Post Author: Courtney Allen
I have been fortunate to have been healthy most of my life. But in this year of turning thirty, my health has really taken a turn. I try not to think about any of what I’ve experienced over the last year in relation to the big 3-0, but the thought does creep in now and then.
Earlier this spring after being tired for over a month, I became acutely ill, and eventually was diagnosed with mono. There could be no greater irony for someone like me to have a disease for which the only cure is rest. No meds, no quick and fast remedy (I seriously googled this possibility). Strict rest is the only option for healing, they told me. So that is what I tried to do–rest and manage the joint pain I was experiencing. But after eleven months of continued symptoms, doctors, blood work and frustration, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which I likely contracted from a tick bite while planning for a summer mission trip in Jamaica. It will now take many more months for me to be healed from the bacteria that have invaded my body. During all of this I have not been able to maintain all of my ministerial duties and at times I have not been able to work at all. But I have spent lots of time resting on the couch watching terrible daytime TV, and being well cared for by others, especially the congregation I serve.
It feels like a total role reversal in so many ways. When I came to First Baptist I naively thought I would be doing most of the caring for others, but as it turns out those I have been called to serve and minister to have been caring for me. Others in the community that our congregation cares for, the underemployed and those on the margins, also have called, sent cards, and expressed their loving care. A young girl who comes to my church’s Soul Food feeding ministry prays for me each night, at least that’s what her mother tells me via text messages in Spanish. Fellow staff members have done my laundry, and countless church members have brought meals, taken me to doctors, and checked in on me during these months. Additionally, the friends our congregation serves have cleaned my home, brought meals, and prayed for me.
Living alone during this kind of illness, with my family living nearly five hundred miles away from the community I serve, may sound terrifying, but I have been so graciously cared for by so many people–not just church members but those our church serves. In many ways this experience of illness has given me a new understanding of my role as Minister of Community Ministry and Missions. I fundamentally believe in relationship as the key to community ministry and transformation, and these last few months have reminded me that these are relationships that work both ways–caring, loving, and tending to the needs of each other is a two-way street, and I am just as vulnerable and in need of care as those on the margins, regardless of my title as “minister.”
These months of pain and uncertainty, as well as my inability to minister to others, have been difficult. I have had to battle with my mind and my frustration at my body’s inability to function as I have always known it, rarely refusing my demands to keep moving and doing and ministering. I have struggled to surrender my tremendous sense of duty to fulfill my responsibilities as a minister and accept that I have an illness and that I need the care of others. But through all of this my eyes and heart have been opened to new understandings about what it means to minister with God’s faithful people.
Church members continue to say, “We’re glad you’re back. We are glad you are in ministry with us.” And Lord knows, despite what is yet to be overcome medically, I am grateful to be back. They continue to ask, “How are you feeling?” Unfortunately, Lyme disease is one in which some days are good and others are unbearable, so there is no standard line of response for such a question. Often I find myself feeling tired of being the sick kid on the block and so desperately wanting to be well and operating at 100% (or 150% as I prefer!) again. I don’t want to be on the prayer list anymore! I want to get back to being the one who does the visiting, praying, and ministering to others. But right now I am in need of the love, care, prayers, and questions of concern from these good and faithful people of God.
If this experience has helped me understand anything it is this: at our best, we do ministry with one another. My title may be “Minister of Community Ministry and Missions,” but my ministry at First Baptist is not a one-way street. And thanks be to God for this!! I have experienced the grace of many on this two-way street of ministry and relationship. I have long held and touted authentic relationships with others as the essential ingredient in the transformational community ministry–and now I have experienced this truth. I now know deep in my soul that I am vulnerable and need the loving care of others no matter my title or stated responsibilities. I suppose I knew this in theory before my experience with illness, but my independent, single self had not yet experienced the reality of my own vulnerabilities and need for the care of others. It is my hope that you do not have to undergo the kind of health ordeal I have in order to know that ministry is a two-way street and we are all in need of the care, love, and prayers of others as we lead and serve God’s people.
Photo by Dominic Alves, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/422146490/, December 9, 2012. Used by Creative Common License.