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Effective Ministry To the Chronically Ill

by Mary Yerkes

Ninety million Americans, or one in three, live with chronic illness or conditions. Yet, most show no outward sign of their disability–or the sense of loss, loneliness, and discouragement they live with daily. Pain, fatigue, limited mobility, and other symptoms interfere with everyday activities, responsibilities, and relationships.

Once diagnosed, many feel relegated to the sidelines of life–even at church. Well-meaning Christians, not understanding the unique challenges and struggles faced by the chronically ill, don’t know what to say or do to help. Here’s how you can help:

Spend time with the chronically ill outside of church. Meet at a time of day when they feel best. Those living with chronic illness struggle with regular attendance at church, Bible studies, and fellowship gatherings. Pain and fatigue take their toll, leading to physical and emotional isolation. Take time to visit those living with chronic illness at their homes or invite them to lunch–at a time that works best for them. A short visit over coffee or tea can make a world of difference in the life of someone struggling with chronic pain.

Understand when those living with chronic illness arrive late or leave early. Those suffering with chronic illness struggle with excessive fatigue, making long meetings, evening Bible studies, and traveling to conferences and events difficult. Allow for late arrivals and early departures.

Release expectations and be flexible. For someone living with chronic illness, it is possible to feel well one day and sick the next, making last-minute cancellation of plans unavoidable. Expect unpredictability and extend grace.

Affirm the individual’s worth, value, and identity in Christ. Feelings of insignificance and low self-worth often accompany chronic illness. Verbally affirm those you know who live with chronic illness. Don’t assume they have it “all together,” even if they look like they do! Speak words of affirmation, based on who they are, not on what they do.

Listen. Be a “safe place” where those suffering can express frustration, anger, or discouragement.

Send notes, cards, and small gifts in the mail. Books, CDs, or magazines can provide tremendous encouragement to those unable to leave their homes due to pain and fatigue.

Encourage non-traditional expressions of faith and fellowship. The Internet provides numerous opportunities to minister and connect with other believers online. Online mentoring and blogging provide wonderful venues of service and fellowship. Understand when those living with chronic illness express their faith in non-traditional ways.

Understand that those living with chronic illness have an important contribution to make to the body of Christ and help them find a place to serve.

Above all–express the love of Christ in practical, tangible ways!

Copyright 2006, Mary Yerkes. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Bio:
Mary Yerkes is an award-winning internationally published freelance writer with a passion for sharing the life-transforming power of the gospel through the written and spoken word. Her published works include The Cup of Comfort Devotional for Women, The Gift of Depression, and The Journal of Biblical Counseling. She is the founder of Comfort Cafe. Visit her website at http://www.maryyerkes.com.