Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: MISSION (01/30/20)
By Marilyn Borga
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Before the study, when our pastor would grab his guitar and take song requests, Mike always asked that we sing “I’ll Fly Away.” His enthusiasm for that one glad day when he would fly away to Jesus was contagious.
On his good days, Mike made it through to the end of the service to enjoy a little social time with the half dozen of us in attendance. He’d repeat the same two-line joke about The Three Stooges, Larry, Curly, and Moe: “I had two brothers named Larry and Curly,” he’d say gleefully. “Then Mom stopped having kids because she didn’t want no ‘Moe.’” His high-pitched machine-gun laugh would echo off the walls and make us smile. He was candid about the condition that forced him into his nearly solitary existence. “I wasn’t crazy until I turned twenty,” he told us one evening, punctuating the statement with his unique laughter.
Schizophrenia robbed Mike of what most people take for granted. Close friendships, marriage, family, and employment remained beyond his reach. He never asked for anything from our tiny, struggling congregation but an occasional few moments of fellowship. In the Bible studies, he was respectful and knowledgable but rarely spoke. If he grew antsy before the end, he left as quietly and unobtrusively as he had entered.
Mike died one summer, alone in his apartment, of natural causes. He was such a loner that no one noticed until the body began to smell. A memorial service was to be held at the big Baptist Church that Mike had attended in his youth. I felt that the least I could do was to show up to represent my little congregation. As I expected, the huge sanctuary of the megachurch was empty but for a handful of people. Mike’s attendance at his home church was as sporadic as it had been at mine. He became too jittery to stay long in a crowd, so few had gotten to know him.
It was a short memorial service. Once he had graduated from high school and his illness struck, there were no accomplishments, no accolades. He had no close friends or family to tell warm stories of the good times they had shared.
But the pastor leading the service had this story about Mike: Years before, a special evening prayer meeting for missions had been called. People had already paired off into small groups and the pastor was ready to join one himself when Mike walked in, disheveled and slightly manic-looking. The pastor searched the room, hoping to find someone, anyone, without a prayer partner. All heads were already bowed. I guess it’s up to me, he’d thought.
As they settled into an isolated corner, the pastor wondered just how awkward the next few minutes might be. But peace settled on them as Mike closed his eyes and began to pray. It wasn’t eloquent; there was no flowery speech, but without notes to read from, Mike prayed for each missionary by name. He knew where each person served and recited their needs with details even the pastor had forgotten. It became obvious that Mike studied the church newsletter and took seriously the admonition to pray.
From the moment mental illness struck him, Mike’s life had been fraught with obstacles. He had struggled over each hurdle the best he could, sometimes prevailing, usually failing. He wrestled with sin as much as anyone. Shackled with weakness, he would never qualify as a candidate for foreign missions, but God gave him one mission that he could handle: faithful, fervent prayer. And in that, Mike’s imperfect, lonely life became a blessing to others. He did what he was able. That’s all God asks of us, isn’t it?
Whenever I hear Mike’s favorite hymn, I can picture him breaking free, soaring out of the prison bars of his impaired mind, into the open arms of Jesus, and hearing the words, “Well done!”
So I said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Psalm 55:6 (NKJV)
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