Rev. Nathan Arledge , Minister of Mission at Myers Park UMC and ZOE Hope Companion
“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” – Mark 2:11-12
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of traveling to Maua, Kenya to meet our ZOE Helps working group, The Conquerors, which is sponsored by Myers Park UMC and Providence UMC of Charlotte, NC. During the trip, we attended Maua Kenya Methodist Church, the home church of a few of the Kenyan ZOE staff. Still struggling with the 8-hour time zone difference, our group walked in at 9:00 am half-awake to a room alive with the Spirit. It didn’t take long for our group to become renewed and to feel full with life. We left worship encouraged, charged and energized for the week to come.
The sermon told the story of the paralytic man in Mark 2:1-12. All week this message fed, challenged, and caused me to reflect on this journey in a new way. The orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC’s) that ZOE reaches out to have a paralyzing stigma. They are outcast by most of their community, paralyzing them from needed services. OVCs are judged for having to sleep from house to house because they have no permanent home, paralyzing them from adequate sleep and safety. OVCs have to fight to get their birth certificates and identification cards, otherwise, they are paralyzed from any government support and assistance. Food is another paralyzing journey for the orphans. Most days, they are reduced to begging and scavenging for any morsel of caloric intake. Imagine no food, no sleeping arrangements and no formal identity – you’re nothing more than paralyzed and hindered, very far from feeling full of life.
Being full of life is often but a dream for these children, that is, until ZOE shows up in their community. Through thorough prayer, discernment and genuine care of being their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, ZOE comes onto the scene as a radiant light of God. It doesn’t take long to notice the life-changing and fulfilling grace that ZOE provides in these communities.
There is one story from the Conquerer’s working group that stood out to me. Dorothy is only 17 years of age. She was once paralyzed by her own extended family. They stole her land and her cows after her parents died, leaving her homeless and vulnerable. Using the child rights training her group received through ZOE, Dorothy and her working group approached the local chief and were able to get everything that was stolen rightfully returned. The paralysis that once bound her and silenced her quickly turned. Dorothy became empowered and encouraged.
Dorothy now has the title to her parent’s land to house her and her younger siblings as well as proper identification. She is full of life now.
ZOE trains and empowers the working groups to first seek the face of God. Once centered, they move forth with Spirit-driven endurance to give their whole community a full life. Dorothy now goes around to her village and teaches other women about their rights, using the training and empowerment she learned through ZOE. She knew that this fullness of life was not only for her to have and enjoy, but was something all her neighbors should also live and experience.
Story after story, face after face, I was able to witness and celebrate the OVCs who embraced a renewed fullness of life. It would be audacious to consider the OVCs as the only ones paralyzed by life circumstances. Those of us in the Western world be short-sighted to think we aren’t paralyzed by life in the context in which we live. We are paralyzed by fear, greed, selfishness, and the pull of our comfort zones. Common sense would tell you about survival of the fittest and looking out for one’s self before anyone else. This isn’t Kingdom sense, though. Kingdom sense is seeking the best way to care for the holistic wellbeing of another.
Paralyzed and bound into our bubbles, we can quickly neglect the gifts that surround us every day, our sisters and brothers. By doing so, we miss the fullness of life. The sheer beauty that you experience with ZOE is the fullness of life found in community. After getting off my own paralyzing mat of Western living and travelling to Kenya, I stepped into a loving and caring ZOE community. I experienced nothing less than full life by being hands-on and fully welcomed into several working groups.
The mat sure can be comfortable, but at the end of each day it’s still only you on it. What do you say we take up our mats, embrace the life transformational words of Jesus, and go have a full life with our neighbors?