Luke 8:46. “But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” (NIV)
Let me tell you about Benjamin. I want to do that because Benjamin’s faith has touched me deeply, and in a way few others have ever done.
I first met Benjamin a year or so ago on a couple of day courses at Oxford. It’s hard to remember exactly, because you see I feel I’ve always known him. Openly friendly, engaging, always smiling, easy to be around, he made everyone feel comfortable.
I started a new course in January, and was delighted to find Benjamin there – smiling the same as ever. However, a few weeks ago, he wasn’t there, and his absence felt strange and tangible. He was supposed to be leading the worship, but a friend explained that though Benjamin had written the worship, he was unable to be there because he had had a pre-operational assessment for surgery earlier in the day at Churchill Hospital in Oxford. The surgery was a bladder biopsy scheduled for the week-end. There was blood in his urine and the diagnosis had pointed towards kidney or bladder cancer. Cancer? What cancer?! I never knew, because Benjamin was always – well – Benjamin, and I had only seen him occasionally, whereas now we’re on a 10 week course together. The friend explained that Benjamin was as strong as ever, but that he was having tests. She said he was ready to meet the Lord whenever that hour should come, but he was equally ready to stay the course if God needed him here. He had asked us to pray – not just for himself, but for all the people he’d met who were going through this situation totally alone. And so we did.
On 5 February Benjamin was back, looking the same as ever. There are no outward signs that he has ever had this devastating disease, yet at the end of the evening he courageously stood and told everyone that in the past five years he has had kidney, prostate, and testicular cancer, plus the recurrence of prostate cancer, and now his urologist says there is threat of cancer in his bladder or remaining kidney. Benjamin spoke powerfully of his willingness to leave whenever the Lord was ready to take him, but that he would stay and serve as long as God had work for him to do. He spoke of the power of touch, and the ability of all of us to heal in the way spoken of and demonstrated by Jesus, and he asked people to touch him with hugs, or a pat as they felt able. I held his hand as we gathered round to pray for him. Afterwards there was a queue in the corridor as everyone lined up to give him a hug and offer him words of encouragement or another prayer. Yet it was Benjamin’s faith that radiated its light over us, not the other way around; light which grew brighter as he spoke of the call to be compassionate, contemplative and courageous. Benjamin was still smiling as I left.
On the drive to Oxford that night there was a programme on the radio about the power of human touch. (God never fails to show His presence!) The presenter spoke of people whose vocation is to be ‘baby-cuddlers’, and the difference this makes to babies who are in hospital. One man had taken on the role of ‘hugging grandad’ to terminally ill children. Another lady spoke of the thing she missed most when her husband died – hugs and cuddles.
Human touch is vital for our wellbeing and survival. Without it babies have ‘failure to thrive’ – a recognised condition. As our culture changes, and at such a rapid pace, this basic human need is being neglected at a huge cost, not just to the NHS but to society. These days we’ve almost become afraid to touch one another for fear of its being misinterpreted. I pray that Benjamin’s words will encourage all of us to think about what it means to have this kind of close human contact – love and compassion given freely and courageously, as God intended and as He gives to us.
This week Benjamin received a letter from his Consultant Urologist regarding his MRI that was part of the assessments. The letter started “This is Good News!” This is a highly confident and wholly irregular proclamation medically speaking. It is divine. God’s hand was even on the letter! Though Benjamin is still awaiting the bladder biopsy results, the MRI indicates his kidney and other previously affected areas are healthy and remain cancer free. Oh the power of prayer and the power of touch! Pray for Benjamin – for his faith to continue to shine in the dark places; for his hugs to bring God’s love, comfort and hope to the lost, lonely and frightened, and most of all that God’s hands through ours, will continue to touch Benjamin and bring him peace and joy.
(Permission granted by Benjamin to use his name, and write as I feel moved to do.)