Faith in Action

A Mother’s LOVE

His name is William Robert Hughes, but everyone at the Lexington, Ky., Corps knows him as “Boo.”

Boo, 35, suffers from severe autism and sensory issues. He is often hyperactive and doesn’t want to sit for long.

“It makes it real hard to take him places like church and someplace where he has to sit down,” says Boo’s mother, Debbie Hughes. “He doesn’t want to do that.”

Debbie tried to take Boo to church when he was young, but Sunday school teachers found him disruptive and “didn’t want him.” After Debbie and Boo paid several visits to one preacher’s church, he came to her home and suggested they tie Boo in a chair to keep him from disturbing the service. Debbie refused to tie up her son.

“I actually stopped going to church for a long time after that,” she says.

Debbie’s aunt invited her to the Lexington Corps and she started attending church again, along with Home League.

“We had been trying to get her to come to church, but she wouldn’t because she had been told by members of another church that she was not able to come because her son was too disruptive,” says Major Susan Hinzman, the corps officer in Lexington. “It’s so sad. We told her that we would all do what we can to help and that Boo was welcome to come.

“Debbie came to church and, sure enough, he was disruptive. But not one person in our congregation flinched. We have absolutely incredible people!”

Debbie said her daughter and others sometimes watch Boo so she can attend church or Home League meetings. When she does bring him, sometimes he sleeps, or a man named JC Miller offers to take him out of the chapel so Debbie can enjoy the service.

“The Salvation Army has been wonderful to us,” Debbie says. “They love Boo. I couldn’t ask for a better church. I love it there and I love all the people there. They’re really nice. It’s like another home. They’re like family.

“I’ve always been close to God. I’m probably closer to Him now than I’ve ever been because I’m going to church more. I love going to church and to Home League and to Bible study.”

When she was young, Debbie was baptized in a small Baptist church in Lexington. After her children were born, she tried other churches but found them too large and impersonal. Many people there saw Boo as a burden and avoided rather than helped him.

“No one in the other churches were friendly or talked to us or anything like The Salvation Army does,” she said. “When we come to The Salvation Army, they talk to us and they hug us. It’s really a whole lot different than all the other churches. At The Salvation Army, they do try to help, and they do understand.”

Rather than drive, Debbie rides The Salvation Army bus to activities. When she’s not at the corps, she can often be found at home, caring for her son.

Debbie, now 60, worked in restaurants and a warehouse before she quit those jobs to care for her son, full time. When Boo was born in the 1980s, day care centers rejected him. Debbie found it difficult to work and care for him at the same time.

Her advice to parents with special needs children is to lean on God’s strength.

“I don’t know what to tell people except to hang in there,” she says. “Sometimes it’s rough. I mean, we have our bad days and sometimes we have good days.”

Debbie has been an advocate and fighter for her son. When he wanted a dog, but the local housing authority denied pet ownership, she fought for his right to have a dog. She won. Then there was the time a doctor told her to put Boo in an institution. She had just read a newspaper article exposing abuse at that facility.

“I told him, ‘This is my son. I’m not having him put in an institution.’ He told me I’d be sorry. I told him, ‘I’ve had this baby since the day he was born, and I’ve never been sorry, and I will never put him in a place like that.’ I never saw that doctor again,” she said.

Life has been difficult for Debbie who said she could write a book about her experiences while caring for Boo.

“I can’t really say what God’s plan is,” she said. “I don’t know. I’ve never questioned God or anything. I’ve always just taken care of Boo. I’ve never asked why. I don’t know why. I’ve just accepted him as he is and taken care of him.

“It helps when people come up and tell me they have a child like Boo or they know someone who does and that I’m doing a great job taking care of him. It feels good when people say nice things.”

by Robert Mitchell

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