Indian Life Newspaper -

Not Like the Others

 

Last updated 11/3/2019 at 2:52pm

The doctor who came from the valley into our log cabin in the hills looked at me, threw up his hands, and whispered to my father, 'You send him away. He doesn't belong in the valley community. He'll never learn like other children. He'll never speak like other children. You send him away.'"

Those were some of the first words spoken over a newborn Chippewa infant in 1939. Don Bartlette was born into the world in rural North Dakota with fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in a life-threatening heart condition, emerging with only half of a nose, and suffering a debilitating cleft palate that robbed him of the ability to eat normally or speak at all. Young Don fought the odds, though, in spite of his disabilities, extreme poverty, and cultural prejudice. He survived abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father and severe bullying by classmates, teachers, and community members. It was only through the love of his mother, the patient teaching of a Christian white woman, and the grace of God that Bartlette has become the man he is today. 

Bartlette, now an inspirational speaker who has shared his testimony, Macaroni at Midnight, more than 10,000 times all across North America, including at Indian Life Ministries' recent 40 year shares how, as a little Indigenous boy, doctors hastily and partially repaired his nose. He talks about visiting the city dump alone as a grade schooler to find the basic things he needed-food and clothing and friendship in the form of the rats that scurried in and out of the heaps of trash. 

"I remember running and jumping and playing with the rats," Bartlette says, "pretending they were my friends. They never laughed at me. I could pretend that they liked me."

Dwain Schlabach, owner of Mt. Eaton Pallet, Ltd. in Millersburg, Ohio, became involved in Dr. Bartlette's ministry after hearing Bartlette's story at a banquet for Common Ground, singer-songwriter John Schmid's prison ministry that focuses on reaching those in the Ohio Corrections system. Schlabach serves on the ministry's board of directors. 

"When I first heard Don's story, I simply cried with compassion," Schlabach says. "I had never imagined such suffering by a child. The extreme unfairness and complete lack of understanding from people in Don's life is what got to me."

After hearing Bartlette's story the second time, Schlabach introduced himself to the speaker. 

"It didn't take long to become friends with Don, as his personality, ready smile, and forgiving nature are easy to like," Schlabach says. Since becoming friends with Bartlette, Schlabach has invited him to share his story with Schlabach's employees and other groups. He doesn't hesitate to recommend Bartlette for banquets, fundraisers, work picnics, and more. Audiences are always touched by the words of this man who speaks frankly of his struggles. 

Just the speaking part alone-the ability for Bartlette to form words and speak before a crowd-is a miracle. Up until his teen years, Bartlette was unable to communicate at all and was labeled mentally retarded in the public school where he was locked in a small room while his classmates learned to read and write. It took a lot of time and the love and dedication of several key people before Don Bartlette learned to speak, eat normally, write, and learn. It took even longer for him to accept the love of his Creator, his heavenly Father. 

It wasn't until he was a married man with children of his own that he called out for God's peace in his life. After a sleepless night of struggling to believe God's love for him, Bartlette climbed into his car and drove until, on a major highway, he turned off the engine and made a decision. He rolled down the window, looked up to the sky, and cried out, "Creator God, if You're up there, then I want Your Son Jesus to come into my heart."

What happened next became a major turning point in Bartlette's life. 

"At that moment, Jesus Christ came into my life, and as the hate left me, I felt an overwhelming love fill me, and then I felt the arms of my heavenly Father surrounding me."

That was in 1974. And in that moment, God began leading Dr. Bartlette to leave his secular career and begin a faith-based speaking ministry on his own. In 1979, he became a full-time traveling speaker. 

"I had become frustrated with the bureaucratic ongoings of my secular career," Bartlette says, "and I felt challenged to be happier in my life's goals of helping people by sharing my life through storytelling." 

Since then, Dr. Bartlette has received international recognition, ranging from England's "International Men of Achievement", "Who's Who in the World", and "20 Most Interesting People in Stark County." He was nominated for the Marty Mann award and has also worked with countless organizations, ranging from the National Minority Affairs Coalition, Advisory Board for Keystone Academy-a school for the disabled in Texas, the National Institute for Alternative Care Professionals, and all branches of the Armed Services. He is widely recognized for his achievements, being named "Hometown Hero" and being honored with "Don Bartlette Day" in several cities. Bartlette has even had a play written about his life which premiered in Erie, Pennsylvania and was performed all over America by schools, churches, and Amish groups. 

Bartlette says he especially strives to reach secular audiences because he feels God wants him to tell the story of how he became a follower of Jesus and how faith in Creator God is necessary.

"I feel my ministry is important to people because it shows the power of having Jesus in one's life and demonstrates how one can live by faith rather than having a job where you earn a paycheck regularly."

Life's challenges didn't disappear when Bartlette gave himself to God. In the early years of his ministry, it wasn't easy to survive financially while providing for his wife and eight children. Living by faith, he says, was the key challenge, and having his children and wife travel with him during his early speaking ministry was the most exciting experience for him. His son, Seth, is now involved in a worldwide ministry of his own. 

In 2013 Bartlette suffered a stroke, hampering his ability to travel and speak for more than a year. 

"During that time, I feared I would lose my visibility as a speaker," Bartlette shares, "but, instead, I saw God restore my health and increase my speaking opportunities."

After speaking at the White House Unity Event for Native children in Washington, D.C., Bartlette has begun booking several events with Native programs focusing on suicide as well as speaking on Native reserves throughout Canada. He is currently the scheduled speaker at the South Dakota Native Education Summit as well as a program for Indian students at Crazy Horse University. 

Thousands have been affected by Bartlette's ministry-children, families, schools, churches, conventions, Native people, non-Christian and Christian audiences-many have responded to his presentations through heartfelt letters, phone calls, and articles in the media. He treasures every correspondence and considers them all gifts from God.   

From an infant who was destined to be tossed aside and thrown away, to a child who found sustenance, comfort, and friendship in the city dump, to a man who has presented more than 10,000 speaking engagements since his ministry began in 1974, Bartlette is a testament of what God can do through a life in which no human being can find value. His story is proof of love, of grace, and of compassion by those who follow God's call in their lives. It's no wonder that Dr. Don Bartlette considers Romans 8:28 a key verse in his ministry: 

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."

Don Bartlette was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a heart condition, severely disfigured and a cleft palate that robbed him of the ability to eat normally or speak at all. Young Don fought the odds, and in spite of his disabilities, extreme poverty, cultural prejudice, abuse and bullying, by the grace of God, Don has become the man he is today. An inspirational speaker, he has shared his story more than 10,000 times all across North America.

Thousands have been affected by Bartlette's ministry-children, families, schools, churches, conventions, Native and non-Native audiences-many have responded to his presentations through heartfelt letters, phone calls, and articles in the media. Bartlette is a testament of what God can do through a life in which no human being can find value. His story is proof of love, grace, and compassion by those who follow Creator's call in their lives.

For more information on speaking engagements or other questions about Dr. Bartlette's ministry, contact

http://www.donbartlette.com

Denice Rovira Hazlett is a writer living in Charm, Ohio. Her feature articles have been published in national and local publications. She loves good stories-both hearing and telling them-and can be reached at write2denice@gmail.com..

 
 

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