Ivan was hard to talk to but I loved stealing glimpses of him during worship. He was always seated on the aisle because of his wheelchair; his mother stood next to him. While she sang, Ivan would grin and wave his hands in his wildly enthusiastic way.
Ivan was born with cerebral palsy in our Central Asian country, a place where people with special needs were routinely shunted away into institutions and neglected. He did not have the benefit of the kinds of physical therapy that one would expect in the United States. But he did have the benefit of a mother who loved him and would move heaven and earth to ensure he had the happiest life possible. She made a home for Ivan.
Ivan and his mom both came to Christ during our third year in the capital city. At least that is when I first remember seeing them at church. Almost immediately they were adopted into the church family. A group of young men would take turns spending the night at Ivan’s house in order to help Ivan’s mom with his care. They always made sure to bring Ivan to any events that were planned for young people. During one retreat, I remember seeing him, his smile a mile wide as he spun around in his wheelchair in the middle of the hotel dance floor. Surrounded by his dancing friends in the music-filled room, it seemed that he might burst with joy.
And then Ivan’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. In just a few months we watched her pass from health and strength to sickness and death.
Ivan was left alone in this world. That is to say, he had no natural family to come and take care of him. But the young men in the church stepped up. They shared the responsibility of living with Ivan and meeting all of his physical needs—needs that were tremendous and burdensome. They all cared for him as they themselves would have wanted to be cared for. They comforted him in his grief and eased his anxiety with their steadfast love. These were remarkable young men, serving another remarkable young man.
Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, those young men walked in an amazing newness of life. They demonstrated the reality of the resurrection through their love and care for Ivan. The community that they formed truly acted as the body of Christ on earth. The glory of the Father shone through them. I miss Ivan and his friends.
When have you seen that newness of life lived out before you?