Walt Disney’s Legacy – It all started with a Compassionate Mouse

 Walt Disney was a genius. He was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States of America. His parents were Elias Disney‍ and Flora. He was a man of vision, with big dreams. He didn’t just live in a world of dreams, he actively set out to make them happen. Those dreams have impacted on the lives of millions of children, young people and adults all over the world – even in some of the poorest nations of the earth. You don’t have to be physically in Disneyland – you can be transported into Walt Disney’s magical world by just reading a comic book or playing with a Disney soft toy or by just looking at a picture of Mickey Mouse. As children we  clamored for all things Disney, but we didn’t have access to them. I recollect they weren’t even available in stores in Colombo, Sri Lanka, certainly not anything from America back then.  My Dad bought us three Disney toothbrush holders – Mickey, Minnie and Donald. Just by looking at the figures as we brushed our teeth, we were reminded of these cartoon characters.

micket toothebrushI was born on an island in the Indian Ocean called  Ceylon, it is now called Sri Lanka. We didn’t have the funds as a family to travel from Ceylon to Disney in Anaheim, California in the 1960s or 1970s. But that did not stop us from dreaming about Disney’s characters. There was no television in 1960s Ceylon. However Disney films were screened in cinemas in Colombo, from time to time. Our favorite was ‘Mary Poppins,’ starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film released in 1964 was directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney. It received 13 Oscar nominations and won 5 Oscars. After seeing the film in Colombo, we learnt a new word: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 Back in the 1960s there was a travelling book salesman who would come to our home with a suitcase strapped to the back of his bicycle. This ingenious entrepreneur would bring a selection of books with him. My grandfather was a voracious reader so there was a ready made target market in our home! The travelling salesman would go house to house, visiting homes – inside that suitcase was a treasure trove of books and yes comic books. My parents couldn’t even afford to give us pocket money but our grandfather, out of the kindness of his heart, would buy us a few comic books. There were many power outages, sometimes daily ‘power cuts’ as we used to call them when we were growing up in Colombo – we would stick a candle on a tin and read these books!

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That’s when we first came across the magic of Disney on an island in the Indian Ocean, far removed from the magical kingdom built by Walt Disney in Anaheim in Southern California, in the United States of America.

We seem to have handed down our love for Disney to our children. Our son was born in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. By that time the market was flooded with books, DVDs, CD music, cartoons on the television networks that he could watch and experience the magic of Disney. Charin first came across Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Pluto, Scrooge and all the lovable Disney characters, when he was about three or four years old in the 1990s.

Charin was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism has been defined as a ‘complex developmental disability’ appearing in the first three years of life. We bought him Disney videos and he loved them. He used to giggle with laughter and as some children with autism like to do, he used to wind and re-wind the video to the funny parts and look at the scenes over and over again – and scream with laughter. Those Disney pictures stayed inside him.

Charin fell in love with Disney long before he visited Florida. Even though Charin had withdrawn into his own world he was still very visual – Chari thinks differently- in pictures and numbers. Temple Grandin the leading US animal behavior expert who has autism once said: ‘I think in pictures. My mind is like Google images.’ It fits in very well with what Walt Disney imagined, Walt Disney said: “Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

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Charin at first was not aware of Disneyland in Florida – he had watched all the videos. Our son is a whizz on computers and as he kept looking at websites he came across the Disney websites and then he kept telling us ‘I want to go to Florida.’ That would be his ‘dream holiday,’ A holiday of a lifetime. Finally, we were able to fulfil that promise to our precious son. Life is hard for him and for us but we thank God we were able to use some unexpected money via an ISA which came our way to take him to Florida. It brought joy to his heart.  Walt Disney was absolutely right. Charin was transported into a magical world – it was truly awe-inspiring for him. He loved every minute of it. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach…….Charin has been there, done it, worn the t-shirt. Charin had fallen in love with the world of Walt Disney.

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Meanwhile we had heard favorable reports from other British families with autism about their experiences in Florida. People were blogging about it, talking about it. During our holiday to Disneyland in Florida, we were able to present Mickey and Minnie Mouse with a very special Gold Autism Award for spreading that magic to families with autism from the UK. The award was presented to the Vice-President of Disney, Greg Hale, at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Charin was also invited to present the award to Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. He was absolutely thrilled.

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Many more families with autism are travelling to Disneyland in Florida, to experience that magic. We had prepared him for the journey with a visual timetable. We contacted the airport authorities, the travel company and the airline. Families with autism can never ever take anything for granted. Some young people with autism have a fear of the unknown. Charin wants to know exactly what is going to happen next. When help and support is forthcoming, it really makes it an easier task for families with autism to travel whether it is local, national or international travel. In the past we have worked very closely with Orlando International Airport and Sanford International Airport and the airlines, with regards to families with autism travelling with them. Our campaigning days are over but we were grateful for the opportunity to share with people about the travel needs of families who have children or young people with autism, after all they are paying customers too. On a recent visit we were thrilled to see cast members with disabilities including cerebral palsy and autism being involved as employees – for example making announcements. That was wonderful to see them playing a role as cast members at Walt Disney World. Their lives were being valued by the Walt Disney Company. There are business benefits in employing people with disabilities.

We found the cast members at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California so helpful and supportive. We recently visited Disney in California, the cast member at Guest Relations took her time to explain everything to us and to our son. She did not rush us and we were grateful for the time taken and the care given to a family with autism. She looked into our son’s eyes, gave him eye contact and spoke to him, personally, about the day. I have to place on record that it was exemplary customer service. That was our experience.

Charin is into all things hi-tech, he loved Epcot and the hi-tech gadgets. On our  2012 trip to Orlando, we visited Typhoon Beach for the first time and Charin enjoyed every minute of it – although he made a beeline to safety when he saw the six foot wave coming his way! Charin enjoyed the Phineas and Ferb’s agent’s mission at Epcot. He felt like an agent and took the assignment very seriously. Our son was rather scared of the faster rides so anything slow was his cup of tea! His favorite place is Magic Kingdom, he loved to get lost in it. This is where Walt Disney’s ‘magic’ came alive for Charin – whether it was the afternoon parade.(he even danced with his mother following the back of the parade), or Toy Story, Stitch, Star Wars, Soaring, the amazing Castle and all the other characters. It was almost like being on a continuous film set for our son. He enjoyed this constant film reel of pictures and characters.

Charin was fascinated by Walt Disney’s life and he wanted to return to Hollywood Studios to see Walt Disney’s office, his first drawings of Mickey Mouse and his desk.
It was amazing how Charin was able to make the connections between the creator and the creation. It was a striking visual picture for him.

It all started with a Mouse. But the legacy of that mouse has brought the magic, the enjoyment, the laughter, the sense of awe and wonderment even into the life of a young person with autism.

Joy is a fruit of the spirit, when you walk into the Magic Kingdom or any other Disney Park you can clearly see joy on the faces of children and indeed the adults!

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The sheer pleasure of seeing Charin’s face break into a smile has made it all worthwhile for us as a family. Walt Disney’s World was a very enjoyable and fascinating world for this young man of ours. And yes, he wants to return to Disneyland, again and again and again!

Walt Disney was a Compassionate Leader. He doted on his girls. I think his number one desire was to make them happy. He viewed his children through the eyes of compassion, Disney was very much a family man. Disney has been quoted as saying: ‘The most important thing is family.’ He wanted his children to enjoy their childhood. He wanted them to have fun. The ideas just kept coming out of his imaginative mind. Walt Disney was a visionary. He dreamt of establishing an amusement park – Disneyland fired up his imagination – it was going to be a family friendly park where a child’s imagination can run riot. He really believed in what he was doing. Walt Disney was a transformational and charismatic leader. He was an expert in the art of communication and made sure he communicated the vision to his team. Disney has been hailed as one of the most creative minds of all time and led America’s golden age of animation.

Disney wanted to create a world that made people happy. His television show Disneyland became an absolute phenomenon. Children started calling him ‘Uncle Walt.’ He once said: ‘Fancy being remembered around the world for the invention of a mouse!” Disney holds the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22 Oscars from 59 nominations. Disney also earned 3 Golden Globe Awards and 1 Emmy Award. There were many times he experienced failure in his life, he even lost the rights to his first cartoon creation ‘Oswald the Rabbit,’ together with his artists. Despite that setback he picked himself up and went on to create the highly successful ‘Mickey Mouse.’ Walt Disney never gave up on his  dreams, despite experiencing in his own words: ‘a case of the D.D.s – disillusionment and discouragement.’

Walt Disney also used empathy as a powerful leadership tool, stories abound of Disney sending his employees to join lines and to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and see it through their eyes, in order to learn from it and improve on these experiences, in an effort to make things better for people visiting Disneyland. By becoming the other you open up a world of understanding and Walt Disney’s aim was to make every single visitor enjoy the experience. Walt Disney said: “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want them to feel they’re in another world.” He also said: “I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place–a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.”

Walt Disney was hugely optimistic about the future of the United States of America. In 1971 his love for America inspired the creation of the Hall of Presidents – he honored the nation by honoring the American Presidency – our son absolutely loves the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida:

This is the first ever Mickey Mouse cartoon film created by Walt Disney and his team of artists and  premiered on the 18th of November, 1928 at the Colony Theater in New York City. . It was the first ever cartoon that used sound to complement the visual pictures – it became an instant smash hit. LIFE Magazine enthused: ‘Everybody liked Mickey. The children who thought he was funny, the philosophers who thought he represented America’s raucous individualism, the aesthetes who saw in him the first successful adjustment of linear design to the fluttering motion of films.’ Mickey Mouse became an overnight star.

Here are Walt Disney’s Top 10 rules of success:

  1. Show some magic
  2. Invest in Knowledge
  3. Diversify
  4. Know your goals
  5. Try it on a small scale
  6. Experiment
  7. Help your Community
  8. Go with your feeling
  9. Day dream
  10. Have a sense of humor

Ivan Corea

Here is an interesting article from the Disney Institute – Leadership lessons from Walt Disney – How to inspire your Team: https://www.disneyinstitute.com/blog/leadership-lessons-from-walt-disney–how-to/

Tim Tebow and his “Night to Shine” global event for Special Needs

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Tim Tebow is a big man with a big heart. It is absolutely incredible what he is doing to lift up and show compassion to people with special needs, not just in the United States of America, but all over the world. He has set up a hugely successful ‘Night to Shine’ event in the United States. In his own words: ‘The vision of Night to Shine is to love people with special needs, it’s to bring churches together and to ultimately change the world through the eyes of people with special needs. February 8th (in 2019), will truly be a night people will never forget.’

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So what is ‘Night to Shine?’ Tim Tebow is a devout Christian. His number one priority in life is his faith in God. He has established a Tim Tebow Foundation as a Christian Ministry, an act of faith, focusing on celebrating the lives of all people with special needs. According to his Foundation website: ‘Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centred on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. This February 8, 2019, Night to Shine will celebrate its fifth anniversary! On one night, 655 churches from around the world came together to host Night to Shine for approximately 100,000 honored guests through the support of 200,000 volunteers! ‘ This is partnership working at its finest, aimed at loving and celebrating people with special needs.

People with special needs are given the Royal treatment. Red carpets, ball gowns, tuxedos, good food, the works. This night stands out. This event also brings together volunteers from local communities, they come to serve people with special needs. What an amazing event that reaches out in love to all those with special needs. Tim Tebow once posted a verse from the Bible on his Facebook page which sums up what he is doing for the most vulnerable sections of society: “‪Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you. ” Ephesians, Chapter 4:32‬

The lives of people with special needs have worth and value. As the chorus goes, ‘all are precious in His sight.’ My wife and I campaigned long and hard for autism in the United Kingdom and around the world since the year 2000. We founded Autism Sunday, also know as the International Day of Prayer for Autism, to celebrate the lives of 67 million people with autism. We just did it all of this for love, never for the money. We didn’t have millions to pay for expensive PR campaigns, we were just parents and caregivers, by a miracle it spread around the world, by word of mouth. Coincidentally, Autism Sunday falls just two days after Tim Tebow’s ‘Night to Shine’ event on Sunday the 10th February in 2019. Our campaigning days are over as we believe God is taking our family in another direction. Seasons come and go but hope lives on.

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We have a precious son, Charin who is on the autism spectrum, he is 23 years old. When we were in the United Kingdom Charin attended a special needs secondary school (high school). After students completed their studies in the Sixth Form, (in the UK that is Year 12 and 13), the school held an annual Prom for them, very similar to the ‘Night to Shine’ event in the United States. That was the first occasion that our son wore a black suit, bow tie, black shoes and attended a Prom – it was also the first ever occasion he danced with another special needs girl! Charin was so excited, (and we were as excited as our son, life has been a struggle for him and for us but we so thank God that he has been a blessing to us), our son knew this was something very different. He had heard about the School Proms from films he has watched and shrieked with joy when he was dressing up to attend the prom.

My wife and I found the Prom in our son’s special needs school in the United Kingdom so touching and moving. We were very proud to see our son looking so dapper and seeing his moves on the dance floor – for the first time! He also loved the food! My wife had to drag me away from the scene as I was transfixed and deeply moved! I was  thankful to God, for this moment of compassion, seeing our son celebrating and being celebrated in this way, at his first ever Prom in the United Kingdom. It was a beautiful sight to behold. I salute Tim Tebow for embracing this concept and bringing joy into the lives of people with special needs with his “Night to Shine” event. This is a wonderful act of kindness and compassion.

 Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines on August 14, 1987. He is a former professional American football quarterback and is a current professional baseball outfielder in the New York Mets organization. He has played college football for the University of Florida, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and appearing on BCS National Championship -winning teams during the 2006 and 2008 seasons. Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and spent two seasons with the team. He also played for the New York Jets in 2012. Additionally, he had preseason stints with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and 2015.

Wherever he goes, Tim Tebow shares his faith in Jesus Christ – on the football field he was known for having the verse John 3:16 on his face patches. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Perhaps his greatest success has been to set up the Tim Tebow Foundation and to launch the  inspirational “Night to Shine” event, helping churches to celebrate all people with special needs and that includes starting up a whole worldwide movement to help churches establish infrastructure – in order to welcome and support people with special needs into churches, within  a spirit of love and compassion.

When I think of Tim Tebow, this song comes to my mind. His actions on earth are a reflection of the actions of his Heavenly Father. ‘You raise me up to more than I can be,’ says the song, so I can stand on mountains – there is always hope, even for young people with special needs, their parents and their caregivers.

As a father of a young man with autism, I want to thank Tim Tebow, from the bottom of my heart, for raising up people with special needs, for bringing joy into their lives, for celebrating their lives, for showing them love and compassion with his ‘Night to Shine’ event. He is an all American hero and above everything else a wonderful servant of God who embodies Compassionate Leadership. He brings a touch of Heaven into the lives of the most vulnerable sections of society. He truly is a Servant Leader.

Here are Tim Tebow’s Top 10 Rules for Success – lessons in leadership:

  1. Pursue your passion.
  2. Strive for excellence.
  3. Focus on your goals.
  4. Change lives.
  5. Block out the criticism.
  6. Always give your best.
  7. Set your priorities.
  8. Rise after falling.
  9. Believe in yourself.
  10. Work hard.

Ivan Corea

To support the Tim Tebow Foundation, please access the link:

https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/

Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia and the Tim Tebow Foundation.

Films courtesy of Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

The Compassionate Baroness and the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre

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Caroline Cox, a Baroness in the House of Lords, in the British Parliament, is one of the kindest, most caring and compassionate women I have ever met. She has such a heart for the most vulnerable sections of society. She has truly been a ‘voice for the voiceless’ and has championed human rights around the world – she is a woman of faith and that has been the guiding light, in whatever she has done. There are those who agree to disagree with her, but she carries on regardless, ‘speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.’

Decades ago, Caroline Cox replied one of my letters when I was campaigning on behalf of parents, care givers and people with autism – you could sense the compassion in her. Caroline Cox is no fake. She is the real deal. In 2015 Biola University in the United States of America invited a Baroness for the first time, to address 225 graduates and 725 under graduates at their Spring Commencement ceremonies. On that occasion Biola University presented her with the Chuck Colson Award for Conviction and Courage. Recipients of the award are individuals who demonstrate commitment to the unshakeable truths of a biblical worldview, as well as a willingness to act on biblical convictions, however risky or challenging it may be.

An Armenian organisation in the United States, awarded her with the ANCA-WR ‘Advocate for Justice’ award in 2018. She has always been a powerful voice for the voiceless. She is the founder and CEO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), which combines aid with advocacy, working for people suffering from oppression, exploitation and persecution.

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In 2018 Caroline Cox asked me if I would like to accompany her and a team from HART to visit the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Artsakh, Armenia to celebrate 20 years of this Centre. I readily agreed because my gut feeling was that I would see something amazing here. Wherever we travelled in Armenia, people would come up to Caroline Cox and thank her for standing by them, in their hour of need.  I will never forget, as we were walking in Stepanakert, this really frail old lady crossing the road, saw Caroline and came up to her and spoke to her with gratitude in her eyes.

When we reached the Centre I witnessed the work of the staff and therapists – they were giving love, care, devotion, dedication, commitment. The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre is headed by a gentleman called Vardan who is the embodiment of Compassionate Leadership. He is totally driven by compassion and is a powerful voice for the vulnerable in Armenia. Vardan is deeply passionate about helping and supporting the disabled in Armenia. It was wonderful to see love in action.

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I was so moved to meet with the children with autism. One little boy jumped into my arms and hugged me. It touched my heart. This beautiful place is a ‘centre of excellence, ‘ in every sense. I saw people who had suffered strokes and the therapists were teaching them to walk and talk again. I saw children with autism being taught skills which will help them to live independently, they were teaching them communication skills and so many other skills too. I walked into one room and saw very young children with autism who were being taught to prepare vegetables for their lunch at the Centre. As I left the room, a little boy with autism shouted out ‘Papa.’ It shook my heart.

Some of the people who came to this centre were from the poorest of the poor, travelling miles away from villages in Armenia, in order for the staff and therapists to help their loved ones. They are able to stay for a few weeks at the Centre and the staff teach the parents and caregivers much needed skills and strategies to help their children when they return home.

Training is given to people who need it. When I was there I saw local school children visiting the Centre – it was a learning experience for them. The place is a hub of activity, you could feel a real buzz. Vardan should be congratulated for introducing innovation, educational strategies, in service in house training for his staff – he is an amazing visionary and so forward thinking with a positive outlook on life. Sir Winston Churchill once said: ‘Never, never, never give up.’ Vardan certainly never gives up. He sees the big picture and he has acted upon it. Partnership working is important to him and he has partnered with people all over the world.

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Wherever you are in the world, please have a place in your heart for HART,  help raise much needed funds for the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre. They do so much with very little. A mustard seed has grown into a great big tree. At the moment the charity is trying to raise funds to buy a used van for Vardan (The Van4Vardan campaign), so that they could transport the differently abled to summer camps.

Having visited this Centre (as a former autism campaigner), I can assure you that what is happening here is genuine, real, innovative, a place of compassion – really supporting the differently abled. Please contact the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre, visit them, volunteer, consider financially supporting the work for the most vulnerable sections of society. HART is spearheading this wonderful work, reaching out ‘to the least of these.’ The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre is a place of love and compassion. A diamond in the heart of Eastern Europe. A very precious place.

Ivan Corea

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Please contact the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) in London, in the United Kingdom for further information. Their contact details are on the website – please access the link below:

https://www.hart-uk.org/

https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/van4vardan

 

Some pictures courtesy of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust

 

Future leaders stepping up to serve in the community

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Future leaders from a school in the London Borough of Havering in the UK showed true compassionate leadership by volunteering in the local community. They learnt so many life lessons by serving. The school had launched the first ever leadership development program, combining it with volunteering in the local community. The secondary school students served young people with autism, sacrificing their Saturdays to work with the most vulnerable sections of society. The students came along side these young people at an autism club in Romford in Havering in London, helping them in their creative skills, sports, dance, music, in partnership with a local church. It was so wonderful to see service to the community in action in such a vibrant way – they brought joy into the lives of the vulnerable.

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The paintings of these young people on the autism spectrum were displayed in the local council chamber, featured in community magazines and exhibited at an event in a local church to mark Autism Sunday – the international day of prayer for autism which takes place annually, on the second Sunday in February. People came from far and wide to see these creative works of art from the differently abled, including the local MP, the Mayor and local Councillors. The students played a huge role in the ‘Step Up to Serve’ campaign, launched by one of the British charities under patronage of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales – they were an integral part of the #IWill campaign set up with the intention of helping young people into volunteering in their communities.

Serving the local community made a huge impact on the lives of these future leaders. When they left school and went on to follow University degrees in the United Kingdom,  they actually wrote about their experience in research papers, threw themselves into University Autism Clubs and went on to serve even more in other local communities. They displayed compassionate leadership by reaching out in love to young people with autism in the UK.

When St. Paul’s Cathedral opened their doors to people with autism with compassion

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The year was 2002, we campaigned long and hard on autism and there was a huge need to raise awareness of autism. It was such a struggle to access public services. We did it for love and not for the money after our precious son was diagnosed with autism. Parents, carers and people with autism were finding life very difficult without public services – so my wife and I set about persuading partners to come on board with a small acorn of an idea hatched in our front room in Essex, in the United Kingdom. It grew into something big – we initiated 2002 as Autism Awareness Year – this was the first ever occasion of partnership working on autism in the UK, on such a large scale – all of it was for the good of parents, carers and people with autism in the United Kingdom – the idea was freely given in order to help others. Over 800 UK organisations came on board as partners of the year. The inspiration behind all of this was our precious son, we thank God for his life and we know that Jesus loves him.

Parliamentary debates were held in the Scottish Parliament, in the House of Commons and in the House of Lord in the Palace of Westminster in 2002 Autism Awareness Year.

The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair became the first ever Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom to mention the word autism. in the House of Commons in the British Parliament and to back and support the year. Prime Minister Tony Blair personally answered a question on Autism Awareness Year at Prime Minister’s Questions, in the chamber of the House of Commons, on the 9th of January 2002.

Photo of Ms Linda PerhamMs Linda Perham  Labour, Ilford North

“Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the success of the British Institute for Brain Injured Children, the Disabilities Trust and my constituents, Ivan and Charika Corea, in getting 2002 declared as autism awareness year? Will he ensure that the national and local bodies that are responsible for health, social services and education co-operate in the joined-up provision of services that autistic people and their families desperately need? “

Photo of Tony BlairTony Blair  Prime Minister

“Yes, I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents and the organisations concerned. Autism awareness year should give us the opportunity to raise the awareness of this condition, which is very debilitating and is distressing for families; in addition, it should ensure that we can learn more about what causes autism. She will be pleased to know that, in addition to the measures being taken by the voluntary sector, the Government are putting more resources and research into exactly how autism occurs and how we should deal with it. “

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We also felt there was a need for the faith community to engage with parents, carers and the autism community, to reach out in love in the name of Jesus. We launched the International Day of Prayer for Autism also known as Autism Sunday in 2002 during Autism Awareness Year. This was the first ever international event on autism. It was amazing, God opened unexpected doors and showed favour as this was for ‘the least of these’ in His name. I remember walking into a restaurant with work colleagues a few months before and saw the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres having lunch with the famed BBC TV Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman. That prompted us to write to the Bishop of London. He wrote back personally supporting the whole idea of Autism Sunday and we asked if there could be an event at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It turned out that the Bishop of London, Rt.Rev.Richard Chartres had been involved with a charity dealing with autism – what a divine connection!

The Cathedral administrators got in touch with us and it was on. God just opened door after door of favour, the British press, radio and television heralded Autism Sunday, giving it wide coverage with television crews outside the Cathedral and televising clips for the evening news, across the nation. Bill Turnbull of BBC TV News had a special news item  giving an opportunity for us to invite people to the service. The ‘Thunderer,’ the London Times published the news on their Royal & Court Page.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral showed tremendous compassion to the vulnerable, by opening the Cathedral doors for the first time, to parents, carers and people with autism – 600 people turned up for the service. The Canon who took the service made a special reference to Autism Sunday and welcomed everyone. It was a beautiful moment ,celebrating the lives of all people with autism, their parents and carers. There was total freedom inside the Cathedral  – children with autism were walking up and down – that’s what Jesus would have done. As the choristers walked down in procession a little boy with autism shouted out:  ‘thank you.’ People were moved by the service and the compassion extended to the vulnerable by St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This acorn of an idea spread purely by word of mouth, without a penny being spent on expensive public relations and marketing campaigns and it is now a global event -the oldest global event, celebrating the lives of people with autism. Every life is precious and has worth and value in the sight of God. This was a celebration of life and rightly so.

Ivan Corea

Parliamentary debates in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords in 2002 Autism Awareness Year:

Prime Minister Tony Blair supports 2002 Autism Awareness Year at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 9th January 2002:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2002-01-09.534.2

The Scottish Parliament debate heralding Autism Awareness Year on 6th December 2001:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/sp/?id=2001-12-06.4678.0&s

Photographs of St.Paul’s Cathedral courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Compassion To Action

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Photograph of Chris Overstreet, courtesy of Portland 2018

 

American Evangelist, Chris Overstreet, is one of the most compassionate pastors I have ever met. Chris Overstreet, now based in Portland, Oregon, was the former Outreach Pastor of Bethel Church, in California. Chris has a vision to help raise up evangelists across America and to rally the body of Christ around the Cross to reach cities all across America for Jesus.

It was a Sunday morning. My wife, son and I were on our way to church. The place was packed. My wife went to the park the car and it was absolutely full. Meanwhile my son and I went into the church to find seats. We struggled to find even one. Able bodied people were seated in the disabled seating and I hunted for seats, fully knowing that our precious son would find it difficult to stay in the service without a seat. Some people on the autism spectrum think differently – some think in pictures and numbers. I just knew what was going through the mind of our beloved son – he definitely had a ‘picture’ of a ‘seat.’ We couldn’t find one. He let out a wail as he was extremely upset that we couldn’t find seats. He went into the corridor outside and was inconsolable. We sat down on the floor. Some people walked by on the other side.

Then came a man who had heard our son cry. He came quietly, with concern etched on his face, for our son. He too was a father and he displayed the characteristics of love and compassion of our Heavenly Father. My son and I were both seated on the floor. The man who came to us, in our hour of need, was Chris Overstreet. The first thing he asked me was: ‘What can I do to help?’ Our son had cried so much that he was exhausted and thirsty. Chris Overstreet promptly got up and from somewhere brought our son (who was in distress), a glass of iced water. Then, still on his haunches, giving eye contact to our son, laid hands on him and prayed for him with all of his heart. He prayed for the peace of Jesus to invade our son’s heart and mind, he prayed for calm, he prayed for the Holy Spirit to come, right there in that church corridor. Our son calmed down. This was an incredible act of compassion.

Chris Overstreet’s compassion reminded me of a scene from that epic film, “Ben-Hur,” released in 1959, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler. There is a scene in the film where Judah Ben Hur was refused water by the Roman soldiers and fainted as a result, crashing to the ground. He cried out: “God help me!” Then this peaceful figure approaches him with a cup of water and gives him to drink. Jesus took compassion and Chris Overstreet was following the example of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He took compassion on our precious son. That act of unconditional love still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it and it is something I will never ever forget and will take that ‘picture’ with me in my mind and in my heart when we leave California.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13, 14

This really was compassion to action, which is the profound ministry of Chris Overstreet. Subsequently I had the privilege of addressing one of the fellowships at the church on the theme of “Compassion and Autism.” I appealed to all those present, not to walk by on the other side if they see a child with autism in distress. I urged them to ‘do a Chris Overstreet,’ and even if the parents or carer givers say ‘no thank you,’ still ask them: ‘What can I do to help?’ His timely and God-sent intervention that day, reflected the love and the compassion of Jesus Christ.

Ivan Corea