I curled up in the fetal position in our borrowed house in an unknown village. Our neighbors were making religious animal sacrifices, and the dumpster right outside our gate was piled high with carcasses. Every day the temperature soared well over one hundred degrees, and thick clouds of flies swarmed incessantly.
I figured it was all just as well. I had no desire to leave the house during that season.
It must have been quite the scene when we did end up going anywhere. First, my wife Gloria would buckle our daughter into her car seat, and then she would come over to the other side of the vehicle to help me. She would open my door, wait until I sat in my seat, reach over and buckle my seat belt, close the door, walk through the yard to open the driving gate, drive the car out of the driveway, get out and close the gate, and then get back in the car and drive us away.
Then, when we returned home, we would repeat the scene in reverse. But this time, my wife would carry the baby and all of the groceries or luggage. Did I mention she was also pregnant at the time?
We came to the village intending to change the world for Jesus, but I couldn’t even change my jeans without help. My nerve pain had come back, and it was nastier than ever. I was depressed, incorrigible, and seething with anger toward God, my wife, and everyone around me.
Hope in the Shadows
I had surgery four months prior to our arrival. Both of my arms were operated on at the same time, and it was as surreal as it sounds. I had developed a neurological disorder, lost almost all my arm strength, and suffered constant burning pain in both of my arms. I was disabled. I could barely use my arms. We had tried just about everything, so we were hopeful surgery would make everything okay.
My health continued to improve, and my strength increased with physical therapy, so we went forward with our plans to move overseas. We were eager to start church planting work, and we hoped I’d finally have the “normal,” healthy body I was dreaming of.
All Came Crashing Down
Then, in one moment, everything fell apart. I had dropped Gloria off at the supermarket, but couldn’t find a parking space. Instead, I just drove up and down the parking lot until she was done shopping. As I made a left turn, I felt a burning pain in both of my arms. I instantly lost all strength. Tears flooded my face because I knew the pain was back.
Not only had my pain returned, but it was even worse than before. I lost all dexterity in my hands and developed boil-like wounds on my fingers. I couldn’t stand to touch anything. I was on the maximum dosage of medication for my nerve pain, and for anxiety and depression. At one point, when I ran out of the anxiety and depression medication and couldn’t refill it in our new country, I went crazy. I paced up and down the length of our bedroom most of the night as I yelled at myself and to myself.
I tried reading books, but none of them performed the magic trick I hoped for. We even watched all nine seasons of a celebrated sitcom in an attempt to cheer up, but it was all to no avail. I wanted to die.
Light in the Darkness
Fast-forward eight years. My pain remains. I’m still disabled. Yet by God’s kindness, I’m fighting for joy. I want to live. I love my family. I love our church and our city. While my arms hurt, I’m thankful most days.
What changed? So much happened, and I wish I could share it all. But the short answer is that God delivered me from the darkness of despair through my friends and family as they shared their hope with me. I’m not talking about a shove-it-in-your-face kind of “sharing.” They didn’t try to explain all my problems away or attempt to explain all of God’s intentions for my suffering.
The Lord surrounded me with hope-dealers.
My wife pointed me to the never-changing circumstance of life in Christ. My friends Brady and Amber reminded me of what Christ endured in order to bring me to God. My fellow founding elders and staff in our church plant, Glen, Mack, and Brian, held my arms up like Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’s arms — literally and spiritually. They prayed for me and supported me with a Christ-like love.
Our friends David and Kris and Ron and Kim encouraged us and counseled us through difficult life decisions. Church members like Sue, Aaron, Bessie, Julie, Patrick, and others emailed me the contents of their prayers. They reminded me that Jesus is supreme over all things.
In those dark nights of the soul, the joyful truth they shared with me rang in my ears.
Deal Hope in Hard Times
God delivered me from my pit of despair through these hope-dealers who brought me good news of the gospel. When you’re caring for people in pain, hurt, disability, depression, or loss, you have an amazing opportunity to point people to Jesus with your love, carefully chosen words, and silent presence.
Your ministry of hope could be just the lift God uses to pull your discouraged and suffering friend out of the mire and onto the Rock of sure and lasting hope in Jesus.