2013-11-09 Tait Berge - 120Tait Berge, living with disabilities himself but active in ministry, challenges…

When perusing resources in any Christian bookstore, prepare to be overwhelmed with the vast choice of Bible studies.

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 (below), the Executive Director for Mephibosheth Ministry, and her friend, Elsie, decided some time back to visit a local Christian bookstore to find out.

Mary Jane has cerebral palsy and can be easily identified as someone who lives with an intellectual disability.

Using it to their advantage, Elsie asked the male clerk if he had a Bible study for her friend. ‘She reads at a second grade level.’

The man scratched his head and then led them to the children’s section, but Mary Jane wasn’t happy with that and stomped her foot saying, ‘I’m not a child!’

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Immediately Mary Jane stopped and apologised. 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 material for them.

The clerk searched his files but did not find anything. So Mary Jane decided that she needed to change this and is working towards that end.

She has been writing Bible studies for adults with intellectual disabilities for many years now and explains, ‘People living with intellectual disabilities need the gospel presented to them in an appropriate way. They don’t want children’s books.’

Mary’s I Want to Know studies
Mary 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.

Her cornerstone study is called I Want to Know, a 96-page beautiful book that takes students through the basics of the Christian faith. It is divided into four sections:
1) Who Am I? – My Identity in Christ
2) How Does Jesus Want Me to Act? – My Attitude
3) What Does Jesus Want Me to Do? – My Behaviour
4) Where Will I Go When I Die? – My Eternity

Each study is written 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.

Passionate about empowering
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,”’ Carol 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.’

Disability victories
Located in Colorado Springs, Mephibosheth Ministry 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, ‘After using the study I Want to Know for the first time in his life, my son finally understands his relationship to God and Jesus.’

If Mary Jane and Carol never hear of another victory, this one man’s experience will be worth the investment they place in lives of people living with intellectual disabilities.

Mary Jane links: /

Tait Burge's book


Tait Berge is Special Correspondent ASSIST ( and Church Relations Director Mephibosheth Ministry, an organisation that encourages churches to include people with special needs in their congregation.

Recommended: In the Accessible Church. Link:

See also his March 2015 Focus article. Links: / /

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