Two years ago, when I was first introduced to Richard, I was told that he could not communicate. I was told that he could not speak, but that he was learning how to use a communication device that would speak for him, as speaking was too difficult due to his cerebral palsy. I was to be his aide at the local junior high school.
I remember the first day of school that year. I remember our first lunch. I was trying to feed him his fruit cocktail, and he kept frowning. Then, with a spastic wave of his arm, he knocked the fruit mix all over me. And then he smiled.
I learned very quickly that Richard knew how to communicate. He told me very clearly that day that he did not want his fruit. But there was more to it than that. I learned that what he really needed was someone to ask him what he did want, and to be patient, to wait for an answer.
As I sat with Richard, and as I waited with Richard, I learned that he really could talk, and that no one in the school system had ever given him the time and space he needed to communicate. He has a wide range of vocabulary, and he’s pretty easy to understand if you take the time to get to know him, his words, and his voice.
More than anything, he wanted to be included. He loved saying “Hi” to kids as we passed them during the lunch break. He began to get frustrated any time someone didn’t acknowledge him. This was a change. He had begun to expect to be noticed.
We invited Richard to club last year. His family was grateful that we were including him, and Richard was simply glad not to be in the after school program one day a week. He didn’t get much attention in the after school program, but at WyldLife, he was always a part of the action. That year, he learned that he was deeply loved. That year, he heard that Jesus came to earth and died so that he could be with Him forever.
This last July, Richard was getting ready to go to camp with us. While filling out his health form with his grandmother, she told me that Richard had been asking her about heaven and hell, and wanted to know where he could have gotten ideas about this. I asked Richard if he wanted to talk about it, and he got very quiet. I told him we could talk about it later, without grandma if he wanted, and he agreed that would be best.
The day before we left for camp I came to hang out with Richard and pick up his luggage. We were sitting on his front lawn, waiting for grandma to come home, and I asked him if he wanted to talk about heaven and hell.
“What about heaven and hell?”
“About whether you are going to heaven or hell?”
“No,” he said. “Ma.” Grandma.
We talked about how Richard knew where he was going, that because he knew Jesus he knew he would be with him in heaven. I asked if grandma knew Jesus.
“I don’t know.”
Then his grandmother got home. I let her know that we had talked about it, and that Richard was asking questions because he wanted to know where she would go when she died, and that we would keep talking about it at camp.
Richard seemed relieved. He was excited to go to camp the next day, and I doubt he slept much that night.
The next morning, it seemed like the whole family was there to see Richard off. I stopped by his house to pick him up, and was greeted at the door by his mother, his aunt, and his grandmother. His sister and cousin were there too.
He couldn’t get out the door fast enough. We loaded him into the van, and we were off.
It was a great week of camp for Richard. He got to go swimming, sleep outside under the stars, play in the messy games, and do the ropes course. Every experience was a big deal. When asked what he
Richard got a taste of heaven that week. But more than that, he got the key to heaven.
He learned through the club talks, and through cabin time that he could be sure of his salvation because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And he learned that he could share that relationship with others.
When we returned home after camp, he was able to communicate to me that we needed to talk to grandma. I asked him what he needed to tell her, and he could hardly contain himself. He just gave me this look that said, “You know.”
And I did. I asked if he wanted help telling grandma what he had learned about Jesus at camp, and he shouted, “Yeah! When?”
So, we have set up a time to get together and talk about Jesus with his grandmother.
Richard, this young man who supposedly could not communicate, is planning on sharing the good news of Christ with his own grandmother. Please pray for this young friend of mine, that he would be courageous, and bold as he shares the truth he now knows, and that his grandmother would not only hear the good news, but see it in his face.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Richard’s heart has gone from empty, to overflowing with love for God and love for others. He has learned worth, that he matters, and that he can make a difference.
Our God does crazy things. He opens the eyes of the blind, and opens the mouths of the mute. And when he does, we all are blessed.