I Want to Know Christ
“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10
You may ask what makes Christian Health Care Christian. My answer to that lies in this Philippians verse. CHRIST is what makes Christian Health Care Christian. And, I believe that the best thing each of us could do to serve God best in our healing ministries is to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection – to deeply know this. I want us to consider a bit about what this means – to know Christ deeply and to serve him. And so I want to lead us there - toward Christ!
When I was in Seminary, I began to read the Bible a little differently than I had before. I began to see it more as a whole, rather than in different books, chapters or verses - I read it as a big story, the grand story of God and his ways with people. From beginning to end it is a picture of God’s character and also the way he relates to people. There are three particular words, or ideas that go through Scripture that I think pertain to us as we consider Christian Health Care.
God always responds to brokenness. In the Bible, we see a God, who, throughout all of human history, constantly responds to human brokenness. At the moment that humans severed that beautiful relationship with God in Genesis 3, brokenness became the very fabric of our world and our humanness. Everything was broken - our relationships with God, each other and ourselves. But, in that devastating moment of brokenness, almost the first words out of God’s mouth were to announce the promise that he will redeem. Things will not always be broken! The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. God is concerned about brokenness. If you read the Bible looking for God’s response to brokenness, you will be amazed at his constant character of compassion. In the Old Testament, every time the people got into a jam and cried out, God heard them, remembered his covenant with them, had compassion, and acted to restore and redeem them. Everytime. When Jesus walked this earth his every gesture was bent toward loving broken people and restoring the world that belongs to him. The seed of the woman, Jesus, did crush the seed of the serpent, Satan, and now because of that, we can be united to Christ. While the world still looks broken, the fact of the matter is that God is restoring the brokenness, through new life in him. And we get to be part of that plan of restoration.
God is relational and he wants us to know him. In redemption, God didn’t just conduct a business transaction – his life for ours, but rather, that he is working out that redemption in relationship with his people. He wants us to know him! He wants us to be able to think like him, love like him, to intimately know him. In the Old Testament God spoke to us through the prophets, but later, he spoke to us through a son – Jesus. God is always pursuing people, and showing himself to us. As we read of Jesus’ life, we see that he was all about relationships with people showing them who the father is, loving them into relationship with his father. We need to be in relationship with him to see redemption.
Identification starts by coming close. God comes near to us. Jesus left his home with the father and took on human flesh, became like us, so that we could know him. Emanuel - God with us. He comes near. He gets dirty. He comes himself. He came so near that we could touch him. And - he didn’t just prescribe redemption from a distance – he came to us and, he participated by identifying with us in our sinful state and in our suffering to bring about our redemption. He identified with us in our humanity so that we could know him - intimately. He came close so that we could have the ultimate in incarnation – Christ in us, the hope of glory. Now we can know him, identify with him, and even participate with him in His redemptive story.
So, with those three word pictures in mind – brokenness, relationship, and identification, let’s consider what it means to be agents of healing in this broken world. How do we participate in God’s work?
In our Philippians verse we see Paul’s answer to us: We need to know Christ and the power of his resurrection – personally, and corporately in ministry. We need to approach our patients and our communities with the message of Christ in all that we do. Let’s think about how this works in health care. We need to take on the approach that Christ took on with us – coming close and identifying with us in our brokenness.
Identify with Our Patients
When our patients are very different than us, we can easily get by without actually coming close to them or identifying with their lives. I think that is an overall problem in health care in general, the distance. We need to come close. We need to be intentional about weaving this idea through everything we do. This is the model Christ gave us - identifying with us, and particularly identifying with the poor.
Incarnational Delivery of Care
How does that look? At minimum it means physically locating our medical care as close to our communities as possible. Being accessible. But, identification means much more than that. It means we make a home in our communities. To be a good neighbor in our communities, treat our neighborhoods as we would if we personally lived there. It means that in many ways we go toward the patient rather than the traditional way of waiting for the patients to come to us and, it means a partnership in health rather than just sort of loading health care prescriptions on them.
James 4 (13, 14) might speak to this. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? Call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Does it say, if you’re sick, go to your local Christian community health center…? No, not go, but, call God’s people to come to be with the sick person, to comfort, to pray, to anoint in the name of the Lord. Somehow, coming close seems to be God’s design for healing.
Sick people need more than a qualified doctor to tell them what to do. Usually we say that we deliver health care. Delivery, of anything, is generally a one way gesture, with one party passing something to another party. Typically, the medical providers know what needs to be given and we deliver, prescribe, announce, what will be done to or for the patient. Generally, this type of care is not so close – it is many times done at a distance, rather than with the patient. It is easy to do it this way, and there are many constraints that draw us toward this. It’s not so easy to come close. But, God… God says, “go near,” “identify with,” “take down the barriers,” “be with” our patients.
And so we need to find ways to do that. At Esperanza we try to do this identification with our patients in a variety of ways. We hire community people, we speak Spanish, we have counselors who go into the patient exam rooms, we train community health promoters who work in our communities – all to be closer to our patients. We touch, we pray, we cry with them – we come close. And, as we do, we get close enough to see people being restored. We see Christ at work. We get the privilege of watching God at work in their lives.
Individually we also each need to find our own way of identifying. The best way I see to do this, in my opinion, is for us to live in our communities – to make our homes there. For me as an administrator, since I don’t have the opportunity to come close into the exam room, I think it is essential for me to live in the community I serve. I realize this isn’t possible for everyone and it isn’t easy to live in under-resourced communities, but I do think this is a question we need to each seriously bring before the Lord – God, do you want me to enter in and live here? Most missionaries typically move to the country they are serving – it’s a little easier that way! I’m not saying God prescribes this, but I do say, hopefully not too boldly, that I think living within the communities we serve is better.
Why? Because when my community’s concerns become my concerns, or when I see the difficulties our patients face in the context of neighborhood living, it helps me to begin to gain a heart that is more like Christ - I don’t have pat answers anymore. And, as I come near to my patients and neighbors, I become desperate for Christ to be in the picture, because in coming near, I can see just how inadequate my human solutions are to the real problems of our patients’, or my neighbors’ lives. I need that desperation to remind me that there is a much bigger picture here than physical health.
Our ministry needs to be done in relationship with Christ, so make knowing him your top priority. Whatever that means for you – how you do your devotional time, what you read, how you spend your time. This needs to be an intimate knowing. We need to be united with, married to… One with him! We need to draw our life from him in order to be able to serve him.
“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
I think we’re often quick to want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but sometimes we make the mistake of equating the power of his resurrection with succeeding. It’s just not that way. We can also make the mistake of not understanding that the sharing of Christ’s suffering is integral to knowing him. In fact, many times it is the very route to that resurrection power. It is still in many ways a mystery to me, but I know it to be true. Suffering with others gives us a true and real experience of the power of the resurrection.
We’re all in healthcare, we are called to compassion – to suffer with another. Personally, I like to avoid suffering but, fortunately for me, God is not satisfied with that. He wants to grow me, he wants me to know him intimately. So he calls me to come close. Avoiding suffering is usually the opposite of coming close, the opposite of compassion. But, if we belong to him, if we know him, we are going to be engaged in his work, and that will take us straight to the suffering, still-broken things and people of this world. To avoid that is to avoid knowing Christ.
My Sharing in Christ’s Suffering
Somehow, when I was called to move into the city, the Lord impressed upon me that I would be participating in his sufferings. Right from the start he began impressing upon me that there would be sorrow, and that I needed not to run from it, but to move toward it, toward him. I felt right from the start that I needed to pray for a bigger heart, a heart like his.
The one question most asked of me, by far, when people hear where I live, is this: Well, is it safe for you where you live? Are you safe? It’s almost always the very first question asked. I would answer with things like, “Well, it’s not that bad… or, no place is perfectly safe… or, you know as long as you’re careful it’s not too unsafe…” The fact of the matter is; no, my neighborhood is not safe. It is dangerous.
I hesitate to talk about the violence of my community; in fact I have never publicly done so before because my neighborhood is often thought of only in these terms. The stereotype of my community is that it is violent – and there are so many ways, better and truer ways to describe our home. It is called a “bad” neighborhood, but, it isn’t a “bad” neighborhood… it is good, with wonderful people there. In fact, I have found more heroes within my community than when I lived outside it. People like George, my block captain on Wingohocking Street, Mr. George – who chooses to stay there and raise his family there, and work toward God’s betterment of our neighborhood. Mr. George, who takes the time to educate me on what God’s rich picture of redemption looks like as it unfolds on Wingohocking. Mr. George’s kind teaching of me is because he believes that together we can partake in God’s work here. I need Mr. George, and because of him, I see God in a more full and glorious way.
But, in order to illustrate the sharing in Christ’s suffering in my world, and because I’m speaking to people in the ministry of compassion, I will share with you some about the violence. So, on behalf of the God-given dignity of each of my neighbors, I ask you to hold these stories in the context of God’s view of us, God’s view of the people that he created in his image that live with me on Wingohocking Street.
There is a lot of violence and it usually includes guns. There are routine sounds of gunshots, usually in the distance; but occasionally not so far in the distance. The first time I heard gun shooting within close range it was very startling. I was in my bed and the shooting was right outside my bedroom window in the alley. My heart raced and I clung to my bed. It sounded very loud, sharp, and violent. I remember being shocked by how forceful it sounded. I remember my first thought; that at this moment, one human being is trying to kill another human being and it’s happening right here where I am. Then, my second thought turned to my neighbor, James.1 He was about 5 or 6 years old at the time – he is the same age as my nephew Joey. I wondered if James bedroom was in the back of the house like mine, and was he in his bed shaking like me right now…? My nephew Joey at that time was afraid of bumble bees and thunder. My sister would often tell him that thunder can’t really hurt you and bees don’t usually sting. But how does a parent explain to their kid what I just had heard? That very violent sound? The sound of one human being trying to hurt another? We all know that exposure of violence to children at a young age causes serious developmental and emotional problems. That night was perhaps the first night I began to pray identifying with my neighbors and share in their suffering. I prayed for our safety, I prayed for protection on the souls of our children and the long term effect of this one night, and I prayed for our parents, trying to protect our kids from this. In my concern for my neighbors, I was beginning to know Christ in a new way.
Is it safe for me in my community, they ask? Well, that’s the wrong question. The right question is - Is it safe for James in our community? The answer is – NO and shouldn’t this be seriously alarming to the world, especially God’s people, shouldn’t we all be rushing to change things where children are being broken?
But, the fact is, few people are thinking about James, few people are worried about his safety. My safety maybe yes, but where is the outcry for James? The silence is deafening to me.
But, God is thinking about James…
Over the years, the violence has been the hardest part for me. I have lived here many years and the violence continues to affect me greatly. In fact, in recent years I have begun to have some symptoms of secondary posttraumatic stress. And, I’m an adult. And I choose to live here. It is hard for me to think about how James’ heart is, as he has experienced the same neighborhood violence that I have, only he experiences it as a child.
One last story… About two years ago, I was alone in my house on a summer Saturday evening around 8:30 and I heard some gun shooting in front of my house. I looked out and didn’t see any activity but soon I heard sirens that sounded close. I saw that the street was being taped off with yellow police tape. I saw a group of youth standing watching and I went out to stand with them. My neighbors told me that three men had run onto the street, shot another man who was coming out of his house, and ran. Tyana, a teenage girl I’ve known since she was five lives next door to the man. Tyana had called 911 repeatedly while she watched her neighbor bleed to death. 911 can respond rather slowly in our community. The young people asked me, I suppose rhetorically, “Why doesn’t 911 come for black people?” They then told me that James, Jordan and Ronnie witnessed the whole thing from James’ porch where they were playing a game together…
I could hardly sleep that night, thinking about the kid who was shot and his mother, thinking about the kids who did the shooting, wondering if I might know them, and thinking about the kids who are my friends – Tyana, James, Jordan and Ronnie – my friends – children too young to be in a war.
At some point the sorrow of the moment began to break me. After enough events it becomes hard to make any sense of things and hold it all together. My tears began to flow, more and more tears. I wondered if I was perhaps starting to lose my mind, or my perspective, or something. The sorrow was too much to hold, and too complicated. Sorrow for the victim, sorrow for the perpetrators, sorrow for the witnesses.
And, so, after many years of living on Wingohocking Street I thought about of moving away. Not because the neighborhood is dangerous, but because I was realizing that now that I am bound to the people here, now that I love them, I will never be free from suffering over their brokenness, our collective difficulties - I will always be affected by their pain if I stay. There’s no just getting through this instance because there are going to be more. And lives are being broken before my very eyes – the victims, the perpetrators and the witnesses. And me.
I wrote a poem that night – about my tears that simply wouldn’t end.
I can’t breathe
My tears are choking me.
I don’t know why I’m crying.
But you know, Lord.
I don’t know if my tears are from the experience of trauma,
Or from my confusion,
Or, are my tears from your heart, Lord?
I don’t know why I’m crying.
I know that every tear of mine is known by you.
I wonder if Jordan allowed herself to cry,
Or James, or Ronnie.
If they did, I know their tears did not go unnoticed by you.
In a neighborhood where 911 is useless,
The God of the universe responds to every tear.
The king of kings will hold the child’s heart.
Are you crying, God?
I think you are.
Every life that God creates is precious. I believe my tears were tears from a heart that is getting to know Christ. I cry for my neighbors because they are precious in God’s sight. No, I will not leave Wingohocking Street. It is my calling. I will share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. No, this world is not as it should be - we need a Savior. Wingohocking Street needs a Savior. We need Christ, who went to the cross with the total of all our evil and suffering and he bought us with his blood – and that is for James, Jordan, Ronnie…and me.
The Power of the Resurrection
I can’t say I can make sense of all this. It’s hard to say exactly how the power of the resurrection fits in here, when everything can’t be tied up in a nice neat package. I suppose that is the essence of faith – faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). Something about sharing in Christ’s suffering helps me be sure of the gospel – it is our only hope and it is utterly sufficient for us! I am sure of the power of the resurrection for my neighborhood. And my certainty grows as I share in Christ’s suffering from being where he is – close to the suffering one. And so, by faith…I grab on to the power of the resurrection. And somehow I am being changed in a way that allows me to worship him more, to see his glory, a glory that far outweighs all the suffering.
As people in healing ministries, our biggest mistake would be to try to engage in healing ministry in our own efforts, without the One who ultimately brings the healing, or, to try to be involved in healing without coming close. Consider how God might be calling you to that privileged place of the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.
So, I’m wondering - where are you? What brokenness might God be calling you to be concerned about? Where might he want you to share in his sufferings? Where are you afraid of God’s leading? Are you broken or tired from your ministry of compassion? Wherever you are in your life right now, know that Jesus Christ was broken for you. And he was broken for those we serve. I pray for each of you to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship, the privileged fellowship, of sharing in His sufferings - so that we can each grow more and more like him.
1 The names of the children have been changed.
Susan Post, DMin, MBA has served as Executive Director of Esperanza Heath Center since 2005 and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of Esperanza’s daily operations. Susan lives in the community served by Esperanza, and is familiar with the needs associated with the area’s predominantly Latino population. She currently serves on the Boards of CCHF, the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) and Ayuda Community Center.