I’ve been wrestling with whether or not to write on this subject. I normally try not to write my opinion on things that tend to divide the Body of Christ because I am so personally invested in bringing the Christian community together at UT. In this case, however, I am willing to stir things up a bit. This post will be a little longer than normal, but I hope it generates some honest conversation about real-life issue facing a dear friend of mine.
Meet my friend Roger Flournoy. Roger and I have been friends for about fifteen years. We were part of the same fellowship and used to be in a small Bible Study together. We are a part of different Christian communities now, but still see each other about twice a month for lunch or a UT sporting event.
Roger has cerebral palsy, a disease that affects brain and nerve functions leading to a variety of diminished motor skills. Roger is unable to walk, but can crawl around on his knees with great skill. His right arm is hard to control, while his left arm works fine. This allows him ride an electric wheelchair, make phone calls, type on the computer, and more. The disease has also affected Roger’s speech. He is able to speak fine, but his words are sometimes difficult to understand until you get to know him better, that is.
Roger lives by himself in a wonderful apartment complex. His apartment is specially built out to meet some of his challenges and is paid for by a well-known Christian man at UT who likes to remain anonymous. Roger is part of The Austin Stone Community Church, where he has made dozens of friends. These friends and older friends from his days at First Evangelical Free Church work together to make sure someone is spending time with Roger almost every day. I, for instance, see Roger every other Friday for lunch and an occasional UT baseball game. He also has an attendant that comes to care for him twice a day.
Most importantly, Roger loves the Lord. He loves to worship and pray. He ministers to others online and in person. All of Roger’s friends can tell you ways that they have grown in the Lord as a result of spending time with him.
Roger is a dear friend of mine, which is why I was so saddened to receive the following email from him on March 29th after he joined us on campus for Rez Week.
“Tonight was awesome, but there was a girl in our first prayer group that prayed for me to be healed and she also prayed in tongues. She said that she was a prayer leader. Can you deal with this issue? All she saw was a person in a wheelchair.”
You Mean Well But…
In my reply to Roger I first said, “I’m sorry you had to experience that.” Then I encouraged him to do his best to see the girl’s heart behind her action. I do not know who the girl was but I do believe her intentions were good.
In my experience, the type of folks who would do something like this are those who see revival through what I call the “presence and power lens.” This girl thought she was doing the most loving and God-honoring thing. She wanted to believe God for a real miracle. In this case, however, she really hurt a brother in Christ. “All she saw was a wheelchair.”
It’s obvious Roger is not whole physically. He is in a wheelchair. He can’t sing as well (by human standards). He moves awkwardly. I’ve always wondered what would happen if our inward problems were as visible as Roger’s physical problems.
What if that same night at Rez Week you could see students’ inward ailments as plainly as Roger’s physical disabilities? Pan the crowd and you see “pornography” written on someone’s forehead, “depression” written on someone’s chest, “legalist” tattooed on someone’s forearms. If we saw people’s hearts as clearly as a wheelchair, would we pray differently?
Here is where some of you will surely disagree with me. Can’t we pray for more important things? Sometimes I’d rather pray about someone’s heart problems than pray for their physical healing.
I remember the message and the time of prayer the night that Roger was at Rez Week. The speaker gave a stirring message on how different parts of the Body of Christ need to learn from one another and be in relationships with one another. He then instructed us to get into prayer groups with people with different color skin than us. It was a powerful message and a wonderful time of prayer.
Roger came to Rez Week to pray for UT. He deeply desires the Christian community on campus to work together as one Body. He prays for it often, and he came that night excited to pray into God’s work at UT. Instead, he missed that opportunity to pray for Christian unity because his prayer group prayed for him to be healed the whole time.
I remember after I had knew surgery in 2005 going to two city-wide prayer gatherings while I was still on crutches. I went to the prayer meetings to pray for the city, but instead was surrounded by people wanting to pray for my knee. It was so frustrating! I wanted to pray for revival in Austin. I wanted to stop them and say, “Pray with me, not for me!”
The First Commandment
These experiences gave me a very, very, small taste of what Roger has experienced hundreds of times over the span of his 39 years of life. Another friend in my former small group, Shawn Platz, is blind. He says the same thing has happened to him time and time again.
Notice I avoided expressing my theology on healing. I’m happy to talk with anyone about this face-to face. What I am trying to do here is tell a real story to ask a more important question about how we love disabled people.
Being friends with Roger has really changed my thoughts on how to love the disabled while still desiring to see God do the miraculous. It’s so much different when you really know someone personally. That’s why I wanted to “peel back the curtain” so to speak. I write so that you can see this from Roger’s perspective.
I do not know why Roger has not been healed. But I do know Roger did not feel loved that night. The second greatest command, to love one another, was broken that night. This command must come before our desire to see someone healed.
How do we do that?
That’s the question I am still asking myself. It’s a question I ask of you. I find it most helpful, however, to ask Roger.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.