Finding his voice, and his calling Brooklyn Park man forms deaf ministry after 'miracle' cure

March 02, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Bobby Gawthrop lost his voice for five months. He doesn't know why. No one does.

But during that time when his own voice left him, he heard a voice he had never heard before. He thinks maybe it was God. And the voice told him to straighten out his life and do important new work.

Now, in what he and his pastor say they think may be a modern miracle, Gawthrop is in charge of a new ministry for the deaf at First Baptist Church in Brooklyn.

"I couldn't even whisper. It was just too painful. For all intents and purposes, I could not talk," recalled Gawthrop, 32, of Brooklyn Park in a voice that is still soft. "It was like my throat was on fire with razor blades. It was scary."

The trouble started in August. Unable to speak, he had to give up substitute teaching at the high school level in American and U.S. government history. He managed to live off savings because he shares a home with his father, grandmother and daughter, Mackenzi, 5. He went to nearly a dozen and specialists, none of whom could say why his voice went away or when it would return, Gawthrop said. Exploratory surgery was recommended. But Gawthrop was afraid, and he kept putting off a decision.

He came to rely on a pen and a pad in his new silenced life, using them to communicate with friends, family, the world. His father and grandmother became his interpreters, relaying his hand-scrawled messages.

"We had two phones and he would get on one phone so he could hear what [people] said. He would write down the answer to whatever they asked and then I'd tell them," said his grandmother, Mary Crockett, 84.

Crockett and her grandson are close. They were baptized together in the wading pool behind the choir pews at First Baptist in 1989.

But Gawthrop had fallen out of the habit of going to church. "I was what you might call a Lone Ranger Christian," he said. "I would pray at home."

Things began to change after he lost his voice.

"I felt the Lord was calling me to rededicate my life and get involved in church life like I should have before," Gawthrop said.

So on a Sunday morning in January, he attended the Rev. Lyn O'Berry's Sunday service at First Baptist. He had returned a stranger. O'Berry had been pastor of the 325-member church for about two years.

Feeling a calling

Gawthrop walked up to him afterward, pad in hand with a note scrawled on it. It read: "My name is Bobby. I'm a mute and I would like to discuss the possibility of entering the ministry."

The next day, the two men talked -- Gawthrop with his pad and pen -- for three hours, about life, God and Gawthrop's belief he was being called to preach.

O'Berry learned that Gawthrop knew sign language. In June, he had completed a six-week sign language class at Anne Arundel Community College that he signed up for after seeing people signing in elevators and schools. He thought it would be a good skill to have.

O'Berry told him that since Thanksgiving, church members had been searching for someone who knew sign language and would do it free so they could begin an outreach ministry to the deaf in the community who had nowhere nearby to go for services.

Power of prayer

The congregation began praying for Gawthrop. Another good thing happened to him. A friend gave him a computer and he learned how to communicate in another way, through e-mail.

"I was kind of afraid of technology, but I was forced into it," said Gawthrop. "It kind of became a necessity for me to e-mail people."

Within weeks after the prayers began, his voice returned. No more need to worry about whether to have surgery. Gawthrop and church members credit God.

How else to explain it, he and church members reasoned and believe to this day. Surely it wasn't just the gargling and throat lozenges he'd been using. Wasn't this much like the miracles Jesus performed in the New Testament?

"I consider it a modern day miracle," said O'Berry, 50, a former lawyer, who came to God after a difficult divorce.

"A lot of people don't believe in things like that, but I do," said Gawthrop's grandmother. "I consider it a miracle, too."

Ministry to deaf

And now the church has a ministry to the deaf.

The Rev. Harold Bowman, pastor of Heritage Church of God, a Severn church with more than 1,000 members, knows the importance of adding a deaf ministry.

"We saw people that desired to come to a church," Bowman said, "but when I looked around, I saw there weren't any churches where people had to go for deaf services so we got a signer."

The deaf at Heritage have formed a church within a church, attending regular services, but also holding their own meetings, Bowman said. Twenty Heritage church members, including his wife, Betty, have learned to sign.

At First Baptist, Gawthrop is teaching other church members to sign for the deaf.

"We don't want them to be segregated when they come," Gawthrop said. "We want them to be a part of the church family."

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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