In the twenty years I’ve lived in total darkness, I’ve experienced life in the cities and villages of three West African countries (Mali, Ivory Coast and my mission home—Guinea), several European countries (Primarily Switzerland, but also Germany, France and Holland), spent time on a moshave in Israel near Jerusalem, and even co-led a commando-style mission to help Christians in a fishing village in India right after the tsunami of 2004. I noticed in each spot on the globe people rushed to assist me, but seldom knew what to do.
I am truly touched by the compassion of these helping hands, but sometimes their assistance can produce more stress than help. I believe that if folks know what it is that a blind person may need, everyone will be blessed by their assistance. Naturally, there are as many tips as there are visually challenged people, but I’m going to share three that top my list.
Of the more than 6.2 million people over the age of sixteen in America who are visually disabled, only about two percent have no light perception at all. Since I’m one of those categorized as totally blind, it doesn’t really matter to me that this number can vary with smaller study groups. To me blind is just blind.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past twenty years of living in darkness is that many people struggle to know how to behave in the presence of a blind person. I’d like to address this issue by offering three important tips to help you relax.
Tip One: Blind People Are Normal.
For me, this one is the most important for you to remember. Unless the visual loss is the result of a devastating multi-faceted accident or complicated cerebrovascular incident, it’s only the eyesight that’s been lost. We’re normal people in every other way.
Try to picture yourself speaking to the person in a brightly-lit room. Suddenly, the lights flicker and the two of you are engulfed in darkness. Would you treat the individual any differently because you couldn’t see her? How about if she couldn’t see you?
Don’t stress about saying things like, “Can’t you see what I mean?” In fact, I frequently say, “Yes, I see,” when urging the speaker to continue. Of course I don’t see and he doesn’t think my eyes have suddenly been opened to light. Just use whatever expressions are normal to you; don’t walk on those visual eggshells on account of me.
How easy it is to look at the giants before us, and in our fear of the challenge ahead, see only our weakness. Our trembling knees send a clear message to the brain: You know you can’t do this, and so does everyone else; quit before you get hurt.
About six months after I totally lost my eyesight in the West African jungle, we elected to keep our already scheduled survey-camping trip to the northern wilderness area of Guinea. We’d packed our food supplies in three-day food packets; had enough clean water in tall, blue-plastic five-gallon containers; and everything else we thought we might need for three weeks loaded in the Isuzu Trooper.
The capital city had been planned as our first stop. I figured we’d enjoy a good night’s rest before hitting the incredibly rough roads to the northern interior. Boy, had I been wrong!
“The bandits tied up the wife and kids, locking them in one of the bedrooms. The husband had been faced with two men pointing assault rifles at him; what could he do?” said the lady at the missionary guesthouse where we’d been sharing the dinner table.
The account had been triggered by our news that we planned to spend one night in that city before turning towards the interior desert wilderness. We’d sleep one night at the home of another missionary family—in a little room in their courtyard, not the main house.
An intense fear gripped my heart and shook it nearly to death. All night long, I pictured myself ten years earlier, back in a Land Cruiser on an Ethiopian dirt road. The driver of our vehicle had switched on the interior light as we tried to pass through a village. “We want them to see you, so they’ll know we aren’t rebels,” the driver had said.
He’d stopped the vehicle, opening all windows simultaneously, as the heavily armed men suddenly appeared.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” may be asked of you tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. If you’re not a practicing Roman Catholic, you may think the question irrelevant; or you mightn’t have a clue what the questioner is asking. Lent? Ash Wednesday?
If the terms are familiar to you, but your answer might be, “I’m not a Catholic,” read on; this post is for you.
“Encourage one another daily,” the writer of Hebrews 3:13 exhorts us. How few words are needed to affect change in the life of another.
Last week our pastor shared two stories of his experiences running marathons. In the first, his weary body screamed for him to quit as he started up that last killer hill. “Why not,” he said to us, “Obviously I wouldn’t be crossing that finish line first.”
As he struggled with the possibilities, he heard unfamiliar voices from the sidelines calling to him, “Keep going, Jean-Luc; you can do it!”
Who are these people? he’d thought, before remembering both his name and number could be seen by others
“If those people who don’t even know me can think me capable of finishing this race,” he said to the folks at our meeting, “I should believe in myself, too.” The words from the sidelines had provided that last minute burst of energy; he crossed the finish line.
The following year, Jean-Luc finished one marathon, focused on the next scheduled in just a few days. Tragically, a close friend died the day before the race. Jean-Luc elected to run the race in spite of his fatigue and seriously grieving state.