people they can bring to the front of the church, not those they would have sit at their feet (James 2:1-13). Sadly, this kind of loveless thinking leaves people like Snook, Eric, and John below the American Evangelical bar of worthiness to receive the gospel.
Have Two Ears and One Mouth
There is a reason the Lord gave each of us two ears and one mouth.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
This biblical truth is applicable to every part of the Christian’s life–certainly in the areas of communication and relationship. Being slow to speak and patiently listening is critically important when trying to communicate the gospel truth to people who are mentally impaired.
When engaging a mentally impaired person in conversation, particularly when you’re meeting the person for the first time, do not assume you know the struggle of the person standing or sitting in front of you. Do not assume you know anything beyond your own speculation that the person with whom you are trying to communicate has some form of mental impairment. You may think the person is autistic. Even if you’re right, you have no idea where on the spectrum the person falls. You have no idea what sights, sounds, words, and the like might make the person feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Listen well. Listen to what the person has to say and how they are saying it. Keep a mental notebook of the conversation. Try to remember keywords and phrases the person might say that might give you an idea as to how coherent the person is and how much the person understands. Try not to interrupt the person. You can’t listen to a person if you are speaking over him.
Even if you think you are beginning to discern either the person’s mental issue or his level of comprehension, never assume you have the person figured out. Depending on the person and his condition, his demeanor and behavior can dramatically change in a moment’s time. Don’t assume by this I mean the person will become violent, although that is a possibility. The person can become euphoric or sad, or any emotion in between.
Try Not to Talk with Your Hands
As a deputy sheriff, I knew a person’s mouth couldn’t hurt me, but his or her hands sure could. Yes, I listened carefully to what people said. Often times a person would give some kind of verbal cue before an attack, but not always. I also paid attention to the person’s eyes. If the person with whom I made contact repeatedly looked at my gun belt or if they glanced over my shoulder, these were usually good indicators that something bad was about to happen. But the hands–the hands could kill me. If a person became agitated I would often ask him to relax and keep hands by his sides. In this position, the person was easier to watch and I was less nervous as a result.
People who are mentally impaired can mistake simple hand gestures as either aggression or a threat. Sudden hand movements can frighten them or simply make them uncomfortable. Again, you cannot assume to know and understand how the person (a stranger) in front of you is processing the audio and visual stimulus received by his brain.
The less movement on your part, especially any kind of sudden movement, the better. Of course, you don’t want to come across to the person as stiff or nervous. So, act naturally. Just try to be aware of how much you are moving around.
Don’t Let Your Frustration Show
It can be very challenging to stay in a conversation with a mentally impaired person. It can be frustrating to be interrupted every few seconds or to have to repeat yourself several times. It’s exhausting at times when the mentally impaired person in front of you wants to take the conversation everywhere and anywhere but where you want to go. Be that as it may, don’t let your frustration show. Better yet, repent of your frustration.
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
“Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:2-10).
Don’t Make This Mistake!
A mistake–sometimes born out of ignorance, and sometimes born out of bigotry–is assuming that if the person in front of you has a physical disability, then they must also be mentally impaired. Sadly, this is often faced by people with Cerebral Palsy.
One organization defines Cerebral Palsy this way:
“While Cerebral Palsy (pronounced seh-ree-brel pawl-zee) is a blanket term commonly referred to as “CP” and described by loss or impairment of motor function, Cerebral Palsy is actually caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth.
“Cerebral Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.”
CP can be very debilitating. However many people with CP live fully-independent lives. Many people with CP reach the highest of heights in many different professional fields. They accomplish many things that people without CP could only dream of accomplishing. They are doctors, lawyers, theologians, actors, politicians, teachers, and the list goes on.
I have at least three dear friends with CP. I’ve open-air preached with two of them, and I’m waiting for the opportunity to do so with the third. Two of the three have probably forgotten more than I know about the Bible. While I might be able to run faster than they can (maybe), I assert that all three of these men of God are more intelligent than I am.
I wonder how many times people have assumed that because my friends have physical limitations, then they must also have mental limitations.
If you have an opportunity to communicate the gospel with someone who has an apparent physical disability, please do not assume that they are mentally impaired. Do not make that mistake.
Regrettably, there are many professed Christians, including pastors, who sometimes ignorantly, sometimes shamefully, and/or sometimes arrogantly discount the use of gospel tracts in evangelism. A pastor–a godly and learned man whose love for Christ, the church, and the lost I do not question–once told me that he did not believe gospel tracts are effective because he had never seen anyone come to his church as a result of the distribution of gospel tracts.
The purpose of gospel tracts is not to fill the seats of your church (although the Lord can do that). The purpose of gospel tracts is to communicate the gospel to lost people, with the hope that people will read them and come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The first gospel tracts were the epistles–letters written to individuals and churches that were copied and distributed, for the purpose of communicating gospel truth to the recipients. The innumerable host of heaven is made up of countless people who have, over the last 2,000 years, read these epistles, repented, and believed the gospel.
The cards and pamphlets we know today as gospel tracts, assuming they carry the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ, are effective because of the gospel written in or on them. They are as effective as any other written communication about the gospel. I have many friends who include the reading of a gospel tract as part of their salvation testimonies.
Thinking specifically now of people who are mentally impaired as the result of willful intoxication, a gospel tract may be the most effective way of communicating the gospel to the person.
I can unequivocally say, based on decades of professional and ministerial experience, that intoxicated people are some of the most difficult people with whom to verbally communicate. Depending on the level of impairment, intoxicated people can be very easily distracted, unreasonable, emotional, forgetful, incoherent, and unpredictable. As a deputy sheriff, on more than one occasion I had intoxicated people go from wanting to give me a hug to wanting to kill me, in a split second.
Needless to say, people who are intoxicated, once sober, may not remember anything they did or said while intoxicated. However, I’ve heard multiple testimonies from people who awoke after a night of drunkenness to inexplicably find a gospel tract in their pants or jacket pockets. They had no idea how it got there. They certainly had no idea who gave it to them. These same people testify that after reading the gospel tract that seemed to come from nowhere, they were brought to the realization of the sinfulness of their sins, and they repented and believed the gospel.
A Case in Point
As I sat in my local Starbucks finishing this article, a young woman walked in and sat down at a corner table. She could not sit still. She was grinding her teeth. She seemed paranoid. She had the physical appearance of someone who was a habitual user of methamphetamine. She exhibited the signs and symptoms of someone under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant–a drug category that includes methamphetamine and cocaine.
I walked over to her and asked her if she was okay and if she needed any help. She began to tell me an incoherent story of looking for her boyfriend, being from Illinois and new to the area and hoping someone would pick her up. Because of her apparent level of intoxication, I doubted she would stick around for a conversation. And I was right. Shortly after talking to her, she quickly picked up her belongings and headed for the door.
I stopped her, handed her a gospel tract, and said, “Here’s something to read when you’re feeling better.”
She looked at me for a second or two, took the tract, said thank you, and tucked it in one of her bags. She hurried out the door.
It is unlikely I will see her again. It is unlikely the two of us will have a lengthy and meaningful friendship. What is likely is that at some point she is going to reach into her bag and pull out that gospel tract. She may not remember when or how she received it. She likely won’t remember meeting me. However, if she reads that gospel tract, the Lord could cause her to repent and believe. He could cause her to be born-again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Regardless of the reason why the person in front of you is mentally impaired, a gospel tract might be the best way to communicate life-saving, life-giving truth to them. Carry gospel tracts with you, wherever you go, and distribute them to everyone and anyone you can.
A Word of Hope
If you’ve made it this far, then I want to leave you with a word of hope. Some of you reading this have loved ones who are mentally impaired. Some of you may be wondering if your loved one can or ever will understand the gospel. I want to encourage you to dwell not on what you think or you’ve been told your loved one can or cannot understand, but rather dwell on what God can do.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
“When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48, emphasis mine).
You are not responsible for your loved ones’ salvation. You are only responsible to love God and love people (Matthew 12:32-40), through the communication of the gospel (Acts 1:8). Your responsibility is to lovingly communicate the gospel to them.
Do not assume the conventional wisdom of men is more powerful than the authoritative Word of God. Believe by faith and because of the testimony of His Word that everything He does is good. Believe that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate and change the hardest of hearts and the frailest of minds. Find comfort in the truth that everyone God has determined to save will be saved and they will be kept.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Let the joy of the Lord be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Remember that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). Cast all of your cares upon Him, knowing he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what you perceive about the person in front of you, regardless of how different that person might be from yourself, regardless of how difficult or even personally costly the conversation might be, please love mentally impaired people more than you love yourself. Mentally impaired people need to hear the gospel, too.