Every now and then when I tell someone that I am a missionary, I get “the look”. The look that tells me the person I am talking to seems to think that I am either crazy or a saint or maybe both. The truth is that I am neither. Being a missionary has its moments of insanity as do most vocations and on my best days, no one would mistake me for a saint.
God has a way of reminding me every now and then that he has, however, put some special people on this earth that I like to call everyday saints. They aren’t super spiritual or perfectly moral human beings. They struggle with the same things I do and yet they have also overcome challenges that I have never faced. Nancy is one such person. She and her husband Ralph attend my church and today I got to hear more of her story. As long as I have known them, Ralph has been in a wheel chair and needed round the clock care giving. What struck me about Nancy’s story was the ordinariness of her response to such a tragic situation. As she was telling us about having to adjust to the sudden shock of having her husband go from being completely functional as an adult to being in a wheel chair with no ability to speak, someone asked her how she had adjusted from being a mom and wife to now also being a full time care giver. Her response was that things happened so quickly that she “did what she had to do”.
While in the hospital with Ralph and dealing with all the emotions surrounding this loss and change in her life, she was able to watch another woman also named Nancy cope with a similar situation with her son Frank who was Ralph’s roomate for a period of time. Frank was 22 years old and had been involved with a head on car crash leaving him disabled and in a wheelchair for the rest of his life as well. Something about the peace that Frank’s mom experienced in the midst of this crisis drew Nancy to desire that kind of peace as well. As it turns out Frank’s mom knew Jesus as her savior and shared that with Nancy who became a believer as a result.
Nancy would not consider herself a saint, but is an inspiration to all of us who know her. She simply does what she has to do and yet somehow does it now with peace and even joy. Her love for Ralph after all these years and care for him are evidenced by the way she talks about how he communicates with her by squeezing her hand or moving his eyes. She does not downplay the difficulty, frustration and even anger that she sometimes struggles with, but keeps persevering day in and day out with a heart of deep love of gratitude for her savior and for the husband that she serves so tenderly.
Growing up with parents who love me and took care of all my basic needs as a child was a blessing that I often take for granted. This weekend, I was able to attend a performance by a group of Chinese orphans who are touring the US in support of the orphanage in mainland China where they live and the ministry that runs it. These kids, ranging in age from 9-15, were certainly examples of the everyday saints that God brings across my path. Each one had a traumatic childhood often involving the suicide of one of their parents and abandonment by another. Through the efforts of the orphanage, they each now have a place to live, food to eat and a good education. Their ability to sing and perform was a delight to watch. What was far more captivating than their performances, however, was their testimony to God’s faithfulness in their lives and their desire to bless others as a result.
As I think about the life that I lead and the blessings I have been afforded, I don’t often think about the “what if’s”. What if I had been orphaned or had my spouse suffer a tragedy like Ralph’s – how would I respond? The one thing that I can say is that I serve the same Jesus who gave these people the strength for each new day. I pray that I would have the same response as Nancy and simply “do what I needed to do”. I certainly have been deeply affected by these everyday saints and want to be an encouragement to others as they have been to me. Who knows when my simple act of service to someone this week will be “the hands and feet of Jesus” to a person that desperately needs the hope of the gospel in their lives at that very moment.