Can someone who can’t see, hear, or talk be “successful in ministry”?
One of the most effective evangelists I’ve ever met was a child who never uttered a word.
Mandy was born into our family two years ago, severely and profoundly retarded due to microcephaly. At first we desperately prayed that Mandy would develop some skills, but my wife, Susan, and I eventually had to accept the implications: Mandy would never talk, walk, sit up, or use her hands. She suffered frequent seizures. She stopped swallowing, so we learned to administer medications and formula through a tube surgically implanted into her stomach. We never knew if she could see or hear.
Yet despite her handicaps, Mandy had an amazing ability to elicit love and point people’s thoughts to God.
In our congregation, Mandy quickly became “the church’s kid.” When we would arrive, several sets of arms would reach out to take her. People I didn’t expect — teenage boys, a woman recently widowed, men who didn’t usually exhibit much interest in babies — would take turns cuddling her. After a service, we had to hunt for her as she’d been passed from lap to lap.
In the neighborhood, the school, or the support group at Easter Seals, she steered conversations. You couldn’t be in her presence without thoughts turning a spiritual direction. Why was such a child born? What is her future? Where does the strength come from to care for her?
These questions lingered in our minds, and they often were posed to us by others — Christians and non-Christians. We had no easy answers, but for all these questions, God, resurrection, and support from God’s people figured naturally into the only answers that came close to making any sense at all.
One hospital employee, after observing Mandy, said she decided “to get God in my life.”
A family told us their young son, who had always refused to pray aloud, had seen Mandy and heard she was very, very sick. That night, he prayed his first prayer — for Mandy.
In February 1992, Mandy suffered a viral pneumonia her body didn’t have the strength to shake. Despite our prayers and the physicians’ treatments, after five days I began to suspect we would never bring her home.
On Thursday afternoon, Susan and I sat in Mandy’s room, taking turns holding her. A procession of people came by to visit:
A colleague from work, who said, “I don’t have anything to say. I just sensed I needed to be near Mandy.”
A hospital volunteer, there ostensibly to comfort us, who suddenly poured out the story of her divorce, remarriage, and feeling of estrangement from God, but now her desire to renew her relationship with him.
Another health-care professional, who uncharacteristically broke into tears. She told us of growing up in a boarding school, away from her missionary parents, and never being openly angry at them but never feeling dose to them (or to God). Now, after caring for Mandy, longing to regain intimacy with both heavenly and earthly father.
I sat amazed. My child was dying, but in her presence, we experienced revival, confessing sins, and drawing nearer to God.
That night at 7 P.M., Mandy left her “earthly tent” for one “not built by human hands.”
In the weeks that followed, even as we grieved her absence, we continued to hear of her influence.
One man I’d always considered uninterested in church (though his wife attended every Sunday) wrote us:
“I never held Mandy, though I occasionally stroked her cheek while my wife held her. But I learned a lot from her. You’ve probably seen me standing by myself against the wall in the church lobby. I don’t talk to many people. I feel like an empty well. I don’t have much to say. But after seeing Mandy’s effect on people, if God can use someone like her, maybe he can use an empty well like me.”
Could a sightless, wordless, helpless infant ever be “successful in ministry”? If success is fulfilling God’s purposes, I consider Mandy wildly successful.
Can a ministry that’s cut short be blessed by God? Mandy’s earthly ministry lasted less than two years, but it touched eternity.
And I suspect that’s where real success is measured.
Marshall Shelley is editor of LEADERSHIP.