On our first day of door-to-door medical outreach, I approached the door of a seemingly abandoned house and knocked timidly. A young man answered and invited my team inside. Eager to begin my examination, I hastily reached for my glucometer and blood pressure cuff and invited him to take a seat. Immediately, the over-eager, Type “A” pre-med student within me took control as I enthusiastically questioned him regarding his medical history. With a BMI in the normal range and no history of peripheral vascular disease, I was off to an admirable start. However, as the interrogation continued, my optimism faded as I noticed the young man’s glazed eyes and slurred speech, both of which I had failed to notice in my initial excitement. When asked if he was taking any medications, the young man produced a gallon-sized ziplock bag containing an entire pharmacy of prescription drugs. My initial confidence melted away as I stared at the mountain of pill bottles before me. Still, I persevered, focusing on the questionnaire in front of me as I struggled to salvage my first health screening as a SMI student. But, any sense of control I felt faded away as I listened to the young man recount the story of his turbulent childhood. He’d been constantly abused and neglected, having been kicked out of his own home and even the neighborhood homeless shelter before he turned 18. He’d spent many frigid nights sleeping on the streets, blanketed by cold snow. His girlfriend and two young children had been murdered. He himself had been shot multiple times and nearly lost his life. Now, the only things that brought him comfort were his two scrawny kittens and his beloved PCP. He unashamedly revealed his desire to commit suicide and bluntly stated that he knew no one who loved him. The only “higher powers” he recognized were his deceased dog, science, and robots. With mouth agape, I glanced down at my now useless questionnaire sheet. Clearly, SMI orientation had not prepared me to handle a situation like this. My teammates and I sat with the young man for a while, trying to empathize with his deep pain. Soon, it was time to leave, so we prayed with the man and left the house.
I spent the rest of the day trying to wrap my mind around the suffering of this young man. I’d once prided myself in my ability to recite seemingly airtight philosophical arguments for why a good God could allow suffering. But, as I grappled with the reality of deep, personal suffering, these arguments seemed irrelevant. How could a good God allow a man to suffer like this? Moreover, I found myself not only doubting the goodness of God, but even his omnipotence. Frankly, I doubted that the truth of the gospel, rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, would be powerful enough to affect change in a man who had been so deeply hurt and who thought robots would lead to ultimate salvation.
Thankfully, the Lord did not allow me to dwell in hopelessness for long. The following Sunday, I was privileged to attend lunch at the home of a godly physician who leads the worship team at In the Light Ministries, the local church I’ve been attending during my time in Philadelphia. As I recounted to him my encounters with suffering and pain, which I felt helpless to address, he smiled knowingly before telling me story after story about how he’d seen the Lord work in the North Philadelphia community. He told me of drug dealers who were met with the love of Christ and became pastors. He told me of prostitutes who were drawn to Jesus by the promise of true intimacy and who experienced the life-changing power of the Gospel. I sat in awe as he matter-of-factly reminded me of the miraculous power of the Gospel and its ability to change lives. While I’d been insistent that the only thing that could fix the problems I’d seen were years of counseling, the healing of a competent doctor, or constant human love, my physician friend reminded me of the infinite power of Divine love. Surely, even the young man I’d met, who seemed so hopelessly lost, was not immune to the infectious love of Jesus Christ.
I returned to my dorm that night with renewed confidence; not in my own abilities, but in the abilities of the One I serve. Even in the midst of such pervasive suffering, I’m now reminded of the power of the Gospel to enact change and no longer feel the burden of trusting in my own strength. And though I’ll likely suffer from spiritual amnesia in the future, forgetting once again the power that rests in the love of Christ, I can approach the future with confidence, knowing that my loving Savior will be there to remind me again of His love, power, and grace.
© 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Andrew Kilgore. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org