Have you ever noticed that the people the Western church tends to send abroad for service appear to be overwhelmingly healthy?
Where I live, I have never met someone living and serving internationally for an NGO, humanitarian organization, or faith-based group who used a wheelchair. I have never met a deaf or blind Christian pastor. Or a missionary with one arm. Or with an obvious developmental delay. Or with severe burn scars. Or who walks with a significant limp. Or who has a child with any of these things.
(My experience is limited, don’t hear this as absolute. I know there are groups specifically working among those with special needs. I also know I don’t know how to talk about ability and development with appropriate sensitivity, be merciful with my ignorance.)
Often, those of us with hidden health concerns, like cancer, take our bodies out of the area of service to get the issue treated. I left Africa, had surgery and treatment, and came back looking on the outside almost the same as before.
No one in my day-to-day community saw me at my weakest, most needy, most frightened, sickest point. No one knows, unless I tell them, about brain fog and inability to regulate body temperature and physical exhaustion and the battle against fear. I can hide my weaknesses.
There are other hidden broken things. We all know that in our private homes, things are broken. Marriages are broken, parenting feels broken. We are depressed, discouraged, afraid, envious, cruel. We’ve walked through divorce, addiction to porn, gambling, drinking, gluttony, anger, greed. We’ve lost parents, children, and health. Our faith feels shakier than we dare admit.
This brokenness, like cancer, can be kept hidden from our global communities.
But what impression then, are we giving as people who love Jesus? We’re giving the impression that Jesus-people are strong, healthy, whole, almost super-heroes, never doubting, never afraid, never in need, never broken in body or spirit or mind or relationship.
Yet it is in our very weaknesses and limitations that grace is revealed as powerful. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” And, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong.”
Jesus came to heal the broken and needy and sinful and we behave as though we are Jesus. “We will bring healing to the broken and needy and sinful!” Rather than the truth: that we need Jesus to heal us right alongside our host communities.
We do not act as though we are with them in longing for restoration and healing, rather that we are somehow the source of it. We don’t act like we wake up in our mess every morning and need Jesus again.
Some say faith is for weak people, faith is a crutch.
I say, “Amen.” I am weak. I have all my arms and legs, but don’t have my thyroid and do have cancer, still spreading. I have my mind, but it can quickly veer into discouragement and borderline despair. I have a happy marriage, and no one can infuriate me more than my husband. I have incredible children, and feel terrified and overwhelmed through most of my parenting years.
Bring on the crutch of faith. I could not move forward through this life of grief and fear and pain without it.
And what of those among us with a physical, actual crutch?
Michele Perry worked in Sudan. She was born with one leg and wrote, “The limitations, challenges and obstacles that could disable me, when submitted to Jesus, become the very things that frame the greatest displays of His goodness in and through my life.”
She experienced radical welcome into places where people had refused all other outsiders. She could not hide her need for crutches and this made her relatable.
We need to be honest and vulnerable about our visible and our hidden weakness and brokenness. We need to stop pretending and projecting that Christians are strong, healthy, whole.
We are broken by disease and loss. And we are healed by the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us. That is good news.
How can you let your pain, brokenness, limitations, or weaknesses reveal more of God’s love and presence in your community?