Hope is sown throughout the 40-acre Benjamin's Hope, a Christian nonprofit in Holland where 30 autistic adults call home.
Planted are a thriving church, a farmstead and an inspired model for those who live there: Live. Learn. Play. Worship.
"The farm is the fulfillment of what God put in my heart so many years earlier," said Krista Mason, executive director of the nonprofit who co-founded Benjamin's Hope with her husband, Dave. Mason spoke during a recent Zoom talk hosted by AMDG Architect.
Mason recounted how she went through an emotional and spiritual metamorphosis when she learned her son was autistic in 1997 .
Not a household word in 1997
"Around the age of 15 months, Ben developed chronic ear infections and he lost his language over a period of two months," said Mason. "It's almost as though he was folding into himself. He was daily going further and further away from us. This is 1997 and autism was not a household word."
The news sent the Masons on a trek to see a series of specialists; relocating from Ohio to New Jersey where a host of educational opportunities were afforded autistic children; and becoming amateur researchers themselves.
"Our hope was intervention would pull Ben out of autism," said Mason.
She also was convinced when Ben was around age 5 that Jeremiah 29:11 was God's promise to one day "pull" her son out of autism.
"I felt flooded with assurance from the Lord at that time," said Mason. "I felt certain this was God's plan to heal Ben. If God has a plan to prosper Ben, it can't include autism."
A plan to live and flourish
Despite believing this, Mason also concluded having a farm where autistic adults could live and flourish would enable them to live an "incredible life of dignity." The idea languished for about five years. Then, while taking a walk with her father-in-law, was asked where she was with launching the farm. She replied she hadn't started.
"It's time," her father-in-law told her.
"My in-law's words was the impetus that God might allow Ben's autism to continue to allow my husband and I to step boldly into this, the start of Ben's Hope," said Mason. "There's a gap between reality and expectations. God asking me to surrender my expectations and He was fulfilling His promises even though it didn't look the way I thought it would look. Would I surrender my expectations and trust the faithfulness of God? I wrestled with that."
Mason eventually came to a place where she realized the Lord's plan included Ben and other people to find significance while autistic.
Then, Mason's husband received a call from a work colleague who asked if he would consider moving back to West Michigan. They agreed the answer was "yes." To their joy, the move resulted in a couple donating the 40 acres of land where Benjamin's Hope is based.
"Ben would have a hope and a future and God has fulfilled that promise to my son Ben. It looks very different than I thought it would look like. We have a church plant named the Church of Ben's Hope, an all abilities church, meaning we are all together. We're loud, it's eclectic and the pastor gives a dignified message because it's meant to presume intelligence."
In the ensuing years (Ben is now 23), Mason realizes the change God had in mind was not with her son, but within her.
"What I've learned is the change that needed to happen is me, in my heart," said Mason. "Dave and I were praying together. I prayed that God would heal Ben of his autism. Dave prayed, 'Don't remove Ben's autism until it fully brings You glory.' I'm in complete agreement with Dave's prayer today."