Steve: How a Boy Who Couldn’t Speak Spoke to Me
Editor’s Note: Missioner Joleen Johnson serves weekly at Bethlehem Home, a home in Kingston, Jamaica, for children who experience various physical disabilities. Although Steve, one of the boys, cannot speak, Joleen has heard God’s voice in a profound way through relationship with him.
My Sunday routines are consistent, even when nothing else on mission in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, seems predictable or consistent. Every Sunday after Mass I get to go to Bethlehem Home to spend time with the kids of various ages who live there, and who experience varied disabilities. It is a highlight of my week, and I have learned more there from kids who can’t speak than I could have imagined.
I assume that I’m not supposed to have favorites, but my favorite kid there has always been Steve. Steve’s crib is closest to the door, so I usually see him first. Upon looking at him for the first time 10 months ago, I remember being overwhelmed by the way his little body was contorted, and trying to grasp how his legs and feet were going in different directions than most walking-people’s straight legs. His wrists also seemed to be set in such a way that made them seem folded down. Then I remember beholding Steve’s face for the first time and being amazed by how beautiful his eyes were. I can’t really explain it perfectly, but Steve’s face has always struck me as being this amazing little creation with such smooth skin, soft hair, and the cutest little nose. Many times that I’ve passed him or looked over at him, he has had drool running down both sides of his face. Yet, the face of this little 10 year old boy blessed me with one of the most profound experiences, or “God Moments,” of my life so far.
Steve is particularly difficult to feed, but since he has always been my favorite, I secretly hope each time that the woman in charge asks me to feed him. One day I was feeding Steve a bottle of blended formula, a process which was taking a long time. I was looking around the room full of cribs with kids inhabiting them who couldn’t walk or talk; some can’t move their limbs voluntarily, and other kids there are blind. I was thinking about what an injustice it is that these kids can’t play like the other kids who don’t have these same disabilities, and how their futures look so different than “normal kids.” These kids lie in their cribs all day and their basic needs are met by the religious Brothers (Missionaries of the Poor) and the staff there, but the kids physically can’t do anything for themselves. I was kind of overwhelmed with sadness, feeling sorry for them.
And then as I looked down at Steve’s face, and as his beautiful brown eyes looked back up at mine, I became absolutely overwhelmed by the powerful realization of just how infinitely and insanely much God loves these little ones of His in my midst. I was reminded that God is still, and is always, in control, and God is not outside of disabilities. I realized that Steve’s disabilities were not a “mess up” of God’s perfect plan, but that God was still present to these kids in a more constant and real way than I could have ever imagined. I thought about how maybe God isn’t disappointed about their disabilities, but rather, how He is so alive in each breath that they take. I thought about how God has provided for their every need throughout their entire lives, and undoubtedly protected them from a whole heap of dangers and threats which they may be more vulnerable to.
Thinking about how God loves these children so immensely, a particular Scripture came to my mind: John 21:15-17. After Jesus’ resurrection, He meets John and Peter and some of the other disciples on a beach after they have been fishing all night (and catching absolutely nothing). He makes them breakfast and then proceeds to ask Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?”, to which Peter says, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus tells Peter in response, “Feed my lambs”, then, “Tend my sheep”, and by the third time, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep”. This passage struck me because I was physically feeding Steve, one of God’s beloved children, and all of a sudden that Bible story became very real and practical for me. How does God want Peter, and perhaps us today, to love Him? By feeding His sheep. This could mean a million different things to different people and in different situations, but in that moment, I was feeding one of the deeply beloved children of the Good Shepherd.
God created these children and loves them unconditionally, and this realization changed everything for me at Bethlehem. No longer was it just about feeding kids who can’t feed themselves, and completing the job or task of getting bottles or soft food down into their bellies. It became so much more about my best attempts at loving these children even a fraction of the immeasurable amount that God’s boundless love showers on them. It became about embracing the ever-close presence of God in each of these children.
I really think this intense experience of monumental realizations, and realistically, such a deep experience of God and His heart for His beloved children that I had while feeding Steve that day, is a big reason why Steve is my favorite.
Last Sunday we walked into Bethlehem and the woman in charge, after a few minutes, said, “the boy died,” and motioned over to where Steve used to lie.
As Steve’s death sank in throughout the following days, and some disbelief and sadness eventually subsided for me, I began to think about how happy God must be that He has Steve with Him now, something that I imagine God has been longing for since the moment that God created Steve. I believe that each of us, and these children especially, were created for heaven, and now Steve has been afforded that opportunity. For it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Death only sucks for the living. The dead are experiencing their reward in eternity, and are not sad about their dying now, I imagine. But recently I’ve been thinking about how if we were created for heaven, and God deeply desires for us to be with Him there, and, if God’s will always prevails (which has been true in my experience), then our time on earth is just a gift from God, since we belong in heaven with our Creator. Likewise, each person whom we love is a gift from God, too, and the life we share with them is a gift on our ultimate journey toward heaven. Every person is a gift, and every loved one is a gift. Each moment with them is a gift given from God for a time. Perhaps we don’t necessarily deserve this generosity, but that’s why it’s a gift.
Each moment that I got to spend feeding Steve was a gift. Even though Steve didn’t talk, God used Him to communicate profound truth about Himself to me, and to teach me abundantly about His endless love for His beloved children. Nothing is wasted, nor a mistake, nor outside of God’s loving care.
God used even a boy with the inability to speak to speak to me.
Question for reflection: God loves us all profoundly. Where are you called to see this love more clearly? Where are you called to be God’s love for others?