Welcoming the vulnerable

Category Archives: Welcoming the vulnerable

Wally and the Christmas Play

What to do with Wally? Wally was an awkward and shy child who belonged to the church kids club. It was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Wally? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we’ve no room.” Wally grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn’t wait for the big night.

It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room we could take?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room”.

Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room.” Wally’s face went white – this was not planned for! – and he paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.”

“But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.”

It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story.

Source: widely repeated story of unknown origins

Cory Weisman’s Basket

In February 2012 Cory Weissman led out the men’s basketball team of Gettysburg College for their last game of the season. Four years earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on one side. Four years of rehab and he was able to walk with a limp, but was still not able to play competitively. But before his stroke he had been on the varsity team and the Gettysburgh coach wanted to give him a few seconds on court as a senior. So Cory was nominated captain and led out the starting five for what was both his first and last game for Gettysburg, for he was now due to graduate.

Knowing the struggle it was just to be there, the crowd and the players from both teams greeted him with wild applause. The Gettysburg coach gave him a few minutes on court before benching him.

With one minute to go Gettysburg was well ahead and the coach sent Cory back out on court. The Washington coach called time out and instructed his players to foul Cory Weissman. For those who don’t know basketball this was a very generous act, for it meant Cory would be given two shots at the basket.

Cory takes his place at the free throw line, feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. It misses badly. But he has a second and final shot left. Again he feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. This time the ball flies straight through the hoop, and the crowd breaks out in thunderous applause.

The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, later wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”

Source: reported by Frank Record, “When there’s more to winning than winning.” NPR Radio, Feb 22, 2012

The Elephant Man

The movie The Elephant Man tells the true story of John Merrick. Merrick was born in the slums of England in 1862, and almost from birth experienced massive rejection due to his grotesque appearance. Merrick suffered abnormalities that resulted in a large and severely misshapen head, loose, rough skin, and twisted arms and legs.

His mother loved dearly, but died when he was ten. His new step-mother didn’t take to him, and at twelve, he was expected to work to contribute to the family finances. After two years working in a cigar shop he was dismissed because his deformities meant he could not keep up the required pace. His father found him a job, of all things, as a door-to-door salesman. This only accentuated Merrick’s self-loathing. When people opened their doors and saw him people would literally scream and slam the door in his face. Those who knew who he was refused to answer their doors.

After this “failure” Merrick’s father began beating him. Merrick wound up on the street and was rescued by a kindly uncle, the only person who would help him out. Not wishing to further burden his uncle Merrick left to live in a squalid workhouse for drunks, cripples and the mentally ill. His life there was so miserable that he offered himself to a carnival owner as a sideshow act.

Merrick was a hit. People would pay money to line up and observe him like some animal in a zoo. But the carnival finally provided him with security and a place he belonged. It was while the sideshow was in London that Merrick met Dr Frederick Treves. Disgusted by Merrick’s treatment Treves wanted to help. He gave Merrick his card, but lost track of him. The police started clamping down on the sideshows, so Merrick was sent to Belgium to work in a sideshow there. But when Belgian police also clamped down Merrick was forced to make his way back to England. As he limped down Liverpool Street station, foul smelling and misshapen, a crowd gathered simply to watch him.

The police took him aside to sort things out, but Merrick’s speech was so slurred by his deformities that they couldn’t understand him. It was at this point Merrick showed them Dr Treves’ card. The police sent someone to get him, and Treves rushed back. He took Merrick back to London hospital and began a newspaper appeal for funds to help Merrick. The response was very warm, and soon sufficient that Merrick was able to have his own house on the hospital grounds with permission to live there permanently.

Treves’ care marked a real turning point for Merrick. At first Merrick would act like a frightened child and hide when anyone came into his room, but over time he began to engage some in conversation. Dr Treves discovered that Merrick was in fact highly intelligent and sought to nurture his growth. Yet Merrick’s greatest hurdle was still to fall. All his life Merrick had known only fear and rejection from women. They had literally run from him. So Dr Treves asked an attractive widow he knew if she could come into Merrick’s room, smile at him and shake his hand. When she did Merrick broke down into a ball of tears, later telling Treves that she was the first woman in his life apart from his mother to have showed him kindness.

That was a breakthrough moment for Merrick. In the coming years more and more people, women included, would meet him and show him kindness. He began meeting Countesses and Duchesses. He even had many visits and letters from the Princess of Wales, forming a friendship with her. Throughout this time Dr Treves reports Merrick changed dramatically. He began to develop some self-confidence, to spend time traveling in the country, to discuss poetry with another new friend, Sir Walter Steel.

Merrick died in April 1890. His deformities had never allowed him to sleep lying down as most people do. He had to sleep in a sitting position, his head resting on his knees. He apparently tried one night to sleep lying down, to be more “normal”, and sadly dislocated his neck and died.

Merrick’s story shows us the power of love and acceptance. Rejected all his life, treated as a “thing”, it was the loving welcome of others that liberated him to become all he could be.  His life was made tragic not by his deformities but by the response people made to them.

Source: Reported at www.elephant-house.fsnet.co.uk

A Party for a Prostitute

It was one of the most extraordinary birthday parties ever held. Not it wasn’t in a plush ballroom of a grand hotel. No there weren’t famous celebrities, nor anyone rich or powerful. It was held at 3am in a small seedy cafe in Honolulu, the guest of honour was a prostitute, the fellow guests were prostitutes, and the man who threw it was a Christian minister!

The idea came to Christian minister Tony Campolo very early one morning as he sat in the cafe. He was drinking coffee at the counter, when a group of prostitutes walked in and took up the stools around him. One of the girls, Agnes,  lamented the fact that not only was it her birthday tomorrow but that she’d never had a birthday party.

Tony thought it would be a great idea to surprise Agnes with a birthday party. Learning from the cafe owner, a guy named Harry, that the girls came in every morning around 3.30am Tony agreed with him to set the place up for a party. Word somehow got out on the street, so that by 3.15 the next morning the place was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.

When Agnes walked in she saw streamers, balloons, Harry holding a birthday cake, and everyone screaming out “Happy Birthday!” Agnes was overwhelmed. The tears poured down her face as the crowd sang Happy Birthday. When Harry called on her to cut the cake she paused. She’d never had a birthday cake and wondered if she could take it home to show her mother. When Agnes left there was a stunned silence. Tony did what a Christian minister should. He led Harry, Harry’s wife and a roomful of prostitutes in a prayer for Agnes.

It was a birthday party rarely seen in Honolulu – thrown by a Christian minister for a 39 year old prostitute who had never had anyone go out of their way to do something like this and who expected nothing in return. Indeed, so surprising was this turn of events that the cafe owner found it hard to believe there were churches that would do this sort of thing, but if there were then that’s the sort of church he’d be prepared to join.

St Lawrence

Lawrence was a deacon serving in Rome in the third century when a wave of persecution broke out. When Pope Sixtus and others were killed Lawrence knew it was only a matter of time before they came for him. As keeper of the Church’s goods, he had already been responsible for giving alms to the poor. Now he started giving them even more.

Soon Lawrence was called before Roman officials who demanded he hand over the church’s treasure. He replied that indeed the church was rich and asked for three days to get everything in order.

The days passed and the Roman officials arrived not to a church filled with silver and gold but one filled with the poor, blind, lame and leprous.  “Here  are the treasures of the church” declared Lawrence.

The official were furious and in the year 258 had Lawrence executed.

Lawrence was right about the treasures of the church was he not?

 

Sources: wikipedia, americancatholic.org