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TRUST JESUS TODAY
This story is for people who suffer chronic pain or are physically handicapped. I have lived with both all of my life, and made it worse by living a secular life before I was saved by Christ at the age of 42. The story is about a lesson I learned from a mentally and physically handicapped woman living in poverty and a Guatemalan jungle village. It is a story of personal purpose and a desire to feel needed. God's grace is sufficient for both.
She walked from the emerald jungle on a worn dirt path, holding her mother's hand. Their ages were somewhere between thirty and sixty years. The rugged rural Guatemalan life made appearances reflect more than their true age. Both of the daughter's arms were twisted deformities. As they drew closer, the daughter's mental handicap shown in her eyes, and the elephantiasis in her enlarged feet affected her gait.
I whispered to God: What purpose can she have in life? She is poor and deformed in a land that can punish the weak.
Thirteen of us began the week in Huntsville, Alabama bound for Guatemala City to work with Word of Life Ministry, an organization with ministries in forty-six countries. A medical mission team from Lindsay Lane Baptist Church, we went to set up temporary clinics in rural Guatemala. We arrived on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Traveling most of the day by airplane, our journey continued with a two-hour van ride to a base camp nestled deep in the forested beauty of Guatemala. Our first tasks were to organize supplies and adjust to a land that none of us had visited before. We ended our day with a prayer to do God's will by helping the sick and spreading the Good News.
Word of the clinic had spread quickly. Monday morning began with more than fifty people lined up to see the doctors and nurses. With desks moved aside to make room for two doctors, a dentist and an optometrist, a rural elementary school was transformed into a rural clinic. In addition to examination rooms, one room served as a pharmacy, and a separate area was cleared for sterilizing medical equipment. In the United States, we would call it primitive. A health department would shut it down. But there, surrounded by poverty, it was a world-class clinic and an answer to prayers.
Those of us without medical training served as assistants and "gofers." My role was primarily to document, with photos and video, the medical staff and patients. As I peered through my camera lenses I saw three groups. First, the local people who walked to receive medical care for the first time in many months or years. Little girls wore colored dresses, while older men had shaved and put on their finest shirts. The men's faces reflected an inner strength, and they walked tall in their dignity. The second group was made up of Guatemalan doctors who had left the city, and their practices, to serve freely. They, and the third group, made up of the volunteers from Lindsay Lane, gave their time and money to work for a week in hot, humid, makeshift clinics serving people they didn't know, and would probably never see again. It was a convergence of strangers gathered by the hand of God.
In three days the medical team helped 853 people. The local Word of Life staff ministered to each person, and 145 people accepted Christ as their personal Savior. The days were too crowded, and the pace too fast, to sit back and take credit for the numbers. At the end of the week the only emotions on the faces of the volunteers were humility, and an overwhelming sense of awe.
The first two days our makeshift clinic was located in a rural area at low elevation. We consumed water by the gallons as temperatures soared above 100 degrees each day. The Guatemalans sat and stood in line chatting with friends and feeding babies. No one pushed to get to the head of the line or complained about the wait. They were unlike many of us who complain when we sit in the doctor's office for an hour, angry because we need to rush off to an important meeting, pick up the kids, or do anything more important than wait for a doctor.
The medical team examined the ill, pulled teeth, performed minor surgeries, provided medicine and corrected visions with donated eyeglasses. In addition to prescription medicine and eyeglasses, people walked away with over-the-counter drugs, toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap. Some now had eyeglasses and a clear vision for the first time in years. They walked away grateful, proud, hopeful and in some cases with a new life in Jesus Christ.
We set up our third clinic at a coffee plantation high in the Guatemalan mountains. Jungle vegetation surrounded a schoolyard as an impenetrable wall. Through this wall, on a path visible only when you stepped on it, came the handicapped woman and her mother. I asked a doctor about her disease. He explained that elephantiasis is the result of a blockage in the lymphatic system causing fluids to pool in the limbs. It is often caused by a parasite and has no cure. She seemed happy and at peace as she chose a seat at the clinic. I felt only shock and sorrow. The thought of living a life with such handicaps overwhelmed me. How would I live? Who could love me? What purpose could I serve? Even though I'm an educated man, I discovered I had much to learn - and she would teach me.
Though they arrived early, she and her mother waited patiently to see the dentist. Children played soccer on the dirt playground, mothers comforted babies, and men talked as old friends do when they haven't seen each other for a while. My camera was capturing something happening all around the world at that very moment-friends and strangers gathering to talk about the weather, work, families and the days to come.
As the sun crawled toward the western horizon, the final patients received their medicines from the pharmacy and the medical team slowly gathered their instruments. The mother and daughter, in the last group to leave, were delayed by a cruel accident. The daughter, whose feet were enlarged to at least three times normal size, slipped on a concrete step. She fell against its hard edges; cutting a wound deeply into her lip and chin.
While packing my camera gear, I heard a commotion and knew something unusual had happened. Grabbing my camera, I walked quickly towards the noise. Exiting the building, I found the daughter lying on the steps surrounded by a doctor and nurses. A nurse cradled the daughter's head gently in her hands. Listening to a language she did not know, the injured daughter responded to the nurse's comforting and soothing tones. I stood silently to the side as a Guatemalan doctor stitched the daughter's chin, making long sweeping motions as he wove the nylon thread to close the gaping wound. Without anesthetic, the needle was threaded through her tender flesh. Her mother bent over her, spoke softly, eyes full of sorrow. With my camera, I tried to record pain only a mother can experience. I will never forget seeing the mother's sorrow, the daughter's fear, the doctor's skill and the nurse's comfort - the body of Christ ministering to one of its own in a faraway jungle clinic.
Two days later, the plane touched down in Alabama, and that moment still played in my mind. It was one of those memories with a lesson wrapped inside a puzzle. Time swathed that moment with love, compassion, sorrow and hope. In that moment, God brought strangers together not just to heal a body, but for something more, something yet to be revealed in His time. The mystery needed to sink deep within my soul and linger for the moment I was ready for its revelation.
The next day I talked to my best friend Causten. I described the trip - people walking miles for treatment, vibrant forest colors, friends, strangers and the lady with elephantiasis. The conversation touched on lots of details, but mostly it was a discussion about purpose and the daughter who suffered life's cruelties. He tilted his head, as he always does when he's about to teach me a lesson, and said, "She reminded you of Paul and all that he said and lived through." I sat back, pondered a moment, and said, "Of course, it's all about God's grace!"
I have suffered physical affliction and chronic pain my entire life. My earliest personal memories are shrouded in pain. There are three types of pain: physical, emotional and spiritual. The worst of these is spiritual. Bones heal, emotions are comforted, but only God's grace and mercy can heal the soul. My body has taken beatings and tumbles. My heart has soared with joy only to be broken on the sharp rocks of rejection. My soul has danced with the devil, and I have lived in the darkness of evil. A doctor mended my bones, my wife consoled rejections and failures, but only the outstretched hand of God dragged me from the darkness of evil to the light and freedom of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of the source, all pain takes a toll on the body. As the years stack higher, my body is weakened but my soul has lost its fear of death. God has a plan for me as long as I live on this side of eternity's threshold - and pain will always be a part of that plan. There are times when my hands and legs burn and ache so much that I'm forced to lie in a fetal position waiting and crying for the pain to subside. Some days I need assistance to walk, yet other days my dogs and I experience a sunrise stroll through the woods, enjoying God's colors and the fresh, brisk air. I've been repaired by doctors but restored by Christ.
The apostle Paul lived with chronic pain throughout his recorded ministry. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10: "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Paul walked hundreds of miles in pain. The lady in Guatemala lives in poverty with deformities and illnesses that cannot be cured. If God's grace is sufficient for them - then it is sufficient for me. I no longer complain about life's afflictions.
All of us face tribulations throughout our lives, but God stands with hands extended offering grace and mercy. We only need to reach out and accept Him. On the days when the pain pushes me to the ground, and on the days I can carry my grandson - on all days, God's grace is sufficient. That's the lesson I learned in a Guatemalan jungle as I agonized watching a woman suffer pains I could only imagine. She did not graduate from an Ivy League school, nor win an Olympic medal. She has written no great books or spoken to thousands. She simply lives as a mother's daughter, laughs with children, and cradles babies as they drift to sleep in her warm, safe arms. Her purpose is love and to be loved. She lived her purpose that day when she taught me to live humbly under the grace of God - and love all whose paths I cross.
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