Pastor Gary West’s biggest challenge has become a touchstone of faith, inspiration, and hope for others.
His personal journey began May 25, 1978. “Some dates you just don’t forget,” he told the Wellington Kiwanis.
That was the day he went to bed and woke up blind. He was 22 years old and newly married. He ended up in the hospital for 16 days.
Upon his discharge doctors said his optic nerve had died.
There’s nothing they could do surgically or medically to fix it. But, other than that, West was in perfect health.
West shared with the Kiwanis last Thursday how he tried to soak in his new reality. He could no longer work as a meat cutter. His wife was newly pregnant. Their marriage ended.
“The other thing the doctors told me is that the loss of my eyesight was kind of like a lottery, that there was a one-in-a-million chance it will happen to anybody and it so happened you got picked,” he said. “That ain’t the kind of lottery you want to win.”
West suddenly found himself having to learn braille. He attended rehabilitation at the Cleveland Sight Center. He was learning to navigate his world and new life with a white cane.
“I really got angry with God,” he said. After the anger came the depression. “You know people say, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ I’m sure you know what my thought was: ‘How do you know what I’m going through? How do you know what I feel?’ I thought my life was gone. I thought my life was over.” He contemplated suicide.
“Probably every one of us has things you deal with and think, ‘Why me? Why is it this way? Why did it have to happen to me? Why do I have to deal with these things?’ We all go through it to some degree. I am thankful that I had pastors and teachers that left impressions in my mind that I could remember and one of them was: All things work together for good.”
He worked for a while as a telephone operator until he lost his job with deregulation. He felt drawn to ministry, but resisted until he eventually “gave into it.”
West delivered his first sermon in 1986 and started working as a youth pastor for a while, and later launched a church in Elyria. He has served as the pastor of Christ Community Church at 212 West Herrick Ave. since May 2005.
As a youth minister, he quickly learned “to use all your abilities and senses that God give you” when working with two-dozen teens who thought they could get away with just about anything.
“You learn how to adapt,” he said. He’s made it a personal mantra to “attempt to do anything that I think that I can do.” That’s meant he’s built stairs at 11:30 p.m., mowed his lawn, replaced storm windows and screens, and once cut down a 35-foot tree with a hand-saw.
“You let him go up in that tree?” neighbors asked his wife who said, “Yeah, he didn’t know how far he was going to fall.”
If he had fallen, he would have gotten right back up. It’s in his nature.
“Gary West is an inspiration to a lot of people with what he had to go through, the dark periods and being able to come out with such a positive, can-do attitude,” said the Rev. Brian Burke of the First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise
“When you think about the weights and things that easily overcome you as a person in the flesh it’s your emotions that you’re born with, you can’t just easily turn them off,” said the Rev. Gary West who quotes Hebrews: “Let us lay aside every weight and sin that does so easily beset us.”