Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Encounters: Sydney Airport, December 2016

December 7, 2017 by

During thirty some years of marriage, Bill and Grace Wiser have travelled to all but two of the world’s continents. Join them as they sketch their encounters with birds, stars, and fellow travelers; with books, ideas, and dreams; with boreal forest, tropical savannah, prison walls, and crowded city streets. The following encounter takes us to Sydney Airport.

When you live in the Australian bush as we do, getting to a major city to receive robust medical attention or simply attend a meeting means spending a day in a car or a train. By air you can cut that travel time down to a little over an hour.

That’s why Grace and I met Luke McClenaghan and his mother, friends of ours, at the domestic terminal a year ago. We had joined a gathering of church leaders in Sydney. They were returning from one of Luke’s innumerable medical appointments to their family farm outside Armidale in country New South Wales.

This was no small feat. At age twenty-nine, Luke was completely wheelchair-bound due to a degenerative nerve disorder attacking his spine and crippling his body. In 2015, Luke posted this image of himself on his Facebook page and wrote:

Luke kayaking on a lake

“This photo was taken eight years ago, just before I turned twenty. By this stage of life I had already gone through lots of surgeries. I had also seen my family suffer through many health problems and my sister pass away. But I still was pretty fit and strong and enjoyed a good hard day’s work. Eight years later and now I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for doctors to try and come up with a solution to try and stop the nerve damage in my spine from getting worse which could leave me in a wheelchair. At this stage I look nothing like the stranger in the photo anymore. I’ve spent months in hospital, had heaps of surgeries, my left arm is totally dead, and my legs are barely able to walk me down the hospital corridor. I suffer a lot of pain and take a lot of medications. So after all the things I have been through many of you must wonder, Where is God in all of this mess?”

We moved tables and chairs to accommodate Luke’s wheelchair and the four of us spent the next thirty minutes in animated conversation over Thai curry and Chinese noodles. As in our previous encounters, it was not about Luke and his condition; he never spoke about that. Rather, what excited mother and son was a book they both had just finished reading, The Insanity of God, about the vitality of the persecuted church around the globe.

Until that evening we had never known what it took to hoist a loaded wheelchair into the belly of a Dash-8 aircraft, something that Luke had to endure every time he went to the doctor. We also did not know that this would be our last conversation with him. The next time we saw Luke’s parents, Rob and Sue, was in the Anglican Cathedral in Armidale at his memorial service just eight months later.

Luke ends his 2015 Facebook post like this:

We all have a race to run, and at some stage the road will get rough. For some it may be the loss of a loved one, or sickness and disease. For others it may be relationship breakdowns, the loss of a job, depression, abuse, financial hardship, the list goes on. Where will you turn when trouble comes? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

So where is God in all this mess? He came right into it, “as a baby in a barn full of animals and manure” as Luke put it, so he could walk alongside us through the shit of life. Emanuel, “God with us.” Luke is no longer around to tell you how true this is. But Rob and Sue are. If you doubt it, just ask them. They will tell you.


Check back in a few weeks for the next posting in Bill's Encounters series.

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photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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