The Other Side of Ministry
Everyone loves to hear the success stories, and I love to recount them. These are stories that show how God is working in a mighty way, showing His Love among those who are too often forgotten by people. But perhaps that makes us complacent. If God is for us then who can be against us, right? God is working over there at the Community Care Center (CCC); it's an easy ministry and it's pretty much got LifeCare covered, so there's no need to get involved.
But the truth is there is another side. If God is working, Satan is not just going to snap his fingers and say "Shucks. Missed my chance" and go looking for a handy herd of pigs. He's going to dig in, up the ante, and try to at least keep his ground.
Betsy is a perfect example. You met her before under a different name (one drawback to having to report anonymously is that I can't ever remember what I've been calling people) - she loved the carrier I got her for her walker. She called it "That THING for my walker" in her delightful accent. She was very suspicious of me at first; she was Catholic and I wasn't. But after I gave her the walker bag for Christmas and brought her flowers from my garden she started seeking me out on Sunday afternoons. Then she began coming to service. And that's when things started going wrong for Betsy.
Her mental illness, which had until that point been well-controlled with medication, began to worsen. She'd get worse, get depressed, and disappear from the service for while, and she'd get better and come back. The second time this happened I went to her room to visit when she didn't show up for service.
Her part of it was completely bare. Nothing on the walls or the nightstand, and only a thin white sheet on the bed. She wanted it that way. On several occasions people tried to give her things like a cozy afghan or a religious picture, but during her next "downhill spiral" she'd get rid of them.
Her family, scarred by her mental illness, had put her in care with the first relief they'd felt in years and gone back to try and rebuild their lives. They visited on her birthday, and that was it. She was convinced she was worthless. I committed to visiting her twice a week, just to let her know I cared how she was doing, and God cared how she was doing.
At first she was suspicious. Then accepting. Then she welcomed the visits. Once, around Halloween, she asked me to pull her up in bed so she could sit and talk with me. I did, and she looked around as though expecting to be overheard. "I moved my room," she informed me.
"Yes, I know."
"They lost something. I can't find it. not anywhere. Somebody took it."
"What was it?"
She tried several times to speak. Finally she got it out. "My...Bible. It was black. I miss it. Could you get me one?"
I smiled. "Do you want a black one, just like the one you had?"
"No," she said, eyes darting around like a mouse caught pilfering in the pantry. "Purple," she said. "A purple Bible."
So I went on a quest. She was on one of her familiar downhill slopes, despondent because Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming and she had nobody. She began missing service but was holding her own when I went to visit her one Sunday and right in the middle of what I was saying she blurted out "Pray for me."
I was surprised. She'd never allowed me to pray with her before. "Is there something in particular we should pray for?"
She shook her head. "This place is a cesspit of human suffering. I have mental illness and my family doesn't want me and I just want to die."
I prayed with her. You can get in a lot of gospel truth in a prayer. I thanked God for her life, that He had ordained all of her days, and that He was in control. I prayed for release from her suffering, for peace and for snatches of joy so she would know that He was with her even in despair. Then I went on to thank Him for His word that tells us we were all created for a purpose, and for His Son who made a way for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him when our lives here are over; that all we need to do is say "I'm sorry for the all the wrong things I've done. Thank you for coming to die to pay the price for all that. I believe in you and want to give you my life. Help me to live for you." And then I thanked Him for His promise that He would forgive us, and make us more like His Son, and take us to heaven to be with Him. I ended with general thanksgiving for the blessing Betsy was to other residents, mentioning a couple specific examples I'd witnessed.
When I opened my eyes she was staring at me with her mouth dangling open.
"I ain't never heard a prayer like that before," she said. "That was so nice. Come do that again sometime."
"I'll be back on Wednesday."
And so I left. On Tuesday, she asked Herman the Bus Driver to pray for her, and he did. I imagine along something of the same lines. And I came in on Wednesday and prayed the same kind of prayer again. And she had peace, just for a moment. So I figured I'd go by any chance I got and pray with her.
And that's when things began getting worse for Betsy.
When I got there on Sunday, Betsy wasn't at home. Her body was there, but the eyes that looked out at me from Betsy's face were not Betsy's eyes. This was way different: Not the usual downward spiral. She'd become violent. While I was there she tried to break out the front window, and lunged for the staff member who tried to restrain her.
"Betsy, Betsy," I said, and she looked at me with utter hatred. But she stopped swinging.
"Come on. Let's go to your room and talk. Look - I brought you some flowers."
She dropped her arms and came with me, with three staff people following behind in case she went after me. But she was meek and calm. At her door I said, "Here we are; let's go in and we'll arrange your flowers and I'll pray with you."
She whirled around, threw her walker into the closet door and screamed "Leave me alone!"
That was it. As a volunteer I can't stay if a resident asks me to leave.
That was when things really began going wrong for Betsy.
Medication, psychosis, and brief windows of clarity that only tortured her further because she could remember the psychotic episodes and knew another one would come.
(note: I'm not a physician and I'm not privy to the details about the residents' condition unless they tell me something. The words I use are my own best descriptions of what I observed, but may not be correct).
I tried to catch her in those lucid windows to let her know I had a special Christmas gift for her. I'd found her purple Bible, you see, and I was keeping it for a Christmas surprise. In the meantime I and the CARE ministry folks prayed fervently for her, although I didn't share her name or any details of her condition. Christmas was a little more than a week away when I came in and Betsy was gone. Sent away to a place where she couldn't hurt herself or others. Nobody had let me know, because they said she'd be back in a few days. But Christmas came and went and no Betsy. Finally, she returned, and she was back to her old self!
"Betsy!" I said when I saw her. "It's so good to see you back! I have a Christmas present for you!"
"Where is it?" she asked with a grin.
"I didn't know you'd be here so I don't have it with me, but I'll bring it with me soon."
On Wednesday she met me at the door. "Do you have my present?"
I'd forgotten it.
I finally remembered the following week, and watched while she opened it. She was delighted with her purple Bible. I was delighted.
But that's when things started going wrong for Betsy.
She took a nosedive, and when I went to pray with her or read Scripture she stared at me and said, "I can't hear anything." The nurses said her hearing was fine, but she couldn't hear me. She took to bed, and a week later when I went to visit her her name had been removed from the door.
She'd passed away.
There was no reason for her death that I know of. Aside from the mental illness, she was not sick, and her health was in fact pretty good. She hadn't had any sort of medical event and was not on hospice. She just...died.
Look at the progression. She was fine until she began coming to services. She rebounded to a lower level when she stopped coming to services, but when she came back she suffered setbacks. She continued to be OK until we started praying for her. Then she got sent away, with no spiritual input for a while. When she rebounded that time she was back to being fine again...until she came back to the CCC and I gave her the Bible.
At that point, having tried lots of other avenues without success, I believe that the enemy took her life. Either to keep her from giving her life to the Lord or because she already had, and this was the only thing left that he could take - so she could have no joy with her saviour. I know she heard the gospel many times, thanks to the faithful men who preach for our worship services. I know she had peace after I prayed with her. I will not know until heaven what the end result really was. But I look at her life and see the enemy, alive and well, like a cancer, chewing away at souls.
Yes, the war has been won, but the enemy will not give ground easily, and the battle rages on. There is need.
A need for prayer.
A need for love.
A need for Jesus.
"Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." I John 4:4