Colleen Cyrenne says her 24 year-old son Jacques Vaillancourt has been able to accomplish amazing things thanks to being involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The mother and son came up from Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island this weekend to gather with around 2300 other religious followers at the Essar Centre for the 2016 Northern Ontario Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
36 congregations from as far west as Thunder Bay and as east as North Bay came to attend the regions biggest annual gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses.
It was the first time in over twenty years the conference was held in Sault Ste. Marie.
Cyrenne described her son as being severely autistic but that the structure of their religious faith - going to conventions, studying the bible, doing 70 hours of faith work a month, etc. - has allowed him to excel in many ways.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a developmental disorder with a set of symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life.
How profoundly that individual is affected by those symptoms dictates how severe the disorder is in that individual.
At the weekend convention, Vaillancourt handed out 225 cut-out, hand-drawn pictures of “good-example Bible figures” and his mother handed out hundreds of fabric and plastic flowers attached to clips, so many she lost count.
The figures Vaillancourt drew are meant to help remind people of the many good teachings in the bible and Cyrenne's flowers are a loving gift.
“I just make them until I can’t make them anymore,” said Cyrenne, who has been doing it for so many years she doesn’t know how long.The young man, whose disorder is obvious through conversation, goes door-to-door, often on his own, spreading the religion’s message and even conducts bible study groups with young children.
Cyrenne said her son has the incredible gift of being able to remember and recite a large number of biblical information verbatim with incredible accuracy.
Vaillancourt can recite large parts of a 2500 page, two-volume biblical encyclopedia called 'Insight on the Scriptures' and he’s completely memorized, word-for-word, every story in a 300-page, 116 story filled book called 'My Book of Bible Stories'.
“If you ask him to recite any story he can do it without the book. Let me show you,” said his mother, demonstrating. “Jacques, what’s story number 89?”
“89, Jesus cleans out the Temple,” replied Vaillancourt, correctly.
“Now if I tell him the title, he’ll tell me the number of the story. And then if you want him to tell the story, he can do that. For example, Jacques, what’s the first sentence in that story?”
“Jesus Cleans out the Temple. (The first sentence is) Jesus looks really angry doesn’t he?“ said Jacques, nailing it.
Cyrenne said her son is less nervous than her when going door-to-door preaching the word of Jehovah.
She said that actually many people don’t realize that he’s autistic unless they get into a deeper conversation with him.
Cyrenne, in her 50s, has been involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses her whole life and she said going to conventions with her parents over the years personally inspired her to be giving to others and considerate of the elderly.
Her father used to donate vegetables to the convention kitchen while her mother struggled with general old-age health issues that mean she would struggle to sit through the long seminars.
Cyrenne, teared-up discussing her and her son’s gift giving.
“I wanted to give the brothers and sisters gifts because I don’t get to see them very much. Some of the brothers and sisters are crippled and they have to sit in a chair (throughout the long weekend convention) and I know for some of them it’s really hard,” she said.
But the gift-giver wanted to emphasize that what she does is not special in the faith and that others spread love in their own way be it by giving out blankets, hugs, or just donating their time.
The three-day event included 49 presentations structured around the theme of “remaining loyal to Jehovah”, delivered through a multimedia presentation that included live speakers, videos, a baptism, and ways that the audience could interact with the presentation on their tablet computers.
The convention is open to the public and presentations continue at the Essar Centre all day Sunday.
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