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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. ...

Outdoor Therapy

By John W. Kennedy
Aug. 18, 2013

It took multiple tragedies as well as years of bitterness before Jason J. Bland relented and repented to the Lord — in the midst of his disability.

The setbacks included being sexually abused as a boy, nearly killing his son, a divorce, alcohol and drug addiction, a serious traffic accident, suicidal depression, and an infection that led to a partial leg amputation.

“I lived a selfish life and manipulated people,” Bland, 41, recalls of his younger days. “Until I died to myself, I kept going back to the same struggles. Now I can look back and see the transformation God allowed in my life.”

In early adulthood, the self-proclaimed “Louisiana country boy from the swamp” had periods of sobriety, but he repeatedly returned to drinking alcohol and using methamphetamine and cocaine.

An inebriated Bland drove his pickup over his then 3-year-old son and fractured the boy’s skull.

“You would think running over my little boy would have made me realize I needed to do things differently,” Bland says. “But when you’re an addict, old friends come around. I fell into the same trap of using and abusing again.”

Another pickup accident eventually put Bland on the path to God, although at a physical price. In 2005, the year his first marriage ended, Bland drove his 3/4-ton pickup too fast, hydroplaned on a slick road, hit a culvert, and got ejected into the murky water that filled the culvert. While lying in the ditch, Bland says he heard a voice saying, I have plans for you. He wouldn’t understand the message until much later.

In the meantime, Bland spent six days hospitalized in a coma. Operations left him with three plates and 27 screws in his right leg. Seven months after the accident, Bland — a physical therapist — looked at his X-rays and saw that a drill bit had been left behind in his right leg. That had caused osteomyelitis, a bone infection.

Almost a year after the wreck, he agreed to have the leg amputated below the right knee to stop the excruciating pain.

Racked with depression, Bland considered taking his own life, but he says he heard a voice in his head: I have better plans for you. Finally, Bland sought help from a treatment center for his alcohol and substance abuse. There he determined he couldn’t heal himself. After finishing the treatment program, Bland surrendered his life to Christ, and says he heard the message about life plans for a third time.

Bland’s girlfriend and future wife, Chasity, proved influential in the turnaround. A Christian, she got him involved in church and helped him stay sober. They married in 2008. Bland says he now has a cordial relationship with his first wife.

“I had to quit pointing my finger at her and accept responsibility that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Bland says. “I could have preserved my family if I had been a man of God back then.”

Nevertheless, Bland has a good relationship with his children. Hunter is now 14 and fully recovered from the tragedy with the truck. Daughter Ashlyn is 9. Both have professed Jesus as Lord. Bland sees them every other weekend, and the three-hour drive between parental homes gives him opportunities to speak into the children’s lives.

“I teach them the importance of being in church, reading the Bible, and not doing drugs,” Bland says. “I teach my son to respect women.”

In 2010, Bland says God gave him the vision for his purpose: Trinity Outdoors Disabled Awareness. Based in Youngsville, La., TODA is a Christian-based nonprofit support group that has offered more than 250 disabled people one-on-one fishing, camping and hunting trips, as well as provided sponsorships to summer faith-based camps. Donors cover most of the expenses.

“Teaching others has been God’s way of molding me,” Bland says. “We are here to show disabled individuals and their families that through the beauty of the outdoors we can build lasting relationships.”

Some of the participants are severely disabled because of traumatic events or congenital birth defects. Bland encourages them all, including a disabled man he talked into leaving his house for the first time in seven years when they went on a rabbit hunt.

“There are so many things God has to offer the disabled,” Bland says. “People may not get well or healed, but they are still able to rely on God.”

TODA doesn’t require participants to embrace Christianity. Bland wants to show God’s love by helping the disabled have an enjoyable experience, regardless of their spiritual state.

“If someone had spoken into my life when I was experiencing emotional pain, I wouldn’t have ended up in rehab,” Bland says.

Bland says he seeks God’s guidance before embarking on any adventure.

“We pray first for God’s anointing so we can deliver His message and that it will be effective in the person’s life,” Bland says. “We try to give individuals not only a purpose to continue to live, but to draw closer to God.”

A couple of years ago, Shane Stelly of Lafayette, La., took his 14-year-old son, Shae, on a whitetail deer hunt with Bland near Natchez, Miss. Stelly calls it a father-son opportunity of a lifetime.

Shae has congenital neural muscular dystrophy and sits in an electronic wheelchair. With TODA special equipment, Shae used a joystick to move a display monitor and scope. Through “sip-and-puff” technology that activates an electronic trigger, Shae successfully shot a deer.

“I had given up hunting, but this opened up new vistas for my son and me,” Stelly says.

Matt Matherne, 35, has taken an active role in TODA after going on a deer hunt with Bland last year. Matherne has been a paraplegic since a car crash seven years ago. Ten months after his accident, Matherne’s wife died of cancer, leaving him with three children under the age of 6.

Matherne says he bonded with Bland on the hunting trip, where he could ride an all-terrain type of vehicle up a ramp to a deer stand.

“He talked about his struggles, and I told him about some of the things I’ve gone through,” Matherne says. Now Matherne helps with TODA fundraising and finding sponsors for events.

“This organization has given me a purpose,” Matherne says. “Knowing that I’m contributing to something bigger than me that can help other people is a blessing. I like to give encouragement to other people and tell them their life isn’t over.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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