Fifth: Thoughts from those Who Serve the Suffering


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It’s a beautiful heart,
not a perfect body,
that leads to a beautiful life.
~Stephanie Nielson~

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We just started at a new church the beginning of this year and it has been overwhelming (in a good way) to see people truly and intentionally care for people in the body. Right now, we have no official ministries but I see the hands and the feet of Christ just so eager to move and be who Christ has called us to be. I am so encouraged by it. Our church is really great about announcing and praying every week from the front about ongoing needs by name and situation (with permission beforehand) which is incredibly helpful, so I have been able to reach out from that information given. I think meeting the basic needs of fellowship and friendship are really important, especially since these people often probably feel forgotten or alone. Making meals, cards and snacks come naturally for me, but I think it really ministers to people…

I know sometimes the church has changed the location of a Bible study or choir rehearsal to my parents’ house so she could be there, and that meant the world to her. Chronic illness is so hard. My mom has had MS for almost 30 years, and she doesn’t want people to pity her or look at her as a project or ignore her insights. Sometimes it can feel like people get impatient with the lingering nature of the disease and are frustrated when they can’t “fix” things or when years of accommodating these special needs continue and continue. Once Mom had a dear friend whom she had lost touch with visit. She was thrilled! And then said friend pushed her belief that drinking more fruit juice would help mom be cured of the MS. I mean, really. …how annoying for a friend to say this. So I think for people with chronic illnesses the trick is figuring out how to walk alongside them, valuing their personhood and expertise (not “let me do everything for you because you’re so disabled”), and know that you need to be in it for the long haul cheerfully. It is very hard.

Our church has a dedicated care task group who visit people, make meals, etc. I think having sermons online helps to feel a bit more connected to what is going on in the church if they can’t make it. People can find chronic conditions in others frustrating. Teaching from the front can help (e.g. about suffering, loving each other, practical tips) to help people know what to do and say (or not say!). Maybe interviewing people might help too – if they don’t want to go public someone could perhaps give their answers on their behalf. There are books that could be promoted: ‘How Long O Lord‘ by Don Carson might be a bit tough for some people (I needed a dictionary at hand) but excellent theology.

Online sermons. Communion delivered to shut-ins by an elder. Pastors and elders make themselves available to visit the home bound and address any spiritual needs.

I don’t think our church really has a formal ministry like this, and honestly probably doesn’t do a good job with this either.  Most of this type of thing is delegated down to small group leaders to organize for the immediate needs, however that means that someone needs to have signed up with one and be attending a group. One of the issues I see is that my church is generally good about wanting to respond to an immediate need, whether it’s meals or benevolence.  But if it’s an ongoing thing, people just forget. The second or third (or more) times someone is in the hospital, no one visits or brings a meal.  I think anything that communicates to the family that they are not forgotten and are not walking this alone is so beneficial.  It is very easy to feel alone when you are dealing with chronic illness – both the one with the illness and their caretaker.  For someone that can’t leave the house much, I think visits for prayer and communion are helpful, as well as online sermons or CDs/DVDs if they don’t have a computer to watch.  Hospital visits are nice if it’s an extended stay, or meal(s) for them when they come home and are recovering so they don’t have to worry about transitioning home and cooking.  I think it’s also good to be aware of any special needs when thinking of church events so that the person doesn’t feel like they automatically can’t go.

For me, just having someone show compassion (vs. pity) is such a boost. And, if my pride doesn’t get in the way—which it often does!!!—food is a blessing (cookies, casseroles, etc.).

I had the privilege of helping a dear sweet older lady suffering from Leukemia. I helped prepare her meals, did basic housework, kept her hummingbird feeders full, and spent time getting to know her and just doing any little thing that needed doing. I even did some accounting/bookkeeping spread sheets for her on her laptop so she could keep track of her medical miles. I could see that it was really hard for her to go from being independent to being bedridden with little to no strength. I think that is really a difficult thing for anyone who is used to being so independent to be able to ask for help and accept it too. I think it is also frustrating for those who are suffering to look around and see things that need to be done and have the mental capability but not the physical capability.
One thing that I learned early on is that it’s so important to try and do things how they would want them done or how they were used to doing them. I may wash dishes differently at home but that doesn’t matter because I’m there to serve her in her home.
Sometimes, she just needed someone there just to talk to and take her mind off her health & troubles. I remember my friend saying it really bothered her when well-meaning people would send her books on leukemia and offer dietary suggestions etc. My friend had already read all the books, done a lot of research and was already on a very healthy diet even before she was diagnosed. She’d already gotten all the opinions and advice from her doctors and was doing all she could. It became tiring for her to listen to yet another suggestion that wasn’t guaranteed to improve her health, or if it was something she already tried in the past two years.
I also told her that if she couldn’t find anyone else to take her into town for appointments or errands, to please call me and I would re-arrange my schedule if need be.

Keep updated prayer lists which sometimes reflect who is feeling up to having visitors.

Pastor/elder visits, communion drop-off, putting recorded messages on our website, etc. Pay for cleaning service (usually once a month or once every 2 weeks, depending on the need). Help pay for medical costs that insurance doesn’t cover (eg. hardware for the home that is necessary to keep person mobile and more independent). All church volunteers for when they needed help moving.

I know what my gifts are, I know what my resources are, and I have a heart that longs to serve and bless – so I seek out those who are suffering, and try to find ways to bless them without needing to be told by a committee what to do. That being said, I can write notes of encouragement, I can drop off goodies, I can fill a freezer with food, I can help run an occasional errand… due to my own limitations, I can’t relieve medical bills or pay for housecleaning services… I seek wisdom through prayer in how I can serve as an individual.

[In my particular needs] I didn’t need people to do anything time consuming or special but just being invited to join in what they are already doing and be a part of their family and their life makes all the difference. Words are not enough but the action doesn’t have to be big to make a big difference. It makes me think of who else is out there that is lonely and I can reach out to, and also that I need to be willing to reach out to people and be honest, accepting that I’m not a bother to them because they really do love me with the love of Holy Spirit.

Life groups (or small groups) is how members minister to members in our church. It is expected that as needs arrive within your life group, it is up to the other life group members to meet those needs (everything except financial, which we have a church wide Barnabas fund to meet members financial needs). If the need is greater than the life group can address, then the life group leader reaches out to other life groups for additional help. Examples of things that lifegroups help members with are: moving, temporary child care, transportation issues, home repairs, painting, meals, cards for encouragement, etc. Now, where people fall through the cracks in our church is if they chose not to join a life group. People would still be willing to help these members, but sometimes their needs go unnoticed. We also have a deep freeze with frozen meals.

I don’t have the gift of cooking but I would be happy to go clean homes for a member. It is more difficult for me to sign up to bring a meal to someone (although I try to do that anyway) because it is not my gift. I did offer to clean someone’s home for them when the wife had a lot of on-going issues but wasn’t taken up on the offer. Perhaps there is someone else in the congregation with other gifts like cleaning or household repair that is just waiting for an invitation to use them. If there was a formal ministry that included cleaning members’ homes I would sign up to help out a bit but I feel weird asking if someone needs me to come by and clean for them.

The men in our church sign up to be called for electrical, plumbing, washer/dryer repairs, yard work etc. The women sign up to be called to clean house, drive someone to appointments, cook, or whatever.  Just last month we each made casseroles, soups and stew—we spent a Saturday morning packaging and freezing meals.

I think, more than anything, the suffering need a listening ear. They need someone who genuinely cares about what they are going through even if we can’t fully understand the depths of that suffering. They need someone to rely on, who will be there for them and come to visit them on a regular basis. They can rest and relax so much easier if they know the basics are being taken care of: dishes, house cleaning, watering of plants/landscape, mowing of the grass, meal prep and so forth. My friend loved it when I brought her flowers or a jar of home-pressed apple juice or a little card I’d made. Even a phone call can be a blessing if you can’t physically be there. I would encourage everyone to reach out and see how you can help someone who is suffering: it was very eye opening to me in a lot of ways and helped me grow in compassion and empathy toward those who are chronically ill.

I am not on church leadership or any kinds of committees (nor do I plan to be at any point in the future), and my husband is no longer a deacon or in any official capacity either. But we are people who want (and believe it is our Christian privilege as well as duty) to serve, encourage, bless, and be active in the body of Christ. I have a vision of buying a stand-alone freezer for our church, and being in charge of filling it and using it as a freezer meal bank—but this is a future hope/goal, and not something the Lord has yet equipped my family to accomplish. I also write a few notes of encouragement to people each week, and pray diligently for them—I know the incalculable value of written encouragement and the unseen mysterious ministry of prayer, so I jump into those actions with as much gusto as I can.
~Melissa Joy~


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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

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5 Replies to “Fifth: Thoughts from those Who Serve the Suffering”

  1. I love that Danielle’s church has a freezer to keep stocked with meals. What a great idea!

    Tahirah, do ask! And please don’t feel weird about it! I’d guess that almost anybody who is receiving meals would be hugely blessed to have help with housecleaning. Sometimes an open-ended offer may not get a response. Try asking more directly, “Do you have someone helping with housecleaning? I’d love to do that for you!” And then follow up with, “How can I best help you? What are your needs? What days and times are best for you?”

    Also consider approaching a leader about starting a coordinated effort to line up household help for those who are dealing with chronic needs. It may simply be an area that has been overlooked. Household repairs, housecleaning, rides to appointments and childcare are real needs for many in these situations.

  2. Rebekah, thank you for chiming in; your encouragement here is very timely! And I am really thankful you shared this link to a Nancy Guthrie article that is so pertinent. Thank you!

  3. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13. Blessings to all who serve.

  4. I love this verse! I love how freedom looks like serving one another in love. Ah! What a gift to be given the freedom to love and serve others. It isn’t a bondage, it is a gift, it is freedom, it is grace. Yes and amen, Jackie!

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