Every child is a gift from God. God has given them to our care to love them, nourish them, and bring them up in the fear of the Living God. It is the desire of every parent that their child would grow up to be a person who brings them honor and respect in society. But what will be your reaction be, if you are told that your newborn baby, whom you had longed to see and had been dreaming of all these months, is not a healthy baby as you had wished and will live all his life as a mentally disabled person? Do you think your castle which you had been building for your son/daughter will come crashing down? Well, that’s how I felt when the doctors said that my newborn son is differently abled.
The moment our second son Justin was born, one glance at him and we knew something was not right with him. But then we knew that he was a gift to us from God, and God wanted us to be good stewards of the gift he had given to our care.
Raising a differently abled child at times is a real challenge. Mary and I had been challenged many times in the past few years in raising him. These children cannot go to regular schools and have to be given special care and attention in every step.
As a kid, we took Justin to different hospitals, and all that they told us was, his IQ was low. No doctor ever told us that he should not be put in a regular school for children. So when Justin was about 4 years old like any other kid in our country, he was sent to a regular school with the hope that he would pick up his lessons. But every day we got complaints from the school about Justin’s inability to adjust in the class and his attitude problem. Since we were receiving complaints from both teachers and students, we were forced to remove him from the school.
At that time, we were told of a school for the differently abled children in another city. We drove to that city and met with the authorities. After talking to them they promised to give Justin admission in their school. But the problem was since the school was far away; he could not stay with us and had to be in the boarding. On our way home, we told our son that he was going to be sent to the boarding school. Other than that the drive back home was quiet. The silence was broken by Mary when she expressed her desire to start a special school for the mentally challenged children in the town where we were staying. I did not encourage the subject because I knew that to start a school required a lot of finance and we did not have the money then. Justin was disturbed with the thought of being sent to the boarding school and did not sleep the whole night. We as parents were worried about the developments taking place in him and we dropped the plan of sending him to a boarding school.
He was sent to another regular school closer to Mary’s school where she was working as a teacher with the hope that she will be able to pay more attention to him. But, changing schools or placing him in a school closer to Mary’s workplace did not improve the situation. We kept receiving complaints from the school about him. The worst to suffer was Mary because in my absence she had to take care of him, manage the home, office, and then go to work. It was taking its toll on her. And if Justin failed to go to school one day, Mary had to take him with her to her school where she was working as a teacher. Justin was hyperactive and disturbed everyone. Mary still remembers vividly one particular incident where she really cried out to God asking for special grace. Mary had been teaching the tenth grade when she was interrupted by one of the helper boys of Justin’s school. Excusing herself from class, she came out to meet him to learn what happened to Justin, and he told her that Justin has soiled his classroom by wetting his pants. Mary excused herself from the class after explaining the situation to her students and by the time she reached Justin’s school — to his classroom — there were no students in the class except him and he had messed the room completely. Anger and frustration gripped every inch of Mary, and she was almost on the verge of tears. The other children were accusing Justin of soiling their classroom, but Justin was least bothered about what was happening around him and what people were saying. Mary looked around for water to clean both Justin and the classroom but there was no running water available anywhere. So she went to the well, fetched water, and cleaned Justin and the classroom. People looked at her with sympathy but she did not want their sympathy. She was frustrated. She cried out to God, “Please God, find me a special school for the differently abled children closer to my home or give us money to start a school.” And God heard her despairing cry, and when Justin was eleven years old, a special school for the differently abled children was opened in the neighboring town and Justin was admitted there. In spite of finding a school for Justin, Mary was forced to quit her job to take care of him. In the meantime, we came across parents with children who were mentally disabled. In India, to send a mentally disabled child to school is expensive and not every parent can afford it. Mary was moved with sympathy, and she wanted to do something for these neglected and discarded children. Both Mary and I believe that God has gifted us with Justin to be a blessing to other parents who are struggling. Mary was all the more burdened to do something for these differently abled children after reading Rick Warren’s book, "The Purpose Driven Life", and she began to pray to God for opportunities to serve the differently abled children. God answered her prayer, and we were able to open SathyaNiketan — a learning disability center for the differently abled children — in a rented building, and currently, we have over 48 children between the age of 3 and 15. Though much expense is involved in maintaining and running the institution most of the children coming to SathyaNiketan do not pay any tuition fees as they are from poor families. Our prayer to the Lord is that God will strengthen our hands to manage this institution for His glory and to be a blessing to the mentally challenged children and their families.
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