A guest blog by Paul Bricker
Passage: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matt 6:6).
In one of my last conversations with my father before he died in 2011, he shared with me one of his great fears about me. He lamented: "When you were growing up, mother and I thought that you would never be able to speak…."
I grew up with a severe speech impediment. I did not say my first sentence until I was 5 and ½ years old. My first sentence was to my younger sister: "Darah, don't duck your thumb!". It means: "Sarah, don't suck your thumb".
All through my early years, my mother would take me on Saturday morning to meet with a speech therapist. We would go over words and sentences trying to help me to speak. I still stuttered and stuttered….
When I was in fourth grade, my mother was called for a parent-teachers conference after class. I was with them alone in the class room. The teacher whispered to my mother: "Your son has all sorts of problems speaking—you as the parent need to know that he is not college material.” Just because a person has trouble speaking, does not mean that the person has problems hearing! Needless to say I suffered ridicule from many classmates growing up.
At age 8, I was converted to being a follower of Jesus Christ. My mother would take many children to a Bible Club on Fridays after school. This is where I gave my heart to the Lord Jesus.
At age 9, I heard Malcolm X on the nightly news program. He was articulating that African-American/White relationships were so bad that the only solution was segregation. He wanted part of Mississippi as a separate country from the United States. God used what Malcolm X said to burn within my heart that the injustices in race relations had to be addressed. At this point I started to prepare myself to be an urban missionary. There was one problem—I stuttered and stuttered and stuttered….
At age 12, I started to have my devotions without any adult encouraging me. In my bedroom that I shared with my brother was a large closet (probably 5 feet by 4.5 feet). It was large because it had a door that led to an attic storage place. I found an old school desk (probably made in the 1920s) from my great Aunt—Aunt Minnie Lee McComas who had been a school teacher for over 40 years. I put that desk in my closet. I started my devotions in Genesis 1:1 (where else does one start?). I would enter my closet. I would close the door. I would read about ½ a chapter a day. And I would pray.
Eventually, I came to Exodus 3 and 4. This is the passage about Moses' call by God to go to Pharaoh and ask Pharaoh to let God's people go from slavery to the promised land. God gave Moses the call but Moses had an objection: "And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou has spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Exod 4:10). At this point, I stuttered to the Lord: "L-l-l-ord, I-I-I c-c-cannot s-s-speak!!"
Now it is God's time to object to Moses: "And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say" (Exod 4:11-12)
At this point God healed my mouth. I quit stuttering. I learned from the Lord that He will be with my mouth, and teach me what I am supposed to say. Even today, I might suffer bouts with stuttering. I have found that at those moments I need to turn to God for help.
What are implications for my life? Much of my life was formed by this experience. Here are some of them:
1. I learned to pray. I took literally what the Lord said in Matthew 6:6. I went into my closet…. I shut the door….. And I prayed…. What happened? "Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." My Father rewarded me openly by allowing me to speak. This is something to thank the Lord for.
2. I believe in miracles. All miracles are answers to prayer. I believe in talking to God and expecting God to answer.
3. My ministry has an element of social justice. I am against discrimination against Afro-Americans, women, and people from Appalachia. I have like Moses a "Let my people go!!" aspect to ministry.
4. Finally, here are some of the major accomplishments in my ministry: At age 21, I helped start Alpha-Omega Community Theological School (ACTS) in Newark, NJ. This was an urban school to help train urban ministers. I was originally ordained by a Black Pentecostal denomination and I started three Black Pentecostal Churches in Philadelphia during my 13 years in Philadelphia, PA. I helped start Pilgrim Church in Beverly, MA. This is a church that ministers to heroin addicts in the North Shore of Massachusetts. I have ministered to various churches in Southern West Virginia. I participate in a silent prayer meeting in Charleston, WV. This affirms my muteness. Finally, I am a Hospice Chaplain. What is the common thread to all this ministry? On the surface, it looks like there is no common thread to all this work. Here is the thread: I minister to those who have no voice as a person who has no voice (except by a miracle from God).
The Apostle Paul writes about ministering out of one's disability. When he asked God to take away a thorn in the flesh, God answered that prayer with a "No": And God “said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me'" (2 Cor 12:9). I minister out of my physical weakness and the power of Christ shows itself through my disability.
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