For some 18 years, Bethany MB Church men have cared for an injured church member
By Myra Holmes
In many congregations, when a member is faced with an illness, surgery or even a happy life change like a birth, the church family mobilizes with prayer and tangible expressions of love and support, like hospital visits, cards and casseroles.
When LeRoy Goossen, Jr., faced a life-changing injury, the church support went way beyond casseroles: The men of Bethany MB Church, Fresno, Calif., have coordinated care for Goossen every weeknight for some 18 years.
On Jan. 5, 1995, Goossen, a custom home builder and member of Bethany, fell from a balcony onto a piece of rebar below. The fall whiplashed his neck and bruised his spinal cord.
“I was instantly paralyzed,” Goossen says.
The injuries he sustained landed him first in intensive care in the local hospital, Valley Medical Center, then in rehabilitation at Craig Hospital, a Colorado facility specializing in traumatic spinal cord and brain injury.
LeRoy and his wife, Jeanie, are parents to four children; at the time of the accident, the youngest was only six months old. Those first weeks for them following Goossen’s fall meant a temporary move to Colorado, the emotional hardship of leaving their school-age daughter with family in Fresno and the hard work of learning to do life as and care for a paraplegic. “It was quite difficult,” Goossen says of that time in rehab, “frustrating to say the least.”
At first, doctors offered hope that the “bruise” would heal, full feeling would return and Goossen would be able to resume a normal life. That still hasn’t happened.
As it became clear that he would have to create a new normal, his church family stepped up to help. One of Goossen’s needs was help with daily stretches. “If you don’t stretch all the time, you’ll stiffen up,” he explains.
So a group of men from Bethany volunteered to take on that chore—and they’ve been at it ever since.
Although they didn’t initiate the effort, Bethany attenders David McDannald and Gary Higdon now coordinate the volunteers. The brothers-in-law get together one evening every six months and create a schedule so that Goossen has help every Monday through Friday.
About 22 men are on the volunteer list, so it works out to a commitment of about one evening each month. In addition, Jerry Penner, also from Bethany, volunteers every Sunday evening.
Some, like McDannald and Higdon, have been on the list for teen-something years. Goossen’s care requires some physical strength, so some volunteers have had to drop off because of age or injury. Some men have moved or had career changes that, for example, require a great deal of travel. Over 18 years, it’s not surprising. But Higdon says, “It’s remarkable the faithfulness of the guys on that list. It’s almost mind-boggling, really.”
About half the volunteers attend Bethany. Some attend Butler MB Church, also in Fresno, where the Goossen family attended before Bethany. Others are family members, business associates or friends.
Coordinating Goossen’s care isn’t an official ministry of Bethany; it’s just an expression of the church caring for its members. “It’s part of our responsibility, isn’t it, as disciples of Christ, to share and be able to assist,” McDannald says. “It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can do it, but when you’re called upon, it’s a privilege to serve and help a brother in need.”
When the volunteers take their turn to help Goossen, they work with him on a series of exercises to keep his arms and legs limber. Sometimes he needs help eating dinner; other times he might need help taking his pills or getting settled into bed for the night. All told, the visit takes about an hour to an hour and a half. “There’s quite a bit to it,” Higdon says.
Goossen teaches volunteers everything they need to know. “It’s all LeRoy,” Higdon says. “He guides you through if you forget one of the exercises. He’s very patient.”
A significant side benefit of the visits is friendship. Penner, who visits and cares for Goossen on Sunday evenings, says, “You have lots of time to talk about anything and everything.” In addition to the necessities, their time together often includes watching television or simply enjoying a camaraderie that doesn’t need words.
Goossen says that when all this started, he didn’t know all the volunteers well; now, they’re good friends. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he says.
Goossen says that the faithful presence of the volunteers takes pressure off of his wife. When the children were young, especially, it allowed Jeanie to tend to their needs—feed them dinner, get them to bed, etc.
About Jeanie, Penner says, “I have a world of admiration for her. She’s always so gracious and appreciative.”
While it might be tempting for some to take such faithful help for granted, Penner says that’s clearly not the case for the Goossens: “always appreciation, always gratitude.”
Volunteers readily admit that it is an effort to help. “It’s not that it’s easy or convenient; it’s not,” says McDannald.
At the same time, they talk about it with a “no big deal” kind of attitude. When asked what motivated him to help, Higdon echoes others when he says, “I just wanted to help the guy out.”
Penner points to Jesus’ words in the parable of the sheep and the goats, found in Matthew 25, where Jesus commends his followers: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
Penner suggests an addition: “I was paralyzed and lying in bed and you came every week and exercised me.”
Now, 18 years after the freak accident that left him paralyzed, Goossen says, “My health is good; I just can’t walk.”
He has limited movement in his shoulders and biceps, and gets around with a wheelchair that he drives with a joystick. He still consults on custom home builds, thanks to a partner who “allows me to do what I can,” Goossen says. His four children are young adults pursuing education and careers in business, medicine, law and pharmacy.
“I couldn’t ask for better kids,” he says.
It’s been a tough journey—and it’s not over yet—but volunteers say Goossen has never wallowed in self-pity. They talk of his positive attitude, his can-do spirit, his perseverance and his love for his family. “I’ve not sensed one moment of an attitude of ‘why me,’” Penner says.
As for Goossen, he says, “If I didn’t have my faith, I probably wouldn’t be here. I would’ve given up easily.”
And that, too, is an expression of great faithfulness.
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