One young man’s changed life touched hundreds more
by Laura J. Pierce
When Mike, a young man with Down syndrome, registered for camp one summer, I had no idea that his time with us would have such a far-reaching spiritual impact. Mike’s genetic disorder is characterized by learning challenges. Yet Mike proved that the gospel message is simple and clear when at camp he accepted Jesus as his Savior.
Mike’s delight at discovering Jesus’ love
for him knew no bounds. He developed a habit of leaning forward 60 degrees,
an explosion of joy on his face, exclaiming, “Hallelujah! I love
GEEEzus!” He would rub his hands together as if trying to kindle
a spark upon the declaration of Jesus’ name.
“Hmmm,” I replied. “Maybe he could tell you why he’s so excited.”
“Humph,” was the response. But I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “I’m sorry.” She told me Mike could return to camp only if I agreed we wouldn’t talk about “religious stuff.” We kept our promise and only talked about Jesus.
Mike returned to camp the next year, bringing his guitar to “lead” worship. We weren’t quite sure of the words, but we knew he was praising his GEEEzus! We gave him a picture Bible—he wasn’t able to read—and he took great pride in it, telling the stories to others.
That fall, the group home manager called me again: “We have a problem with Mike,” she said. “He wants to go to church, and I’ll have to go with him.” Federal law mandated that she make sure he get to church if he asked to go. Despite her dilemma, I couldn’t bring myself to apologize.
“Maybe the church can help,” I offered.
Thankfully, some church members began to come by every Sunday to pick up Mike and his roommates for the service. Mike continued evangelizing in and out of camp with his trademark palms briskly rubbing together, “I love GEEEzus. Do you love GEEEzus?”
“Hmmm,” I said meekly. “Maybe you should ask what he’s so excited about.”
After a moment of quiet, she reluctantly said, “OK,
you can baptize Mike at camp.”
At 33, Mike went to meet his GEEEzus. Mike didn’t have a living family member. But at the memorial service, the large room was packed with his friends: people with disabilities, fast-food servers, store clerks, doctors, and lawyers. They took turns revealing how Mike had affected their lives.
Finally, a nurse who had cared for Mike the last few weeks of his life stood. She told how he had boldly explained—without eloquent words or seminary training—that Jesus could make her happy. “I’m going to heaven because Mike told me about his GEEEzus,” she said tearfully.
All of us at camp learned important lessons from Mike. While he may have had Down syndrome, his condition could have more appropriately been labeled Up syndrome. He taught us that laughter is good medicine and worry is unnecessary. He demonstrated that celebration is a daily choice and everyone needs a hug. He inspired us to love unconditionally. Mike reminded us that God is capable of making His reality known to any heart that is open, and that every heart needs Him.
I wish I could have been in heaven when Jesus smiled as He greeted Mike. I know Mike was leaning forward with an explosion of joy on his face, rubbing his hands together. Looking into the eyes of his Best Friend and Lord, he probably said, “Hallelujah! I love You, GEEEzus!”
And I can envision Jesus, with His arms wide open and a gentle, welcoming voice, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Laura has served as co-director of Upward Bound Camp for Persons with Special Needs for nearly 30 years. She and her husband, Jerry, raised their six children at the camp, which is east of Salem, Oregon. You can read more stories like this at www.upwardboundcamp.org.
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