The words of life that changed my autistic son's destiny
UPDATE: Evan went to be with Jesus on April 30, 2017, as a result of a two-vehicle collision. We will continue to display Evan's story as a testimony to his faith and the power of God, who swallows death in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). Our prayers are with Evan's family, friends and the many KidSpring students he ministered to at NewSpring.
As a child, my son Evan was always different than his peers.
He seemed younger than his age and socially awkward. Behaviorally, he would have meltdowns and tantrums and would say awkward things.
Evan was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in the third grade, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder in the eighth grade.
Evan and Steve, a friend and volunteer leader, hanging out.
Every Sunday was a battle with him.
A Parent's Prayer
As Christian parents, my husband and I’s main prayer and hope for our three kids was that they would all come to salvation in Christ and learn to grow in their relationship with Him.
One of the books I read said that kids on the Autism spectrum will never “get” religion, since it is an abstract, non-concrete concept, so those words hit hard. Would he ever “get it?”
Every Sunday at church was a battle with him as a late elementary and middle school student. I am not sure what exactly it was that got him so agitated about church — maybe the rules, the expectations that he never quite met, or how he struggled to sit through services.
It got to the point where he said “When I grow up, I am never going to church! Church is a punishment!”
God was meeting him exactly where he was.
The Turning Point
We started attending NewSpring when Evan was a freshman in high school. He’ll tell you now that he was an atheist at that point. The week before Easter, he told us he did not believe God was even real.
That Easter Sunday service, shots of Israel were interspersed into the sermon. I remember [the message was ], “If you doubt God is real, and Jesus is real, [we’re] going to show you that He is real, because [this is where] it all happened!”
I looked over at Evan, and the engaging, multi-sensory, easy-to-understand presentation of the gospel made a huge impact. He saw that God was meeting him exactly where he was. I do believe that was the day of his salvation. Evan will tell you that is the day he stopped being an atheist!
Evan serving in KidSpring at our Greenwood campus.
Volunteers went above and beyond to invest in him and to reach an “outside-the-box” kid.
The real change in his life came when a few volunteers went above and beyond to invest in him and to reach an “outside-the-box” kid.
Before Fuse launched in Greenwood, Steve Gossett hung out weekly with Evan and some other kids at the Chick-Fil-A. He did not mind that Evan was quirky or socially awkward, and he even came over to help Evan with his schoolwork! He encouraged him in every area of his life, and continues to do so.
The following summer, Joe Waggoneer became his Gauntlet leader, and later small group leader. Evan is not naturally going to make the effort to do new things, like attend a small group.
But Joe went the extra mile, and took time to meet one-on-one to hang out with Evan to make him feel comfortable about going to small group. He’d come over to watch football, and invite Evan to his place to play video games.
Evan was welcomed as a KidSpring volunteer, despite his autism.
Ready to Serve
When we became owners in August of 2013, our entire family was ready to serve. Evan was welcomed as a KidSpring volunteer, despite his autism.
Kids like Evan can be so easily overlooked since they are hard to figure out, and sometimes are not the easiest to relate to. It took a while for the KidSpring leaders to find a fit that developed the gifts God has given Evan, but they never gave up on him, even when Evan has had a struggle here and there.
Evan acting in KidSpring one Sunday.
The work in his life is a miracle.
Tears of Joy
About a year ago, I got to observe Evan doing worship leading for elementary large group. I wept as I saw him up there – loaded with personality and energy (not typical Autism); interacting with those kids (not typical Autism); reviewing the lessons; doing song motions!
It was seriously like watching someone else, and the work in his life is a miracle.
He has found a community ... where it is safe for Evan to be Evan.
A Thankful Heart
God has taught me that even though Evan’s brain is affected by neurological issues, his Spirit is not touched by neurological issues.
Christianity is not a religion, or something you “get,” but a relationship with Jesus — who made Evan just how he is; who pursues a relationship with Evan; who wants to use Evan’s unique gifts to reach others.
I am eternally thankful for a place where my special son has thrived. He has found a community that accepts him, loves him, and teaches him to follow Jesus step by step — where it is safe for Evan to be Evan.
My son’s story has been an answer to my prayers, but it has reminded me more than anything that God loves Evan way more than me.