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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Don Couch

Trusting God, Living With Autism

Don and Kay Couch have pastored in greater Tulsa, Okla., for more than 25 years. Don served as presbyter for 70 Assemblies of God churches and approximately 300 ministers in the Tulsa area, and for 15 years he was youth director for the Tulsa section. He is the founder of Vision Ministry Center and Couch Consulting Group, a ministry of coaching and mentoring men in leadership. The Couches also established Eastland Christian Academy, a school for children and youth with special needs, and Bring Them In, a church for adults with special needs. Couch spoke recently with Managing Editor Scott Harrup about the inspiration for those final two ministries — the Couches’ son, Jason.

evangel: When did you first realize your family would be dealing with your son’s special needs?
When Jason was born in March of 1976, he was a beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed kid, and for the early part of his life he seemed to be progressing normally. But by the time he was 2 it became obvious he was delayed developmentally. We had him tested. He was 3 the first time we heard that he fit into the autism spectrum. It was devastating news.

evangel: Jason was found to be on the more severe end of the autism spectrum.
It’s a common misperception that all children with autism are also savants. In other words, they excel in a specific area. That idea is probably perpetuated by movies like Rain Man and coverage of the more exceptional cases on TV. And, it’s true, some people with autism are great at math or music or stand out in some other way.

Jason has limited verbal ability. Over the years we’ve learned to adjust our lifestyle to the challenges he has faced. He’s 34 and still at home with us, and we’re very grateful for that. We don’t criticize people who make a different decision; everyone has to make that decision for themselves. But we’ve always felt Jason’s a priority to us and we would take care of him to the best of our ability. We’ve been graced to do that thus far.

evangel: How would you describe Jason’s spiritual growth?
Early on we would ask him, “Do you want Jesus to come into your heart?” When he was 8 he acknowledged that he did. If you ask him, “Where does Jesus live?” he will point to his heart, and he’ll sign “Jesus.” I baptized him in a friend’s swimming pool when he was 9.

His ability to gain an in-depth understanding of the Scriptures is limited. We feed his spirit consistently through Christian music and teaching. Because of his limited verbal ability, he can’t express those things to us, but we believe those truths are getting into his spirit.

evangel: What does Jason’s salvation experience say about the need to communicate the gospel effectively in the special needs community?
Many Christians have this misconception that people with disabilities, particularly with some mental challenges, are unable to comprehend the salvation message. Kay and I have contended that just because somebody’s body is broken or their mind is not completely whole, it doesn’t mean their spirit cannot comprehend what they need. There are 58 million people in the United States with disabilities, and most of them are unchurched. I believe that’s probably the largest untapped mission field in the United States.

evangel: How has your own faith guided your parenting?
When Jason was about 7 years old, we took him to a children’s hospital for testing, and the doctor confirmed the autism diagnosis. “Let me just tell you that there’s no cure for your child’s condition,” the doctor told us, “but the treatment that he’ll need will cost tens of thousands of dollars. I recommend that you consider changing vocations so that you’ll be able to afford this.” That day more than ever, we determined that we were going to trust God. We would do what we could do with everything within our power to help Jason develop, but we knew that our ultimate source was God.

evangel: You and Kay have translated your love for Jason into some key ministries. Please talk about that.
UEarly in Jason’s schooling, we had to commute as much as 30 to 35 miles from home, so that was taking him to school, coming back home, going back to get him, coming back home — that was 120 to 140 miles a day, just transporting him. We decided we needed to homeschool him. It took place at our church, and we had someone who worked with him and taught him. That eventually led us to start a Christian school for children with special needs. The school continues to this day at Eastland Assembly of God. Eastland Christian Academy, to our knowledge, is the only Assemblies of God school in America that exists exclusively for children and youth with special needs.

We also started a Sunday service at Eastland for people with special needs called “Bring Them In,” based on Jesus’ parable of the feast in Luke 14 where the master of the feast called in the lame and the blind. Bring Them In now averages somewhere between 100 and 150 participants every Sunday morning. It’s one of the largest ministries of its kind.

evangel: What is the best way for people to respond to children with special needs and their parents?
Parents of kids with special needs don’t want pity; they just want understanding. We’ve actually had people say things like, “If you just had faith, your son would be healed.” We believe it takes as much faith, or more faith, to live every day trusting God and knowing that God cares and God loves you than to believe that on this particular day God is going to heal.

It all comes back to the whole concept of healing and the sovereignty of God. In my ministry, even recently, I’ve seen people healed of major illnesses such as cancer. It’s so exciting. People have come to me and said, “I was dying of cancer. I was in your meeting last year, and God healed me.” Then I come home, and my son still has autism.

Kay and I just have to trust God. But we look forward to the day, if Jason is not healed in this life, when God will heal him for all eternity. Whenever I hear “When the Saints Go Marching In,” I envision all the used-to-be people at the head of that parade — the used-to-be-blind, the used-to-be-lame, the used-to-be-autistic. They’ll be at the front of the parade, and they’ll have the greatest appreciation for what eternal wholeness will mean.


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