by Norbert Becker
The doctor’s blunt pronouncement hit me squarely between the eyes: “You have macular degeneration. You’ll have to quit driving.”
I would lose my wheels!
It was a small consolation when a well-meaning friend commented, “Just be thankful you haven’t lost your marbles!”
With the loss of wheels comes some loss of independence. But in my case, another dimension was even more disturbing. What would happen now to my joyful ministry to the homebound of Salem Lutheran Church in Affton, Mo.? I was visiting some 45 shut-ins every month bringing them the Word of God and Holy Communion. Would this just come to an abrupt end? Could God possibly turn this evil into good?
Yes He could! And He did!
As I was contemplating my resignation from this special ministry, a retired gentleman made an offer: “Pastor, I can do some driving for you.”
The word got around—I like to think of it as God’s grapevine. Without any recruitment effort, I soon had a team of a half dozen volunteer drivers to ferry me happily to visit my dear shut-in friends. In fact, I can now count 16 volunteer drivers who have provided the wheels for my rejuvenated ministry.
The most significant benefit of my vision loss was the emergence of a new form of team ministry. What I had thought of as “my ministry” was now “our ministry.” As the drivers joined in the pastoral visits to the homebound, they experienced new joys and satisfactions. They often remarked how their own faith had been strengthened through the visits with those now disabled but still loyal to their church and their Lord.
My vision loss was their gain.
Another benefit of all this is the drivers’ enjoyment of some of the characters we visit. When 103-year-old Edna was asked what kinds of medicines she took, she replied with a twinkle in her eye, “I don’t take medicines—but I do like my Budweiser!”
Another Edna, 95, was listening to my review of Communion procedures: “We listen to God’s Word – we pray – we consecrate the bread and wine – and then we eat and we drink …”
Edna broke in unceremoniously, “… And be merry!”
“Yes, Edna,” I said, recovering from the shock, “We are merry and happy and thankful because Jesus has come to us with His body and blood to forgive our sins.”
Eventually, at age 84 and after 60 years of active ministry, I realized that the time had come for my resignation from the staff at Salem. Again, God had even greater plans for serving His dear shut-ins. The plan was a bit humbling at first. The congregation decided to not replace me on the staff. What did that say about my retirement ministry of 18 years? But the “team” would continue to reach the shut-ins without me. The wheels I had lost 12 years earlier would keep rolling. And God’s kingdom in this area would keep growing. Gifted and dedicated laymen with a little help from pastors are continuing their vital ministry.
As a missionary in the Philippines, I learned the value and necessity of team ministry that includes dedicated lay Christians. In that case, they provided the feet—the Bible calls them “beautiful feet”—to reach remote villages. But whether by feet or by wheels, the Good News of Christ was carried to those in need of salvation and comfort.
The vision loss and subsequent team ministry is just another example of how the Lord of the Church keeps His promise to work out all things for good to those who love Him.