Making Dreams Come True for a Young Gaither Homecoming Fan
Our passengers embark on our Christian cruises and tours from all walks of life. We love meeting them, learning from them, and enjoying the new perspectives they bring. We especially appreciate hearing from them after a trip. God never fails to encourage us through their stories and feedback. There’s no shortage of moments on these trips that show His faithfulness and perfect timing. This letter from Steven Ah-Wan about his family’s Make-a-Wish experience on a recent Gaither Homecoming cruise especially warmed our hearts:
While our son Jared was still in the womb, our doctors in Montreal recognized early that his heart was severely deformed. We began preparing for his birth. Jared was born by emergency C-section on November 27, 2003. He struggled to feed and was very weak, and three weeks later, on December 24, he had emergency laser surgery to remove a growth in his throat blocking his airway. It was successful, but he remained in the hospital for three more weeks.
His first day home after being discharged, the Gaither Gospel Music video was on and a smile came to his face. Since Jared had been in the womb, Cindy always put headphones on her belly to make Jared listen to Gaither Homecoming. After he was born, any time Jared was restless or sad, the only thing that would get his attention was Gaither Gospel Music. So I guess you can say that Jared was a fan of the Gaithers since he was in the womb.
From that point, we were in and out of the hospital for tests, blood work, and other procedures every week. In May 2004, Jared was scheduled for open-heart surgery after the doctors saw a growth in his heart was stopping blood flow. The head pediatric surgeon told us this would be the first time such a surgery would be performed on that young of an infant in North America. Cindy and I decided to put Jared in the best hands ever—God’s hands. We claimed Isaiah 41:10. During the eight-hour surgery, Cindy and I were calm, collected, and even laughed at times. We knew God was in control and we were OK with whatever outcome resulted. Finally, his surgeon approached and said she never had a surgery that went as smooth as this one. Jared’s heart was responding so well. She was thrilled with the overall result. We praised God.
Jared spent another five days in ICU, plus additional days recovering in the hospital. Since then, he has had three more surgeries.
Early in 2013, Jared began to experience fatigue and heart palpitations. His doctors determined that his heart was slowly dying. His cardiologist scheduled him for a risky open-heart surgery to remove part of his heart and replace it with synthetic membrane. Cindy and I did the only thing we know to do and that is to pray. We asked our friends and families around the world to join us.
It was during this period that we learned about the Children’s Wish Foundation International, which helps dreams come true for seriously ill children. We applied, and got a call from the Make-a-Wish Foundation saying that Jared’s one wish had been granted. He is such a big fan of the Gaither music. Earlier we had learned about the Gaither Caribbean Cruise, and that was the wish they granted for us!
But we had a whole year to wait, and Jared had already been scheduled for the high-risk surgery. By May, however, we received word that Jared’s heart had stabilized and the surgery had been put on hold until necessary. We waited. The cruise drew nearer and nearer. We continued to pray that nothing would prevent his biggest wish coming true.
Finally the moment arrived. We got the tickets and a cheque by mail one week before departure. What joy! We had never been on a real vacation before—much less a cruise. Cindy and I never had a honeymoon, so for us it was like a honeymoon to the Caribbean, only with children. We packed, read blogs, and booked excursions, hoping to make lasting memories of possibly the only cruise we would ever go on.
We flew to Florida. As we approached the dock, lined up, and saw the ship, we were in awe. What a sight! We had never seen a cruise ship that close before. It was spectacular. The beauty and elegance were breathtaking, as if we were in a dream. When we found our room, we even let our kids jump on the bed out of sheer joy.
Then came the emergency drill. We went to our muster station, and suddenly we started seeing singers we knew from the Gaither videos! There was Gene MacDonald, then Jonathan and Joy Martin. Our children were so excited—especially Jared—and wanted to talk to them. Then we saw the man himself, Bill Gaither, with the ever-charming Gloria. The crowd went wild and Jared and Jadyn joined in the excitement.
The trip was filled with highlights, but here are a few:
• Club HAL, which the children loved and would have spent the entire cruise enjoying had we let them!
• The meals and dinners which made us feel like princes and princesses.
• Walking into the theater room and seeing the artists getting ready on stage.
• The look on Jared’s face when the singing started. He knew all the songs and sang right along with them.
We were starstruck. We got to meet all the artists. Jared took pictures with all of them, and thanks to Sonia Isaac, even got to speak to his favorite comedian, Mark Lowry, on the phone! Then came the big night when Jared was called by name to go on stage to meet Bill Gaither. Jared jumped out of his chair full of amazement and joy to meet Bill and the Gaither Vocal Band members. Then Autumn from the Nelsons sang a special song for Jared. From that moment onboard, Jared was an instant star. People came up to us, wanted to know more, wanted to pray with us and take a picture with him. The love they poured out to us was overwhelming. It was as if we had won the lottery, but we were given the riches of human kindness instead of money.
At one port, we booked an excursion to swim with the dolphins. Jared loves dolphins and had an amazing time. After we finished, we learned we could get photos of our adventure, but found out they only took cash—which we hadn’t brought with us. We took comfort in telling ourselves we would just remember the moments in our memories. But a couple nearby had seen what happened at the dolphin excursion and recognized Jared. They gave us $100 for the photos, found total strangers to contribute additional money, and worked with the manager to arrange a special package just for us. We ended up with several photos and a DVD of the experience, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
In addition, we were given free DVDs and CDs from the artists on the cruise, along with autographs, souvenirs, and so many intimate, personal moments with Bill and Gloria Gaither, the Gaither Vocal Band, and even the Gaither’s grandchildren. As the trip ended and we were leaving the pier, we saw the Gaithers one last time. Bill called out, “I love you, Jared.” Jared ran up to Bill and said, “I love you, too, Bill.” We took a family photo with all of them. We will cherish these moments forever.
I pray as you read this letter that it brings the same joy to your soul as this vacation did to our family. I want to thank Mr. Steve Dick personally for such a wonderful organization as Inspiration Cruises & Tours. Thank you for making this dream come true for Jared. May God continue to bless you.
Steven, Cindy, Jared and Jadyn Ah-Wan
At Inspiration, we are privileged to work with some of the best pastors, musicians, artists, and ministry partners in the world. We’ve known each of them to go above and beyond when it comes to passengers like the Ah-Wan family, but we are especially excited to hear how gracious the Gaithers were to little Jared. We thank God for visionary artists like Bill and Gloria Gaither, along with the musicians and fans who make Gaither Homecoming events such a family affair. Their music, example, and ministries has impacted lives around the world—including Jared’s. We’re grateful to the Ah-Wans for sharing their story with us, and are honored to have played a small role in making their dream come true.