PART TWO – Pentecost to Israel (cont.)
Lil Damsgaard was another co-worker in her late fifties, early sixties – a fearful woman. If she perceived a threat from anyone, she would lash out viciously. There was a time when, without warrant, she lashed out at me, and then boasted about it to others.
The Lord gave me a vision of her:
I saw her as a naked woman, filthy dirty, in a barred cage about four feet cubed. She sat in it with her knees raised up. She would lash out with inches-long nails at anyone coming near.
What would her end be?
John Peters, a young married man from Mennonite background, came to be with ARC Industries for a while. We clashed because of my faith.
He reminded me of Fred Penner, the former singer and musician of a CBC television program for children, in that they both seemed somehow embittered in their experience of religion and found it particularly offensive when someone would share doctrine with them not in keeping with their personal sour take on life. They both tried to put on a friendly front, like everything was okay. I would liken it to when one says his health is just fine, yet his complexion is sallow, his eye twitches, and his body shivers because he’s running a temperature.
One day while we were talking, I had a prophetic Word from God for John. I didn’t know what I was saying, but he did, and his reaction was one of shock that I could say something like that, as if asking, “How could you possibly know these things? Who told you?”
Not recognizing it immediately for what it was, I toned things down somehow, and he was appeased. I regret the appeasement, because I now suspect God was using me to confront him on secret sin. If I could remember the content, I would gladly relate it. Perhaps it worked on him thereafter, notwithstanding my cushioning the impact.
The “trainees,” as those taken care of at ARC were known, were all adults, but quite childish or undeveloped in attitude and mentality. Or were they merely less sophisticated in hiding their faults and weaknesses than “normal” people? That could well be more accurate.
I marveled at how they were unpretentious, and their faults and weaknesses were essentially no different from those of “normal” people, only undisguised and naturally exaggerated. I also marveled at how many of them had particular special abilities superior to those in mainstream society.
I began to realize that we are all handicapped in some way, but quite dishonest about it. We are more cunning and skilled at masking ourselves than the simpler and humbler.
To some, mentally handicapped people can be very strange; to others, they are even discomforting or frightening, though they are most often more harmless than “normal” people. I recall when Ernie Ryz, Gordie’s older brother, was running for mayor of Dauphin. Coming into ARC on his campaign rounds, he was genuinely afraid of the people. The fear was strange.
Michael, a part native boy, had a knack for numbers and could rhyme off mathematical calculations the average person couldn’t. “Hey, do you know what 48 times 67 is?” he would ask. When I admitted I didn’t, he would give the correct answer, chuckle, and finish off with, “Pretty good, eh?”
Michael was also skilled as a pickpocket. He would steal wallets or valuables from people, particularly when they were on the floor with a seizure (which happened on occasion). Even as people stood by watching, they were oblivious to his handiwork.
There was Dougie Mondor, who collected phone books and maps of any kind. He loved receiving and giving affection. He also had a passionate interest in native Indians, particularly for dark skin and long black hair. He could tell you the location of every reservation in North America and what tribes lived there.
He loved fur to the point of going silly over it. His reaction when seeing a fur collar or coat was to stroke it, without invitation, and go, “Purrrrr,” in a strange voice.
Dougie also had a sense of humor. Once when he was upset with Marg, knowing the JW’s stood against blood transfusions, he mumbled something about ordering a truck of blood sausage and having it dropped off on the doorstep of her home.
There was Dennis Tourand, who thought he was “Fonzie,” or some street-smart tough guy. He was angry with me one day and attacked me. Sadly, or happily for me, he was very weak and physically incapable of hurting anyone, though he was ready to have it out with me, threatening and defying me as he imagined Fonzie might.
Attraction usually has little to do with physical appearance. Dennis was quite homely, but that didn’t discourage Debbie Tycholis from being his girlfriend, who at times had some innocent and humorous attention for me, too.
Bobbie Wiebe was a chubby Down Syndrome fellow; he could be bashful, very funny, creative, and wasn’t easily offended or insulted. He loved affection, as do most of those with Down’s. He had occasional seizures, which would cause a commotion among both trainees and staff.
There was Jimmy, another friendly Down’s trainee. I first met him when I was a little kid. He lived at St. Paul’s, a Catholic care facility operated by nuns, who would bring him to church. I am told that the average life span of someone with Down’s was about 30 years. Jimmy was 52.
There was Kenny Syshka, another Down’s fellow, who loved to tease and torment others and laugh about it, especially if he saw he was getting to them.
There was one girl who would be particularly annoyed, and he would tease her all the more. He was mischievous.
There was Hope, a young pretty girl, who looked quite normal, and from whom more might be expected than should or could be. She would often tease and flirt with me – innocently, I think. I often found myself a bit embarrassed as she approached me before others, and I had to try to restrain her.
I had to manage myself, mentally and spiritually, for she was a temptation, if only for thoughts.
There was Ronnie Timm, son of Howard Timm. Ronnie was quite medicated in order to control his temperament. He was fairly big and strong, and when in a bad mood, he could become dangerous. Often, he would slam his big hard hand on the table and send things shaking and crashing. The men would try to calm him, but he could be quite uncontrollable and violent.
I was of the persuasion that force should be met with force (though not always), and I saw that when Ronnie got mad, all were intimidated, staff included. I suggested that Ronnie needed to think twice before he proceeded to terrorize, that he also had a conscience and more ability to reason than they gave him credit for, and the way to make him think twice was to have a stick ready for him and use it. Nobody agreed.
One day, when he created another ruckus with one of his tantrums, I took a heavy stick after him, swatting him on the rear end a couple of times. I expected him to turn on me, but he didn’t. He backed off, growled a bit, and ceased his tantrum. I don’t recall having nearly the same problems with him after that.
However, there were two other fears now. The staff was looking at me like I was the one to be feared, and Ronnie’s dad, chairman of the board for ARC, might have something to say about it. I didn’t touch Ronnie again, things seemed to settle down with him, and nobody said a word to me about it.
It seems I’m more of the Churchill, than the Chamberlain, persuasion.
There was Donny Jordan, a giant Teddy bear full of both humor and sobriety. His mother, Betty, volunteered her help in ceramics, and his father was on the board. Donny had terrible feet, yet he walked all he could, often talking to himself. He had more abilities than most, and could talk forever if you let him.
There was Dennis Ewasiuk, in his late 20’s, who began to wear a football helmet because, when he had seizures, he would be slammed to the floor backwards and split open the skin on his head. Wearing the helmet, he then began falling forward and splitting his throat, leaving blood all over the floor, so they made him also wear a padded chinstrap. He was always on medications.
I wondered how it was that his fall changed after he got the helmet. Surely, he didn’t determine it. I suspected that he had been taken over by a violent spirit that sought to destroy him, just as with the boy in the Gospels who was thrown into fire or water by the spirit that possessed him.
I asked Dennis if he could tell me when the seizures started. He said he was sitting in class one day as a young boy, perhaps around age 12, when he got super angry with a fellow student. He grabbed something in a rage and hit the boy over the head. From that time on, he had seizures. I knew then that he had given himself over to rage, and thus a destructive spirit of rage took possession of him.
As he willingly talked with me, I saw an intense hatred in his eyes – somewhat similar to what I would see in the eyes of Uncle Fred Hafichuk and Aunt Lillian Hafichuk, except with Dennis, it didn’t seem to be personally directed at me.
I wanted to talk to his parents to tell them what I had found, believing I needed their consent to deliver him (likely I was wrong), but doubting they would believe me. For some reason, it never happened, and Dennis remained in his terrible state.
Now that I consider it, I realize he knew where his problem began, I could have gotten him to realize the connection and acknowledge his wrong, and I could then have prayed for his deliverance. I wasn’t prepared, however, to minister in the power of the Spirit. It wasn’t my time, or my faith was lacking, or both.
Dennis had a girlfriend, Carol, who was also on meds constantly. She was the one Kenny Syshka loved to tease.
There was a girl who had been there but a short while. She approached me, asking me to come into a private room adjoining the work area with her. I did so, thinking she wanted to talk about something that was troubling her. She closed the door on us and immediately kissed and embraced me. I restrained her and gently but firmly told her this wasn’t appropriate. She didn’t seem to understand or didn’t care to understand.
I opened the door, realizing I had gotten myself into a compromised position. What if someone had opened the door just at the right (or wrong) moment? “What would they think?” I wondered. Because of my faith and spiritual stance, I had no doubt someone there might gladly have taken advantage of the situation, to my detriment.
There was Frances Milowski, about 50 years of age, who worked in ceramics and did most of the sanding of clay pieces. She was a mute, and if someone offended her, she would hiss and spit. Sometimes I tried to distribute her sanding workload to others, because she couldn’t keep up with the production. She would become terribly jealous and sulk, but eventually, she capitulated. She enjoyed praise, as they all did.
Frances also had her idiosyncrasies. She had iron-on decals of animals on her coat, of bears or buffalo, and I was to find out how attached she was to them.
She would walk close to a mile from her home, where caregivers were well paid through governmental social assistance to care for her. “Caregivers” is a loose word for these people, because while good money was paid them for all necessities, it was apparent, in many cases, that the “caregivers” benefited more than those entrusted to their “care.”
The winters in Manitoba can be very cold, and Frances walked to the shop in almost all weather. I saw that she had old well-worn winter boots and a coat that was too old and thin for cold weather, so I decided to buy her a new coat and boots. I took her downtown, had her try on and choose what she would, and bought them for her. I had the salesclerk bag her old belongings and give them to me. I didn’t give them back to Frances. She was happy to receive a new coat and boots, but something was missing….
The next day, she was very moody. I discovered that she wanted her old coat back; I had suspected this might be possible, so I hadn’t discarded it. I shook my head. I thought, “I took away her rags and freely gave her clothing to comfort her in weather that could reach –40 degrees and she resents that I took her old coat and boots?” I marveled.
Then I was told that she was quite attached to those dirty worn decals that were on her coat. I returned the old coat and boots to her, she removed the decals, put them on her new coat, and was happy again… and warm. I was glad I hadn’t disposed of the old as I had thought to do.
The Lord drove home a lesson to me in that experience. I had been struggling over, and pining after, my family, friends, and those things the Lord had removed from me while giving me new life, which transcended any loss. He rebuked me by Frances, showing me that just as she pined away after her old decals and couldn’t appreciate the new she had been graciously given, so it was with me. I was thankful for that experience. In giving to Frances, God rewarded me with repentance from my attitude, which resulted in a measure of peace and thankfulness thereafter.
There were two sisters, Frances and Stella, short, stubby, chubby Ukrainian characters, full of energy and humor, never able to sit still, having more going for them than most trainees, yet still handicapped.
There was John Scott, who would wheel and deal any way he could to get what he wanted. He was forever thinking, inventing, manipulating, scheming, and conning, yet innocently, or so it seemed.
There was Tom Saunders, an older fellow who was usually quite serious, often frustrated, suspicious, skeptical, confused, cranky, and impatient, yet evidencing a social conscience, trying to be friendly and humorous.
There was Johnny, a jumpy little fellow, perhaps the most severely handicapped there, who wasn’t capable of much, yet one could find – with attention, kindness, and patience (none of which I can say I had to any sufficient degree at any time) – that there was a person there after all.
There was Wally, an older fellow, somewhat lazy, cynical, and stubborn, yet easy to get along with;
Bernie, who was very dependent on medications. Not having them, he would be irrational, agitated, angry, and perhaps violent;
Alan, a fellow in his fifties, who tried so hard to get you to agree with him and see things his way;
Tony, an older Down’s victim, quiet, one hardly noticed;
And Peter Basaraba, who was mildly handicapped, cooperative, quiet, and friendly.
There were a few others I don’t recall, each of whom had their gifts, strengths, foibles, and sometimes surprising abilities. Working with them was an education I needed for what was to come.
It was humbling working at the Adult Rehabilitation Center as a low-skilled, low-paid employee after having been an executive with the Hudson’s Bay Company and rising to manage departments greater than all of ARC and with many more employees. The family was apparently ashamed of me, as were my friends. But it was, nevertheless, all good.
I recall Mrs. Dewar, who came to volunteer her time to help the trainees in ceramics. She was quite proud of her daughter, Heather, a former high school classmate of mine. She declared that Heather was doing very well, managing a staff of several people in an accounting firm, I believe.
My immediate thought was that if she thought Heather was doing so well because of these things, it should logically translate that I wasn’t doing so well, when, about sixteen years later, I was only making minimum wage, seeing we had the same starting point in one respect. I thought to say that there is more to life than financial, organizational, social, or other kinds of accomplishments, but I didn’t have it to say. Perhaps I misunderstood where she was coming from.
Yet it is interesting and noteworthy that Mrs. Dewar reared to success a child she was proud of, one who apparently outstripped me in social and occupational prominence, and now this mother was helping me work with handicapped people as a volunteer, under my supervision.
Something to think about? What’s great? What’s important? What’s worthwhile? Was Heather’s work managing an accounting firm more important than working at ARC, where the Lord had her mother and me at that time, for His purposes?
Marilyn and I were invited to Randy Wilson‘s wedding in Steinbach, Manitoba in the late seventies. It was a fancy fair-sized event. He married a Mennonite girl, and Mennonites can have a large community; theirs was.
A great degree of formality, pomp, and ceremony was evident throughout the event. Why is it so important to be so stuffy? Is it not pretense and vanity, especially for those calling themselves Christians, who are supposed to be set free of such things? But they see nothing wrong with such conduct and atmosphere; indeed, that’s the usual atmosphere most churches operate in.
In the washroom, I ran into Larry Rempel, Randy’s quiet companion from Henry Blackaby’s Christian Training Center in Saskatoon. Larry had changed. In Bible school in 1974, he had short hair, a friendly disposition, though shy, and took pains to display a “Christ-like” temperament. Now he had long hair (which, for a man, is considered rebellion in evangelical circles) and didn’t hesitate to air his bitterness and resentment toward God. He didn’t mind saying things to me that could be offensive, though I could see his painful state and wasn’t offended.
I wondered why he was there if he was so cynical with God. I supposed he simply came to the wedding of a friend he had known. More than once have I seen such a tragedy, and it’s never a pretty sight. I believe these people turn because their hearts weren’t established in the faith from the start. I would come to learn that the church systems often fostered such tragedies.
Months after their wedding, Randy and his wife paid us a surprise visit at the Thorndale Apartments. He professed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but there was no indication of it. They had joined Operation Mobilization, thinking there was no conflict between their experience in the Spirit of the Lord and the organization. We had learned differently firsthand. There was no doubt in my mind that Randy didn’t have what we were talking about, but he wouldn’t listen. We haven’t seen or heard from him since.
In the fall of 1977, Marilyn and I decided to drive up to the Riding Mountains just a few miles south of Dauphin. It was beautiful and quiet in the fall, the fragrance of the mountains at that time of year a special experience. We took a lunch and went walking. This was months after receiving the troubling warning letter from Mickey Patrick and going to the Richardson meeting at Orange Hall, where we had heard a prophetic word for my sake from the girl with the head covering.
There, in the quiet of our walk in the mountains, the Lord spoke to me, telling me that Dave Roberts and Bill Kellers were beasts. As a reward for believing Him, He was giving me a revelation of how, or from what, He was keeping us.
Beasts? How so? He was telling us something we didn’t understand, and He didn’t explain, but we were amazed, knowing it was true. We would find out much more, years later.
Then and there, we were coming to understand another truth as well. I realized that God expected us to believe first, and then He would explain or reveal what He was doing. In our determination, months earlier, to believe Him concerning Kellers and Roberts, He later revealed more.
It’s our natural inclination to seek proof before we act. We mistakenly call it “getting a confirmation,” thinking it the right thing to do, lest we find ourselves doing something with which God isn’t pleased, something to our hurt or loss.
Jesus condemned such an approach: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given it…” (Matthew 12:39).
We discovered the difference between signs and confirmations. Signs are sought after and never received, except from the enemy, who is pleased to provide them in order to deceive and destroy. Signs are never from God.
Signs are sought by the unbelieving, self-preserving, and disobedient.
Confirmations are from God and freely given, following faith and obedience.
True signs are to follow those who believe (Mark 16:17), not lead them. These signs come through believers, not to them, to be witnessed by others, even all the world.
The staff of ARC Industries was sent to Brandon, Manitoba for a week-long training session in Behavior Modification. An instructor discussed prisons and how there were measures to remove pornography from the inmates. “Let them have the porn!” she declared. “What can it hurt there? What else do they have?” she laughingly remarked.
The audience was entertained, but I wasn’t going to let her remarks go by. I stood up and spoke.
“With gusto, I disagree with you!” I said. “These men are in jail, cut off from society, particularly women, and you propose adding to their frustration by giving them porn? Is that not a recipe for trouble? Why tempt and frustrate them? Won’t they try to satisfy their lusts in destructive ways, both to themselves and to others? How can you, an instructor in ‘behavior modification,’ think, much less teach, such things?”
I was angry. It created a stir in the meeting room of about 100 or more instructors from all over Manitoba. She was taken aback and withdrew her line of discussion, trying to suggest there was no big deal to it. I disagreed again, saying it was indeed bigger than she perceived.
Thereafter, in small group discussions, wherein we were learning how to deal with others by looking for, and speaking, “encouraging” and “positive” things to one another, I perceived the enemy coming at me with flatteries such as, “You’re really a morally strong person. You stand by your convictions and aren’t afraid to speak up for what you believe.”
While they seemed sincere, not sarcastic, I perceived Satan appealing to the ego. I denied there was anything good about me or about any person, but I also felt the power of flattery; it wasn’t easy to resist.