My fellow lepers
A story is told about a missionary [Father Joseph Damien, one of the first five to go to Hawaii] who went to the nearby island of Mollaci to share the Gospel to the leper colony there. He arrived, set up his tent and built a little white wooden church. On Sunday, he rang the bell to let people know it was time to come to church. Because they were a polite people, they came to see what the new colonist had to say. He told them, "The gospel is for lepers like you" but none were converted. They came and they went.
A couple of months later, they were still coming to church each Sunday - there wasn't much else to do on the island - but none had become believers, so he decided to change his tack. He took a softer line, "My dear lepers, the gospel is here for you to help you in your illness," but none were converted. They came and they went.
It was some two years later that he got up on Sunday morning to get ready for church and made his usual cup of tea. He spilt the boiling water on his foot and expected it to cause intense pain - but in fact he could feel nothing. The skin burnt, but the nerves were dead. He went to church, got up into the pulpit and adressed the congregation, "My fellow lepers..." Revival broke out and the whole island was saved.
When I meet people with mental illness, who would they rather see - a professional who knows the answers or a fellow traveller who journeys towards health with them? The ideal I guess is both. But to be a fellow traveller towards health, you have to admit you are coming from a place of illness. I don't know many professionals who would be willing to do that.
Why not - would this reduce their effectiveness as professionals or would it merely be a step to far in realising that we are not omnipotent after all? Somebody once defined Christianity as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread - seems like a good approach to me.
Rob Waller, 24/08/2008