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For Adriene Patterson, lack of eyes doesn’t mean lack of faith.

Through eyes of faith

By John W. Kennedy

Unlike many teen-agers, Adriene Patterson already has career goals fixed in her mind. Ideally she wants to play women’s basketball or to be an Olympic skier. If those don’t pan out, she figures she can fall back on being an obstetrician, musician or singer.

Lofty pursuits for any young person. Yet especially for Adriene, who is blind.

Lest one think such dreams are beyond reality, Adriene — who turned 16 on March 8 — already has played basketball, skied, played flute and sung in front of large crowds.

Adriene is not just blind; she has no eyes. She is one of only an estimated 50 people in history born with a genetic condition known as cryptophthalmos syndrome, where the eyelid skin grows continuously from the forehead to the cheek. After Adriene’s birth, doctors determined through research that her parents, although unrelated, had as close a genetic match as if they were siblings.

At birth, Adriene had golf-ball-sized bulges of skin where her eye sockets should have formed. Doctors operated on Adriene when she was 3 months to relieve pressure, making incisions on each side where her eyes would have been.

Cryptophthalmos also results in a host of other medical problems; Adriene has overcome bowel problems and lives with one kidney.

However, unlike many blind people, Adriene has excellent equilibrium and balance. She negotiates with ease around the family home, using the telephone and microwave with the same alacrity as a sighted person.

A change in plans
Adriene’s zest for living has impacted those around her. But no one has been as transformed by Adriene’s presence as her father. Up until Adriene’s birth, Greg Patterson admittedly had been more interested in driving fast cars than in being a father. But his outlook changed in the hospital when he witnessed the birth of a daughter who needed extra care.

"I knew I had to take responsibility," says Greg, whose home with Adriene and his 11-year-old daughter, Aimee, is in the southern Paseo district of Kansas City, Mo. Immediately, Greg began making plans to ensure that Adriene would receive the nurturing and financial care she needed.

"I never questioned the Lord about Adriene," Greg says. "God gave me an opportunity to see life again through my daughter. I knew I had a special child."

Although he always has taken an active role in raising his daughters, for the past seven years Adriene and Aimee have lived exclusively with their father. Their mother is now married to another man. Greg operates Adriene Exclusive Limousines from his home. Initially the chauffeur service had been a weekend supplement to his income, but now it’s a full-time business with Greg specializing in transporting corporate executives around Kansas City. He works the profession around his daughters’ lives, making sure he sees the girls off to school each day. Before he leaves for a day of professional chauffeuring, he may be busy ironing clothes for his girls.

Although the service is named after Adriene, Aimee is more involved, doing everything from taking customers’ calls to opening the limo doors for clients when she’s not in school.

"I don’t have time to be at home," Adriene says. "I’m too busy."

Indeed, Adriene has a busy life, balancing school, work and church activities.

Adriene has had a hectic schedule almost since birth. With help from the United Way, Greg enrolled 3-month-old Adriene in a semiweekly infant care program for the visually impaired. There she learned how to walk and read braille. She has attended public school since age 5.

Living for the Lord
The Pattersons attend Sheffield Assembly of God in Kansas City, Mo. (George W. Westlake Jr., pastor). The children’s missions coordinator at Sheffield contacted Paul Weingartner, director of the Assemblies of God National Center for the Blind in Springfield, Mo., about obtaining Christian reading materials for Adriene. Although Weingartner had a braille Bible to send to Adriene, he had no children’s literature.

"When I hung up the phone, it tore me apart," Weingartner says. "It was painful to tell someone just because she was blind she couldn’t participate in the same activities as other children."

Weingartner resolved to work extra hours every day to translate Assemblies of God children’s literature into braille. His efforts led to the Patterson family becoming committed to Sheffield as well as the Lord.

"We don’t miss church because of our business," says Greg, who also sings in the choir at Sheffield.

Richie Hanes, children’s pastor at the multicultural, inner-city church of 3,200, says in the six years he has known Adriene she has changed from a bashful young girl to a maturing teen who is a bold witness for the Lord.

"Kids really like to be around her," Hanes says. "She’s always full of joy and has been a real inspiration to others. To her, just because she doesn’t have eyes doesn’t mean she is handicapped."

At Central High School, the inner-city public school where Adriene is a sophomore, she and two pals from Sheffield’s youth group have started the 1-2-1 Club. The club focuses on personal evangelism, Bible study, field trips and daily prayer around the school flagpole.

Adriene has become a leader among her sighted peers and mentor to younger children. Many of her friends are Caucasian. "Color is nothing to me," Adriene says. "I don’t look at the outside; I look at the heart. We’re all God’s people."

In 1999, the Assemblies of God officially opened the Adriene Resource Center for Blind Children at national headquarters in Springfield, Mo. Although still in need of more financial support, the Adriene Resource Center now regularly records children’s books on cassette and translates books into braille. A charity golf tournament initially raised $30,000 for the work.

From the moment he met Adriene in 1996, Weingartner knew that she represented a tremendous example of how God can use people with disabilities. At that first meeting on a basketball court, Weingartner saw Adriene playing basketball — and making baskets.

"Dad has taught me to try anything and everything," Adriene says. "We can do all things through Christ."

Christianity is the center of daily life, according to Adriene. In an effort to raise funds for the children’s library, she sometimes travels to A/G churches on weekends with her father and sister, singing and testifying about the Lord. Nothing that Adriene attempts is halfhearted, and fear isn’t a word in her vocabulary. She has learned how to be a rock climber, water skier, bowler, bicycle rider and, through ROTC, rifle shooter. Her determination comes naturally.

"I run a strong ship," says Greg, a handsome and youthful-looking 51. For example, when Adriene learned to play the flute by ear, Greg required her to practice two hours a day.

Aimee does much of the cooking. Before they eat, Adriene prays, asking God to remember children who have no food to eat.

"I love babies," Adriene says. "They’re so cute." Last summer, Adriene worked six hours a day as program coordinator intern for Campfire Boys and Girls. Among other activities, Adriene helped visually impaired children learn how to swim, run races and perform karate. Among the career options she envisions is being a ski helper for children with disabilities.

"It’s a perfectly reasonable goal if it’s something she wants to do," says Tina Jenkins, Campfire adventure fitness coordinator who is visually impaired. "We try to instill that we are all capable of serving to some degree."

The independent-minded Adriene already is making plans to move into her own apartment. She hopes to secure a full-time Campfire job next year.

She also is looking forward to attending college and studying communications. One of Adriene’s favorite pastimes is talking, and she has a voice-mail pager. She has a memory full of information and can rattle off addresses, phone numbers and milestone dates with the accuracy of a computer. That is just one of her multiple skills and talents.

"I try to do everything I can, but I’m not perfect," Adriene says. "The only one who is perfect is Jesus."

Through Christ, Adriene just might make it to the Olympics.

"Children who are blind can go as far as they want," Weingartner says. "They just need people to believe in them and be willing to help."

John W. Kennedy is an associate editor for the Pentecostal Evangel.

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