Each month we will be sharing the testimony of one member of our community’s experience of and commitment to our life together. This month’s story comes from Jimmy Dunn.
Before I say much about my story, Heritage has changed my life in so many ways I can’t count them all. Here at Heritage I am accepted for who I am, a man who was brain damaged at birth and abused during childhood. Those experiences make me look and sound different than most people. I know that. But I am a human being who needs love and friendship of others; I am a child of God, but I struggle to know who God is and what he expects of me. I think about that a lot. In fact, I worry that I may not have met God’s expectations, so I read as much as I’m able — just to help me understand.
Religion has so many pieces it’s sometimes hard for me to put everything together. I know the importance of God, my maker, but sometimes I’m confused about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They tell me Jesus is also God, so I don’t know exactly how that works. I try to understand that idea, so I ask questions all the time. Do I worship and praise God or Jesus? That may sound silly to people, but my brain has a problem with something like that.
Throughout the years I have tried to build relationships of the kind that both help me and might help others. That is a skill God has given me. My relationship-building actions often result in good things; sometimes the results are not so good. But I try. People tell me I’m responsible for organizing and forming the men’s group at Heritage, and that I’ve helped develop our discussion agenda in good ways. That pleases me because it’s one of the few ways I can give back to a church that gives so much to me. That makes my stewardship something that is even more than money.
I was born in 1957 while my father was serving in the Navy in San Diego. My family of four boys and two girls moved to Chula Vista, California after my father was discharged from the Navy. I live in Chula Vista until age 13 and the divorce of my parents. During those years my father’s alcoholism made life difficult. I stayed with my mother and she moved to Phoenix and then to Tucson, but my stepfather was abusive. So, I then lived with my father, who moved to Highland, Kansas and operated a service station he owned called Dunn Oil. While living in Highland I attended Wathena High School until my father remarried and moved to Kansas City, Kansas. In 1985 my father died of complications due to alcoholism and leukemia.
After my father died, I lived with an older sister in Olathe and then Pleasanton, Kansas. Because of my disability it was difficult for me to live on my own. When my sister married and moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I was placed with Tri-Ko Sheltered Workshop (Community Service Provider) in Osawatomie, Kansas. It assists persons with developmental disabilities to achieve meaningful levels of independence, inclusion and productivity. During that time another sister looked after me, but she divorced and moved to Coeur d’Alene also. She helped me move to independent living in Osawatomie.
It was during those years I was able to socialize with others more often. While that was good, I sometimes made bad decisions about relationships and my personal behavior. Because of that I have sons from two women I didn’t marry. I eventually did marry Christina Jackson and had more children. In total, I have six children and they all live close to this area. That’s good, because I either talk or visit with them frequently. Christina eventually left me and married someone else. That split depressed me, and I started drinking too much. That led to alcoholism, association with Alcoholics Anonymous, and treatment for various illnesses at Overland Park Hospital.
Eventually I moved to a sheltered work center in Ottawa and then Kansas City, Kansas, where I lived with a brother and received assistance from Mosaic Life Care. I’m now living with care givers in Olathe, not far from Heritage.
On one of my walks I visited Heritage on a Saturday. It was closed, which I thought was stranger since I believed the building was a sheltered work center like others I knew about. Then I visited on a Sunday and realized it was a church. No one knew me, but many were friendly and invited me in. Some of the men, like Mark, Cliff, Jeff and Stu, wanted to know more about me. Over time, more men and women have opened up to me, and Clare supported me any way she could.
I still receive medical treatments, especially on my head, which is the reason I often wear a cap or some other kind of headwear. People may notice that I drink a lot of coffee, something I started doing at AA meetings. I no longer drink alcohol and am trying to stop smoking, and my friends at Heritage are behind my better behaviors! I love them for accepting and helping me so much.
Heritage has become my family because people care about me, no matter how different I seem. I’m beginning to realize that Jesus was God on Earth, and that he taught people to love and care for everyone. We’re all different in some way, and acceptance must be the most important part of our faith.