Last Sunday we finished a three-week sermon series on Mental Health. The series has ended, but before I move on to advent, I want to share one more story. Have you ever heard of the city of Geel, Belgium? It has an amazing story. In the 7th century, a daughter was born to an Irish king and his wife. They named Dymphna. When Dymphna was 14, her mother died. Her father loved his wife dearly and after her death he was heartbroken. Dymphna resembled her mother and the king decided he would marry his daughter to replace his wife. (Unacceptable by any standards.) Dymphna ran away to Geel, Belgium, taking the local priest with her as her spiritual guide. She settled there and built a hospice to care for the poor and the sick. She used her royal wealth to do this and through the use of her wealth, her father discovered where she was hiding. The king followed her to Geel and tried to force her to return to Ireland and marry him. She refused and he did what kings do. He cut off her head. She was 15 years old. He also killed the priest. The residents of Geel buried her remains. In 1349 they built a church to honor her. People began bringing loved ones struggling with mental illness to the church for healing. The sanctuary of the church became so full of people in need of care that they had to expand it. Eventually, there were so many people coming for healing, that the people of Geel simply took the suffering persons home with them. That began a tradition of caring for the mentally ill that continues today. Those in need of mental health care are taken into the homes of Geel residents. They are not called “patients.” They are called “boarders.” They are cared for within families. They have jobs, generally in menial labor. They are treated as valued members of the community. Some stay a few months, some stay for years, some for the rest of their lives. In the 1930’s when the practice was at its peak, over 4,000 boarders lived with the people of Geel. The practice continues today with 500 boarders living in the community.
It's an amazing story, isn’t it? People simply taking others in need into their homes. Why do this? At the core of this whole story is faith. Who did Dymphna take with her when she fled? Her priest. What did she do when she got to Geel? She built a hospice to care for others. What did the people build in her honor? A church. What did they do when they saw suffering people? They cared for them. All because of faith in a loving God.
I have never been to Geel, but I bet Geel looks something like the kingdom Jesus talked about.
It’s Wednesday and somewhere across the Atlantic in a city named Geel, healing is happening. Good news. Thanks be to God.
Pastor Cindy Hickman
West Des Moines United Methodist Church
Like us on Facebook or visit us at wdmumc.org. We worship at 8:30 and 11 on Sundays and we would love to worship with you. Advent, the time that prepares us for Christmas begins this Sunday and we will start a new sermon series, Not the Christmas We Would Have Planned. If we had planned Christmas, would we have chosen a bewildered husband, and a young woman and a country in turmoil? Could it be that God has different plans than we have? We’ll talk about it on Sunday.
And join us tonight for Wednesday Night Live dinner! Serving begins at 5:30.