I didn't expect to find a friend who could teach me the meaning of "blessing" in one weekend. Then I met Mark.

 

It was a fall men's retreat in the central, rocky-peaked mountains of Colorado, and I knew the drill. First thing on Friday night, a big meeting, with lots of singing and shouting. Then small groups, split up for coffee and basketball and games and eating and talking with old friends. Problem was I didn't know anyone, having just relocated to the state.

 

In our small group everyone said something about their background. One man continually fidgeted, had trouble speaking, and once had to excuse himself. I finally concluded that he must have a disorder of some kind, and I hoped that whoever had brought him was watching out for him in case his jerks and motions moved into seizures.

 

When the small groups broke up, I wandered outside into the large courtyard areas between the retreat center's buildings where guys were gathering in groups of two or three. I still didn't feel any closer to anyone and paused to look up into the vaulted, star-filled night. Someone nudged me from behind. Then again. 

 

I turned around and there was the man from the study, his upper body weaving and swaying in the same uncontrolled fashion I'd seen inside in our group. No one was with him.

 

I consider myself one who encourages. It's the one contribution I have for the church that works its way into the open among people rather than in front of people. Barnabas -- the man who helped Paul get acceptance into the first century church after Paul's widely-known persecution of church people, and the man who stepped back to let Paul take the point position -- is my patron saint. So I thought it "my job" to encourage this man.

 

His name was Mark. We went inside for hot chocolate, and that first meeting began a string of many over the next months and now years. Mark has Huntington's Disease (Huntington's Chorea), a degenerative neural disorder, and is married and has two children.  He had been a middle school art teacher and football coach until five years ago, when his symptoms grew more pronounced.

 

I wanted to be an encourager in this situation, since Mark and his wife went to the same church as my wife and me, and since Mark had stepped forward toward me on that starry, lonely Friday night.

 

Then the paradox I was to begin learning began to take hold. I found out a secret Barnabas knew, from helping Paul and John Mark (the fellow Paul kicked off his missionary team after Barnabas and Paul's 1st Missionary Journey).

 

Had I taken that first inclination to move away from Mark, I would have taken away the opportunity of knowing one of the kindest, most gentle men I've ever run across, who I've never heard say a bad word about anyone or feel sorry for himself, and who makes me want to be like him and his Master, Jesus. I would have been the loser.

 

The odd thing is that initially I thought I was blessing Mark. Paradoxically I am the one who has been blessed by him, as God has used him in my life.

 

And that is the secret of what I call The Barnabas Way. Instead of asking for a blessing from God, we can seek to be a blessing to others, especially those who need help. And the blessing returns to us.     

Copyright © 2002 by John Sloan

John Sloan is an executive editor with Zondervan Publishing House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a subsidiary of HarperCollinsPublishers in New York.  John lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and three children.