Dear Friends and Family,
Last year, Jean went blind from a rare medical condition. Her immune system began rejecting her own corneas, even though they aren’t transplants. The disease primarily affects her vision, but she has many other symptoms as well. She has gained a lot of weight, and for many months she couldn’t get out of bed because of pain. Dealing with her sudden loss of sight was as hard on her emotions as it was on her body. She was shocked by her misfortune and discouraged by the sudden disability which upended her life and made all of her normal daily tasks almost impossible. Her boyfriend Robert stopped working and assumed the responsibility of caring for her full-time.
Our missionaries started visiting Jean every week, and we brought her casseroles that she could heat up for dinner. We prayed with her for healing and strength, and she began asking us to read the Bible to her. These weekly prayer meetings became significant for all of us. Over time, her disposition improved, and she complained less.
When I first heard about Jean’s affliction from her family, I immediately thought of the Book of Job in the Bible because it also involves a dramatic loss. Job is “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil” [Job 1:1]. Yet God allows Satan to radically test Job’s faith by taking everything away from him – his livelihood, his children, and his health. Job’s initial response is not to curse God, but rather to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” [Job 1:21].
I read this passage to Jean, and she was so moved that she exclaimed, “That’s right! Blessed be the name of the Lord! He sure is good!” I was tempted to expound on various nuances in the passage, but I suddenly realized that Jean was already living the truth of this Scripture and was graciously preaching it to me with her life.
This sickness has been a wake-up call for Jean to come back to God after years of drinking and drug abuse. In that way, she is not like the righteous Job. But they are similar because they both joyfully submitted to God’s will. Although Jean has certainly experienced temptations to doubt and anger during her sickness, it is obvious that the trial has strengthened her faith.
We have known Jean for ten years, but over the past year our missionaries have spent an extraordinary amount of time with her praying and helping her seek the specialized medical treatment she needs. Last fall, we drove her to Johns Hopkins Hospital. A specialist examined her and recommended a course of treatment. The treatment has gone well and Jean has recovered the ability to see a few colors. Please pray for her continued recovery and perseverance.
Gary recently invited us to celebrate his fourth year of sobriety. These celebrations always occur at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings that are open to the public. During these meetings, members share their struggles, hopes, and victories over addiction, no matter how great or small.
At the beginning of the meeting, Gary asked me to address the group first because I met him just a week before he stopped using drugs. I was surprised because he didn’t tell me about this beforehand, and I momentarily became filled with dread. How could I say anything meaningful to a group of people who have suffered so much? In my experience, it is these people who learn the deepest and hardest truths about life and then share them with me. So I spoke briefly about how I met Gary. (I left out most of the sensitive details I will present here, because this letter is more anonymous than that meeting was!)
In 2010, Laura and I ran into Gary panhandling outside a convenience store, and we offered to buy him something to eat. We got to know him over hot dogs, and we grew fond of his innocent and straightforward nature. We learned that he lived alone in a very dangerous project neighborhood. He had recently been arrested for drug possession and would soon be put in a court-ordered rehab program. He was using all his money for drugs, so he devoured the hotdog. After the meal, he borrowed my cellphone to call his case worker and confirm that he would report at rehab in a few days. Before we parted, we offered to take him to rehab and even buy him some clothes so he could make it through the thirty-day program. We agreed on a time to pick him up a few days later and parted ways.
When the day came, we were 5 minutes late to pick up Gary at our appointed meeting spot, and he was nowhere to be found! We were worried that he had overslept or overdosed. We knocked on his apartment door until we began disturbing the neighbors. Then we gave up.
Gary called me from rehab a month later. He told me that since we didn’t arrive on time, he walked across the city to the rehab facility. I was amazed at his determination to get to the program! Later, he revealed that getting arrested was what made him get serious about sobriety. He realized he could no longer manage his life by himself.
Gary and the others at these meetings all know an important truth about themselves and about humanity: we need help. It is refreshing to be at these meetings because everyone is being honest. No one needs to play a part. They know they need help overcoming addiction, so they turn to God and to other addicts for support in a humble and beautiful way. Only by acknowledging our sins and failures do we receive the consolation of God’s mercy. When we do this, we are both comforted and freed.
I believe Pope Francis was speaking about people like Jean and Gary when he wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, “[The poor] have much to teach us…in their difficulties, they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them…and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
I am grateful that I can rely on the love and generous support of my family and friends to help me in a crisis. The people we serve do not have such a network of family or friends to help them during hardships. Their circumstances require that they develop a radical trust that God will solve their problems for them. God always comes through for them in some way. Sometimes He does it by a combination of your generosity and our knocking on their door. Please continue to support A Simple House. By doing so, you are supporting many people like Jean and Gary.
Thank you for your continued prayers and generosity, and may the Risen Lord bless you abundantly this Easter!