One of the best parts of living intentionally is getting to know my neighbors better over time.
I first saw Desmond a long time ago at a soup kitchen. It wasn’t until he first came to a foot clinic that I had the courage to talk to him. Desmond is an older man originally from Ghana He’s quiet, shy and keeps to himself – but his eyes draw me in every time I see him. There’s a lot in there, and he keeps it to himself.
After our first foot clinic encounter, we had a trust built (it’s inevitable when you share an experience like toe nail clipping) and ever since, I’ve joyfully greeted Desmond when I’ve seen him. He often asks about the timing of the next foot clinic.
Last Saturday Desmond was one of the 20 who came to the foot clinic, and I made sure I timed it so I could do his feet. Soon we were engaged in chit chat as the guy getting his feet done beside, listened in, smiling at me from time to time – intrigued at the unlikely conversation.
After Desmond told me a little more of his story, where he came from, how long he’d been in the states, he began to disclose details of his life I wasn’t expecting.
First he began to tell me how he is in danger of being deported, and then Desmond shared with me about the voices in his head.
As if he was telling me about any other detail in his life, he told me about the voices. It felt so natural and normal, I had to remind my face not to react at the foreignness of the content.
Desmond looked at me with pleading eyes “The voices make me suffer! Sometimes they make me urinate on myself. Sometimes they make me shit my pants. The voices are bad and they make me suffer. Sometimes they make people touch me.”
As Desmond shared his suffering with me – tears began to gather in my eyes.
“There’s another voice. A good voice. It tells me that there’s a man. A man who has known me since I was a boy in Africa. This man is looking for me, and he will come and take me by the hand and take me home.”
The gathered tears fell.
A lot of people look at the life we’re living and think we are bringing Jesus to the outcast and marginalized.
I’m not sure there’s a better illustration to communicate how the exact opposite is more often true.
Desmond taught me something invaluable about God. Desmond showed me a side Jesus I have yet to intimately know.
At first I was so sad and broken over Desmond’s reality. I knew he was giving me a window into the suffering of the thousands in my neighborhood who are suffering from mental illness. What a gift, yet a hard thing to receive.
When Desmond told me about this “man” – I had no doubt he was telling me how Jesus is present with him. I don’t know if Desmond views this “man” as Jesus – and I honestly don’t think I can know. I also don’t believe it is my job to figure out. I do believe that “man” is Jesus – and the hope Desmond holds on to is the hope of Salvation – given to him from Jesus himself.
I have often wondered what the Gospel looks like for the mentally ill. I’ve wondered how the “logic” of the Gospel can be communicated to those whose minds are not on the same plane as mine. How could I ever communicate effectively – in a verbal way – the story of Jesus with someone who cannot “hear” it as I speak it?
As I sat there, massaging Desmond’s feet, listening to his beautiful and tragic story, I knew I was with Jesus. I also believe Desmond was with Jesus. We were both revealing Christ to each other. In this exchange my question was answered. Jesus is with us – especially when we are suffering because we are more in tune to Him.
I’m coming to believe my friends like Desmond don’t need to be preached at. They don’t need to “hear” the Gospel. They need Jesus to be incarnated and living in their neighborhood – bringing meaning to the presence of God already at work in their lives. It’s what we all need, isn’t it?
The Jesus in me that was tenderly taking care of Desmond’s feet, was joining the Jesus (or the “man”) in Desmond to strengthen the hope he has of deliverance from his suffering.
What else is there, really?