Jesus Heals a ParalyticMark 2:1-12 (NRSV)
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“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!”
by Leah Moynihan
When I started writing today’s talk, five months ago, it was a different world. Coronavirus was a tragedy on the other side of the globe, but it had yet to touch the United States. I had just passed through the airports in Boston, Amsterdam, and Kigali without much of a thought, and without wearing a mask.
As the months passed after I returned, I did not feel very inspired to talk about my globe-trotting medical mission work. But when I went in for my first haircut post-coronavirus and talked with my hairdresser about all the places I had hoped to visit this summer, she commented that I have a sort of “wanderlust,” which literally means “desire to wander.” I had never thought of myself in this way, but it was this word that led me back to this talk.
My name is Leah Moynihan, and I am a women’s health nurse practitioner. I work in the field of Urogynecology, which is a blend of gynecology and urology for women. I became involved in medical missions to Rwanda five years ago. The group I work with treats women with childbirth injuries, which are often complicated and difficult to repair, especially in the developing world where surgical expertise and medical supplies are lacking. Mission work has become an important part of my life because it provides a sort of touchstone—a reminder of what is important and why I entered the field of medicine.
Like you, I have desperately missed being in church. But with the wonders of YouTube and virtual sermons, today I can share my story as well as some photos and videos from my journey. And so, I invite you to see what I have seen while I talk about my work.
Rwanda is a tiny country in East Africa, approximately the same size as Massachusetts. According to Google Maps, it is 6,871 miles from Boston. While traveling to Africa on a medical mission may sound frightening, my experience with mission work has always been positive. Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa, and crimes against tourists are quite uncommon. While the distance is far, I have never felt disconnected from my family or community at home.
Our team flies from all over the United States, stopping in Europe, and then to Kigali, Rwanda. The trip takes about twenty-four hours from start to finish, but I can text with my family en route and chat by phone or video every day when I’m there. While in Kigali, the team stays in a hotel with air conditioning and wi-fi, which works most of the time. We eat a lot of granola bars during the day, but at night we go out and enjoy some of the most delicious food I have eaten anywhere.
A typical day on this mission starts early with breakfast at the hotel followed by a short bus ride to the hospital. We talk to and examine the women, and then every woman is told to wait for a treatment plan. We are assisted in our work by Rwandan medical students, nurses, and doctors, and our goal is to see as many women as possible within the shortest possible time. This can feel rushed, especially given that our patients do not speak English and cannot understand how or why we make decisions about their care.
Every night, after we finish our work at the hospital, we go back to the hotel where we sit and discuss cases. We try to agree on who is a good candidate for surgery and who is unlikely to improve. We sometimes disagree about whether a woman’s issue is too severe to be repaired given the limitations of our care in Rwanda. If we are unable to treat them, it is unlikely that anyone else can either. This means that the woman will continue to leak urine, be ostracized, or cast out by her family and that she is unable to support herself.
It is just not possible to imagine the hardship endured by the women we cannot help.
The women who come to us live all over Rwanda and sometimes travel for five or six hours on a bus to get to the hospital. They leave their families and sleep at the hospital, often for two weeks after surgery, as they recover. They have learned about our mission through community health centers and radio ads. The radio ads are produced by the government in partnership with the mission and are broadcast for weeks before we arrive to allow women the time they need to plan for treatment. The ad explains where to go, that treatment is free, and that they should arrive by a certain date.
This year, there was a miscommunication about the radio ads, and there was no announcement. We saw less than half the women that we usually do, which was disappointing given the huge amount of time and money that it takes to bring our services to Rwanda. I was left with more time on my hands than usual, and I did a fair amount of closet cleaning and organizing to fill my days. But, despite having fewer patients, the team operated on about as many women as in prior years, meaning that more than forty women went home dry—not leaking urine or stool. In the end, the value of our mission to the women we served far outweighed the disappointment we had initially felt.
On the Sunday before I left, I did morning rounds at the hospital to check on the women who we had operated on. we came upon a two-and-a-half-year-old girl and her mother who were looking for a pediatric gynecologist to help them. By God’s grace, we had this doctor on our team that morning. After the exam and much reassurance that the child was fine, the mother dropped to her knees to pray for us. It brought tears to my eyes and was a wonderful reminder of why this work is so rewarding.
As many of you know, we as a church help to sponsor the education of Tresor, a ten-year-old Rwandan boy. I met his sister Janviere last year, and this year I was able to visit them at their home. I was nervous about visiting as I had no idea what to expect. They live in Kigali, which is the capital of Rwanda. Kigali is an interesting combination of urban areas and businesses next to fields of corn and cinderblock homes. Janviere and Tresor live a few miles from Kibagabaga Hospital with their mom in the slums of Kigali. Janviere met me at my hotel, then we walked about three miles to her home, up the very steep hills and down the muddy trails and through the streams of water. It was a hot and sunny day, and this was much farther than I expected to walk. As we passed, kids and adults stared, and I felt very out of place. Although I was Janviere’s guest, these people did not know me and likely wondered why I was walking through their neighborhood.
Janviere’s family lives in a single-story concrete building with two rooms. The front room had one small table, one chair for sitting, and a worn rug on the ground. They have a single electric lightbulb and they cook with a small charcoal stove. They had fixed me a feast of boiled bananas (which taste like potatoes), boiled greens, and grilled beef. I gratefully accepted a few bites and encouraged them to eat the rest. I imagine this was not a typical meal for them as Janviere has told me that they often struggle to afford food. I know that I risked food poisoning given my usual sterile American diet, but I was reassured that the food was steaming hot. I just could not say no because it would have been rude to decline.
It was hard to talk much to Tresor and his mom as they do not speak English. I asked about his favorite food (rice) and subject in school (science). Tresor is learning English, as all Rwandan children do, but he was very shy and seemed uncomfortable practicing his language skills with me. Janviere’s English is quite good, and she was able to translate for us.
We took lots of pictures and enjoyed our time together. Janviere’s mother was so grateful for the assistance we provide to fund Tresor’s schooling, and my heart was full, knowing that we are giving this child a chance he would not otherwise have.
A big thank you to Leah for sharing her story today, and to her and all her fellow doctors and nurses who work together to bring healing and wholeness to others!
There is a story in scripture that talks about a group of friends that work together to bring a friend to Jesus that he might be healed. Now this story is told in three of the gospels: Matthew 9:1–8, Mark 2:1–12, and Luke 5:17–26, so, we know that it is an important one. As the story goes, Jesus was visiting someone’s home in Capernaum, and just like the word spreads in Rwanda about the work that Leah and her colleagues do through community centers and ads on the radio, news spread around Capernaum that Jesus was there. Everyone was excited to see him because they heard about how he had healed and helped people. A man who was paralyzed had his friends bring him to see Jesus. When they arrived, there were so many in the crowd, there was no way to get him in. So they climbed up onto the roof of the house and lowered their friend down to Jesus. Can you imagine? To go to such lengths to help a friend–like doctors and nurses who would use their vacation time and money, leaving their families and the comforts of home to travel thousands of miles away to help others–it must take faith, assurance, and a heart of compassion!
Scripture says when Jesus saw their faith–not only the man’s faith but also the faith of his four friends–Jesus was filled with compassion. He then said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven. I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” The paralyzed man, who had been unable to care for himself and his family, with the help of his friends and Jesus, stood up, picked up his mat, and headed home praising God–just like many of the women that come to see Leah and the medical staff in Rwanda.
Friends, the truth is, in both of our stories today–at the house in Capernaum and at the hospital in Rwanda–it took faith, but it also took many hearts and hands and minds working together. It took the faith of many, not one, and the compassion of all. In the church, we believe that healing and wholeness come the same way. It is not all about us and our abilities, but it is about being a part of something so much bigger. Sure, we hear miraculous healing stories, but usually, when we take a closer look and pull back the layers, we see that there is a group of compassionate people praying, supporting, working, and sharing a piece of themselves and their talents to help bring about that healing and wholeness.
Friends, we are blessed to have a strong faith to stand on in times of trouble, but simply having faith is not enough. We need to live out our faith, being the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, always being compassionate and doing what we can.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, in the week ahead, think about what you can do to practice compassion. Can you pray for someone who is struggling? Can you pick up the phone and call someone who is lonely? Can you write an encouraging note to someone who is grieving? Friends, we all have different gifts to share to bring healing and wholeness to someone in need. Now I know that we have not been gathered in-person for worship for some time, and I know that many of our ministries have been on hold as we try to figure out new ways to safely meet and reach out to others. But friends, compassion is not only something that we share when we are in our church building. It is a way of life. It is making the choice to be the best YOU that you can be and sharing that light with others.
Friends, whether gathered or scattered we are all in this together. And it is up to us to not just look out for ourselves and our needs, but to make sure that everyone is heard and cared for. Because it is only then that we will truly have the blessed assurance that we have followed our call and done our best to bring healing and wholeness to the world. And friends there is no better feeling than that!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.