I saw it again just the other day: redemption in action, changing the lives of people affected by mental illness. Another reminder that none of us is alone.
This month I was privileged to travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania (a lovely town, by the way), to join in celebrating 25 years of service for No Longer Alone Ministries. This is an organization that provides all kinds of help for people living with the pain of mental illness and its effects on loved ones: support groups, a mobile psychiatric rehabilitation program, support for independent living, volunteer companionship, family counseling, and more. These services are available to anyone.
Thriving faith-based programs like this one are unusual. Most churches and communities put their money toward supporting ministries less fraught with stigma and other complications. For such an organization to celebrate 25 years of ministry is far more rare; most are much younger. Personally, I was encouraged to think about how many people have enjoyed the benefit of this ministry’s work. I think it’s fair to say their influence has transformed Lancaster and the surrounding area–in ways that can never be truly measured.
You know what else is cool about that 25-year mark? It means this ministry was around when I was in my teenage years, when my family felt we were living at the margins of human experience, when we believed we were alone in watching schizophrenia ravage a person we loved. Stigma told us we were alone; in reality we were not.
Like every other ministry of its kind I’ve encountered so far, this one has its roots in one family that needed to know it was not alone. “It began unexpectedly,” according to Ruth Detweiler, who partnered with her husband, Lowell, to start a support group when a family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “We were lost. We asked ourselves, ‘How do we understand?’ We talked to some other people who suggested families come together.” And when they came together, she said, “We immediately knew we were not alone.”
I have said it before, and you can count on the fact that I will say it again. The people who are in the best position to offer hope and healing are the ones who have been down the road where such things no longer seemed possible. We are the ones who can speak from our own experience when we say there is life after mental-health diagnosis. We draw on our own dark days when we consider what people need. We can honestly say we’ve been there. We speak with credibility when we say, “You are not alone.”
This is redemption in action. This is the kind of work God does in using our most difficult experiences to make us more loving people. Turning misery to ministry. Taking pain and reshaping it into purpose.
You and your story are candidates for this kind of redemption, as much as anyone else’s. If you are in need, reach out. You never know what might come as a result of the connections you will forge. If you have something to offer, offer it without fear. You may be exactly the person someone else needs to hear from. If you have something to start, get it started! And please invite me to speak at your celebration twenty-five years from now. I would love to see the room full of the faces of people who, thanks to you, found out a long time ago that they are not alone.
© 2016 Amy Simpson.