Jessica Hayford Cantrell has had quite a summer moving towards Invisible Illness Awareness Week. This last Sunday in fact, her pastor did a sermon that included information about Invisible Illness Awareness Week. How did this happen?
The journey is a long one.
She shared with us this last weekend, “As most of you know tomorrow is the start of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. After a lot of emails, phone calls, and so on I can say that today was a great success for our church and those with such illnesses.
Today, before the sermon, my pastor addressed the congregation and held a special prayer. He told them that tomorrow is the start of NICIAW and explained that in the world, and our own congregation we have many people who are suffering silently with such illnesses. He explained that some were in pain, other had other symptoms, and that because of their illness they are often overlooked. He addressed our church as a family, saying that if we had a child who was suffering and didn’t tell us how would we feel?”
She continues to explain, “He emphasized that he wants our church to embrace with love every member of the congregation and even more so those with special needs. The family is where people go when they need that help and our church family needs to be able to provide that for them. He then announced the coming HopeKeepers(R) group and asked people to check a box on a card and give their info and drop it in the offering plate so that we can know who is either interested in being a part of the group or being a part of helping those who need help. It was followed up by prayer.”
What was the sermon about? “Then the sermon was on the Good Samaritan and he emphasized helping all of our neighbors and again mentioned NICIAW and helping by visiting the Rest Ministries web site even just to learn more about an illness.”
As you can imagine, Jessica is thrilled! “I am so excited and no, I don’t think I’ve smiled enough yet.”
So, how did all of this start? Actually, out of a lack of response Jessica saw and felt herself while dealing with her own illness.
“It started when I decided to talk to my pastor and let him know some of the statistics about chronic illness and ask him if our church could do something to try and minister to the many people in our own congregation who are suffering silently. It was born out of a hurt of mine. When I was diagnosed with RSD I had no support from the church that I had spent thousands of hours volunteering for, teaching Sunday school, playing and singing on the worship team, helping the youth group, etc. I didn’t receive a single card, call, or meal. Nothing.”
Sound familiar? Many of you have experience this same thing. She says, “I later thought it was funny that when I had my daughter I got more meals and cards than [I had earlier with my illness diagnosis which was] the worst time of my life.”
Did she get bitter? Nope! She decided to see what she could do to change things:
“I was so hurt I decided that our church needed to change and the first step was to make our pastor aware. Only those close to my family had any idea I was even ill, and none of them knew what to do. I realized that if I, who had been so involved in the church, was so easily forgotten, how many ill people walked through our church doors and never got the ministry they needed? How that must break the Lord’s heart. I decided to go to our pastor and let him know of the problem. He, like so many, was surprised to hear just how many people were affected by chronic illness.”
So what happened? “After months of talking back and forth as well as getting the okay for a HopeKeepers(R) group, our pastor is [made] invisible chronic illness the topic of his message September 12, 2010.”
Jessica also put together an amazing web site about Invisible Illness Week to help spread the word. She’s very excited as you can imagine! “I’m sure many of you understand how difficult it is for us to feel productive, especially in the Kingdom. Today I feel as if everything has been worth it.”
“Ultimately, it boiled down to seeing the need, seeking God’s heart about it, and doing what He said. He gave me the strength and resources to do it, and I have been so blessed by it.”
Visit her web site for her church’s HopeKeepers group, Highlands Ranch HopeKeepers .