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  • Rhonda Kelley

I Thank God for Jimmy Jelly



March 21st of every year is World Down Syndrome Day. Why 3/21? It represents the three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two which occur in most human lives. Down syndrome or Trisomy 21 is universally present across racial, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Occurring in 1 out of every 800 live births, Down syndrome usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability as well as associated medical issues. Many medical, educational, and social advances have been made in recent years encouraging individuals with Down syndrome and their families to achieve more and live more fulfilling lives. (See www.ds-int.org for more information.)


On this special day, I reflected back on some precious memories of my youth. At 15 years of age, I responded to God’s call to ministry and immediately sought ways to serve the Lord through my church. First Baptist New Orleans had an active special education department composed of children of church members and students from local programs. I started working with the Special Department during Sunday School and fell in love with that ministry. In fact, my work with those people with special needs influenced me to choose a professional career in speech pathology and special education. Jimmy was one special person used by God to enrich my life.


My friend Jimmy Jelly was born with Down syndrome and was exactly my age. He taught me many things as we studied the Bible and worshiped the Lord together. Let me share a few of those lessons. Jimmy Jelly taught me …


1.) genuine faith – Jimmy loved Jesus. How do I know? Because he told me so every time I saw him. He unashamedly told everyone: “Jesus loves you.” And, he eagerly asked everyone: “Do you love Jesus?” We need that kind of genuine faith!


2.) unconditional love – Jimmy loved everyone. He gave big bear hugs to family members, friends, and even strangers. And, he always said “I love you” when he greeted you and said goodbye. We need that kind of unconditional love!


3.) joyful singing – Jimmy sang with all of his heart. He could not carry a tune, and he rarely knew the words to the song, but he sang from the bottom of his heart in Sunday School and during the worship service. I can still hear Jimmy’s loud voice singing with such enthusiasm. We need that kind of joyful singing!


4.) wholehearted service – Jimmy served others with his whole heart. He worked at a local grocery store where I shopped, and he always helped me to the car with my groceries with a smile. He worked hard and loved his work. We need that kind of wholehearted service!


5.) lasting memory – Jimmy remembered the people he loved even when separated by time. When I returned to my home church from college and even after I married and moved back to New Orleans, Jimmy was the first person to greet me with a big hug. He quickly adopted Chuck as his best friend and always asked about him when Chuck was away preaching. We need that kind of lasting memory!


Thank you for letting me reminisce about a special friend of my youth! I will always treasure our friendship and seek to be more like him. I thank God for Jimmy Jelly and all that he taught me then and even now!