We have a problem, and we aren’t unique. Many, it seems, have bought into the myth that weakness always leads to failure and strength always leads to success. But at times we awaken to the reality that we’ve been squeezed into the mold of conventional wisdom (Rom. l 2:2). Almost imperceptibly we’ve sought to develop heroic virtues in ourselves when simple trust in God is the greater need.
As is often the case, God has a way of turning our assumptions upside down. Scripture teaches the fundamental principle that brokenness and wholeness need not be opposites. They are easily complementary (see2 Cor. 12:10).
LIFE THROUGH BROKENNESS
It began as an ordinary day for Regiane. But as she was driving back to her office, two men followed her on a motorcycle. Soon they drove to within a few feet of the driver’s side of the car. The passenger on the motorcycle pulled out a gun, aimed at Regiane’s head, and fired.The car crashed, passersby pulled her out, and waited for the ambulance.The bullet destroyed her sight in both eyes, but her life was spared. In a moment her life, and the life of her family, had been turned upside down.
Someone has said, “Adversity introduces us to ourselves.” Moments of loss, pain, and suffering can cause most of us to shout out, “Why!” Such times of brokenness can turn the focus of our lives inward. When we are fully broken, however, the focus shifts outward and upward. Such was the case with Regiane.
I was invited to her home in Brazil for supper and Sabbath vespers. The whole evening was a time of praise to God, not only for His saving her life, but for giving her a ministry for those who are blind. As we sang How GreatThou Art, the song took on a deeper meaning for me. Regiane’s blindness helped me see: I saw that immediate tragic circumstances don’t need to be the final word. Through her powerful witness in the small Bible study, three people have already been baptized.
The very year that Regiane lost her sight, Juliana, a pastor’s wife, was also losing hers. Some believed that if she had sufficient faith, her blindness would be healed. But God’s wisdom produced major spiritual success for Juliana, who has become the regional leader for blind ministry. In her search for understanding, God brought her and Regiane together. They are now partners in a growing ministry for blind individuals. Out of two tragedies has come a united ministry for those who are blind.
RELATING TO WEAKNESS
God has service assignments for everyone. Stigmas regarding human weaknesses and disabilities can be demoralizing. Some people are depreciated in the very places where they go to find meaning and purpose, an issue well addressed by Paul: “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that are lacking” (I Cor. 12:24). In fact, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (verse 22).
The mission of God’s church is nothing if not inclusive, and God desires all of us to feel equally welcome to His party and successful in His company. To be effective, the mission movement needs every part of the body in Christ’s mission. If we exclude people with disabilities from missions, then the mission movement is missing part of the body. The mission is itself disabled. God’s extravagant and dignifying love enables rather than disables His servants, granting everyone, whether good- or ordinary- or inadequate-looking, their own honored role in His varied fields of service.
God expects us to be mountain movers. Unfortunately, many have found barriers keeping them from coming. No wonder John the Baptist, like Isaiah before him, announced that mountain moving, valley raising, and road straightening would all take place, providing total, direct entrance into the coming Messiah’s presence (Isa. 40:3·5; Luke 3:4-6). Isaiah’s and the Baptist’s song of total access was wonderfully demonstrated in the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12).
A paralyzed man heard about Jesus being in a nearby city. He had no way of going, but he had friends who would do whatever was necessary for their companion to meet Jesus. They carried him all the way. When they arrived, large crowds obstructed their access. But no mountain or valley (roof tiles in this case) could stop them.They opened a road through the roof and lowered their friend directly into the presence of Jesus. Their disabled friend’s only hope was meeting Jesus. They saw the need; they moved the mountain that needed to be moved; their friend met Jesus and received the healing and wholeness that he longed for.
Not defined by disabilities
I had never seen anything like it before–a wheelchair church. Scores of wheelchairs crowded into the tight space of this meeting place. What a sight! Not all were in wheelchairs, but all had one thing in common. They had come to worship, to share, and to befriend one another.
I’ll never forget meeting George (yes, call him George). He has cerebral palsy. I’d be challenged to understand him even if I understood Romanian. But the sparkle in his eyes outshone everything else—garbled speech, odd smile, constant drooling, fluttering gestures.
I soon realized that I was encountering something far more amazing than any mere assembly of people with disabilities. It was a time for my own self examination. Indeed, I had found my people—a people whose faith was not built on their being physically healed or having their rights defended. They were seeking something greater. That day they, and others like them, became my teachers. This was the church I needed…a place where brokenness is not about what we cannot do, not about prejudices others hold about us. Rather it is about finding the real purpose for each one’s living. And l found it that day in the wheelchair church.
God has high ambitions for the disabled. When Jeff was born his parents had great dreams for him.They denied it at first but the truth became unmistakable: their son had been born deaf. Nobody can say what went “wrong,” but Jeff is deaf. Yet deafness is not Jeff’s identity. Jeff is secure in his identity as one of God’s children.
Today, as an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister, he serves as my honorary associate in Adventist Possibility Ministries, while also engaged as a full-time pastor. His wife, Melissa, is an interpreter for the It Is Written telecast. They are a team ministry—one deaf, one hearing. Jeff’s role as a deaf pastor is not an employment accommodation of some sort, but a full-fledged and godly service that has impacted both deaf and hearing persons around the world.
I give thanks to God that my church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is ever more clearly recognized globally as a movement of bringing hope and soon-coming glory to many who have long lived with despair, deprecation and disdain. We believe that God’s providence has placed widows, orphans and others whom society often marginalizes in close Christian relationship to His church. How we treat such individuals is God’s test of our character.
We all need liberation from society’s conventional thinking on weakness. Only as we surrender to the truth of our own inadequacy do we become available for ministries of service as God’s jars of clay from which He may pour out the water of life to thirsty people everywhere (2 Cor. 4:7; John 4:l3-14; 7:37).