As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I heard a lot about the story of Father Damien. In 1864, he left his native country of Belgium and began to serve as a Catholic missionary on the island of Oahu. In 1873 he arrived on the island of Molokai to serve the lepers sent to live in the isolated settlement.
For 12 years he patiently lived among and tried to serve the leper colony on that island. But week after week, his small chapel was empty on Sundays. During the week, he would try to serve those struggling with the ravages of leprosy but only the most desperate would even allow him to dress their horrible wounds.
Eventually, isolated and incredibly discouraged he decided to head home.
The story goes that as he stood on the pier waiting to board the ship that would take him back to Belgium, he looked down at his hands. And at that moment, he saw some tell tale white spots. He knew that he too had contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy.
As Father Damien turned and slowly headed back up the hill to his hut, word began to spread among the lepers. “Father Damien has leprosy too. He is one of us.”
The hearts of the lepers were softened. Many began to make their way out onto the pathway. Some could only drag themselves towards his home, but soon hundreds were gathered around the discouraged missionary. He was finally one of them.
That next Sunday his chapel was overflowing. And for four more years, he lived among and faithfully served his fellow lepers. He died in 1889 and was buried among his parishioners.
What made the difference? Why were the people suddenly open to his message? It was because, for the first time, he was with them, really with them. He suffered just like they suffered. He felt what they felt. He expressed his care with hands that trembled in pain just like theirs.
The wonderful Christmas story is encapsulated in the phrase, “God with us.” He came. He lived our kind of life. The Bible said He was tempted in all points just like us, but without sin. The Son of God could relate…
Because He is with us, we can be with “them.” This week, let’s take a hard look around us and intentionally choose to be “with” some folks. It will matter, and make a difference.