My Autistic Mentor with the Gaithers

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What a blessed month sharing the gospel!  Ministry volunteers Johan, Karen, Pam, Alan, Michael, Rob, Chris and yours truly shared at twelve different events and saw over 200 people profess saving faith in Christ alone.  God has already promised that His Word will not return void and we continue to witness the saving power of the blessed gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Many thanks to those of you behind the scenes who make this possible through your praying and giving.  Our Lord will certainly see to it that everyone is rewarded according to his own labor.  There is one young man behind the scenes that is a very important part of my life.  His influence upon me and a recent event is the subject of this newsletter.

About ten ago I met with my pastor Kerry Willis and shared my desire and need for a mentor.  I was thinking that one of the pastors or somebody who was more spiritually advanced would suit just fine.  Pastor Kerry explained to me that a mentor was primarily someone with whom you had a heart connection.  He told me that his mentor was his son.  At that point, I knew immediately who my mentor was.

Not too long before that meeting with my pastor, I felt led to begin door knocking and sharing the gospel at a local subdivision.  The very first day I showed up, I met Victor.

Victor has autism.  When he gets nervous, he pinches his left bicep and right eyebrow.  In fact, he has a large bruise on that arm from all the pinching.  When he really appears out of sorts, he begins to vigorously flail both his arms back and forth while opening and closing his mouth.

Needless to say, many people are uncomfortable around Victor.  For some reason, I feel right at home.

At various times over the last ten years I have experienced flare ups of discouragement.  Invariably, after this feeling would come upon me, the phone would ring...Victor.

His impeccable timing with these phone calls though the power of the Holy Spirit provided the lift that I needed.  On the other hand, giving your phone number to an autistic boy can be hazardous.  Hazardous to the tune of 82 phone calls in a single day.

Victor has two older brothers who also suffer from autism.  His mother Svetlana was widowed some years ago when her husband suffered a heart attack.  He does have an older sister who lives with them who does provide some support.

About six years ago, an opportunity arose for mother to finally get a house and a yard for her children to enjoy.  They purchased a foreclosed house in Lyman, South Carolina.  Lyman is right outside of Greenville.

 
 

The six hour separation between us has given rise to many phone calls.  The operative word, as I already shared is...many.

Recently, I had occasion to go visit Victor.  Victor really enjoys sporting events and concerts.  He likes loud.  He gets loud.  The Gaither Gospel group came to Greenville, South Carolina, the 19th and 20th of October.

Years ago, when I would take Victor out to eat, he would frequently vomit after eating.  When I discussed this with his mother, she told me that he simply does not know when to stop eating.  

This time, I was very proud of Victor.  He stopped after one plate of chicken and salad.  He was even able to do this when selfish me had two more plates and dessert!

Just in case, his mom even gave me a bag of diapers and a fresh pair of shorts.  Years ago, when we went to an event together, while we were in the car, Victor said, "Bathroom."  Stupid me responded, "You are going to have to wait."  God says in His Word that we reap what we sow.  Boy, did I ever reap that day!  Lots of it.

Well, this time God's discipline bore fruit in my life.  Whenever Victor said, "Bathroom", Mike responded!  I was very proud of Victor.  Three or four times he communicated to me and we had no mishaps.  I was able to return full box of diapers unopened and fresh pair of shorts unhampered.

Helping Victor to 'blend in' can be a challenge.  Like I said, He likes loud and gets loud.  When he yells, "Praise the Lord!", or "Hallelujah!", all is well.  When he yells one of his favorite words or phrases like, "Chicago!", or "Sick and tired of your hollerin!", I gently correct him.  At one point, he joined the two together, "Praise the Lord!...Sick and tired of your hollerin!"  How do you respond then?

Most people are very understanding and gracious.  Before the concert on the second night,  I explained the situation to a lady sitting next to us.  She happened to work with special needs children.  I shared that Victor had certain favorite words such as 'Chicago.'

At one point during the concert, Bill Gaither began to pray for revival, "...from California to Chicago..."  Victor exploded, "CHICAGO!"  Our dear lady neighbor began laughing hysterically.

The night before, Friday, we had a great time worshipping with the Gaithers.  I decided to take Victor back stage to see if we could meet Bill.  Autistic boys do procure favor from people, you know. (LOL)

We were met by a very nice lady named Dina.  She told me that there was an official 'meet and greet' on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.  She said that only those with an official lanyard could get in.  However, she told us that she would meet us in front of the arena at 2:45 p.m., and would let us in herself.

So, we arrived early at 2:00 p.m.  As you can imagine, there was a huge line of people.  About 2:35 p.m., security scanned us to let us in.  After scanning us, they asked for our official lanyard.  I explained that Dina was going to meet us out front at 2:45 p.m. to let us in.

Security curtly explained that they had nothing to do with the group.  They had simply been given instructions, "No lanyard, no entrance."  They had no idea who Dina even was.

I managed to get permission to stand inside the building with Victor for a few minutes to see if Dina would come up.  No luck.  Security became impatient and escorted us out.

It was 2:45 p.m.  We waited about ten more minutes.  I prayed, "Lord, if you want us to see the Gaithers, please send up Dina.  There is nothing more that I can do."

Then a thought came to me, "Why don't you ask one of these fans still in the line that are going in to see the Gaithers.  Maybe they can ask for Dina and send her out."

This was a longshot, but I decided to give it a try.  I looked at the first guy and thought, "Nah."  I looked at the second guy and thought, "Yeah, ask him."

Turns out, he knew who Dina was!  Within five minutes we were greeted by a Gina (Dina was busy) who was extremely apologetic and explained that Dina had simply forgotten.  She gave us an official lanyard in case we got separated.

I have always joked with Victor that he is the, "Big Celebrity!"  I guess now he is.

Here we are on Saturday night at Denny's sharing our final meal together.  He still has the lanyard on his chest.  Victor can't order from the menu and he is not picky.  If I suggest it and order it, he eats it.


What a wonderful time with my dear friend and mentor Victor Guntik.  Thank you Pastor Kerry.  Thank you all for your prayers and continued support.

Mike Barko