I grew up in Houston, Texas, and there were many programs and activities for blind children during the summer and on weekends. My parents often drove 20 or 30 miles to take me to these activities, and often they picked up other children whose parents would not drive or in some cases didn't even own cars. Many of the children had additional disabilities, and often the parents were very uneducated and didn't know much about blindness except that their children needed caregiving.
When I was a teenager, I began speaking at parent meetings, and this was the first time I had much opportunity to meet many parents. My own parents rarely took useful information away from the meetings because so many of the other parents had young children or children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. The remaining parents were so poor that the physical state of poverty kept their children from achieving or participating in community activities as I did.
These memories came flooding back to me as I interacted with one of the parents at the conference. Her baby is not quite two years old, but she is active and the family has high expectations for her. Teresa looks at blind adults and thinks, "What can I do to enable Cianna to succeed like that." Most other families look at blind adults and think, "Where can I send my child so he can learn to be like that." When the parents shared their stories at dinner, I heard a very common theme: "I moved here from Juarez to get help for my child." Often the theme was followed up by another theme: "Sending my child to Austin (600 miles away) is the best thing I've ever done." I felt like I was looking at a room full of people shrouded in darkness with one flickering light. I wanted to nurture that flickering light, but I also wanted to go to the darkness and say to those families, "You have the ability to change your child's life right here in El Paso!"
Jesus and his disciples once encountered a man who had been born blind, and the disciples started grappling with the question of why he had been born blind. Jesus answered them, "It was so that the work of God could be made manifest in him." We tend to move on to the next portion and key in on the fact that the man was healed. "God, just heal me, and I'll be all right and have plenty of faith." Sometimes He does this, but sometimge He doesn't. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. Not only in me, but also in others.
My blindness is not just a physical limitation. It has caused me to experience poverty, and that experience of poverty has helped me to understand people who live in poverty and also to act in ways that they can relate to. Have you ever spoken to a millionaire and had him say he can understand your financial troubles? Would you believe him? I wouldn't. I am even intimidated by people who live a "middle class" lifestyle. If I want to minister to people who are poor, it helps for me to have experienced poverty. It changes the way I relate to them. It enables me to make them comfortable and give them hope right where they are.
This is the model that Jesus gave us. He came into the world as one of us, grew up just as we did, experienced all of the normal pains of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. He learned to relate to "the locals" in ways that were meaningful and appropriate to their needs. He knew his status as equal with God, but he did not hold on to it or use it as leverage or as a way to influence the people. (Phil. 2:5-8 and Heb. 2:16-17)
We are each given a great commission, and Jesus is our model. How dare I go to someone and spend my time there thinking about my comfy hotel room or my home back in America? How powerful it is when I become one of them! And I don't have to shed my weaknesses to approach people of status. "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Tim 4:12) How about, "Don't let anyone despise you because you are poor..." Do you know that God has chosen the weak things of the world to challenge the strong? (1 Cor 1:27-29)
My weaknesses point to areas of my life where God wants to clothe me with His strength and power! What are my weaknesses? I must put on my shoes, experience the freedom of truth in those areas, and I must go!