The Client Turned Teacher

Eugene was one of our founding core persons. He had been in the institution long enough to have lost touch with his family and long enough to feel the sting of institutionalization. When he was welcomed from the Developmental Center the paperwork indicated his IQ was around 20. He seemed almost non-verbal and had some extreme mood swings.

It didn’t take long to discover his love for cooking and baking. He liked to bake cookies and was good at watching over the grill on those summer nights when the home cooked out in the yard. We also discovered his affinity for animals and his love of prayer. He never really liked the large numbers of people at prayer nights, but he did love God.

One night at our weekly Tuesday prayer meeting the theme of the night was that “L’Arche is impossible.” We were discussing the impossibility of living in so many relationships and the many difficulties with our model and the demands of living in community. Near the end of prayer the question was presented: What can we do?

Eugene, who had not said a word during the evening, looked up and said so simply and so succinctly, “We need the Holy Spirit.”

This man, who was labeled with an IQ of 20, not only knew exactly what we were talking and praying about, but he showed deep wisdom in leading us all to the answer we needed to hear. Eugene the “client” had become Eugene the teacher.

Bob Sackel is the Pastoral Minister of L’Arche Syracuse. His previous roles in L’Arche include Assistant Director and Community Leader for L’Arche Syracuse and Eastern Regional Coordinator for L’Arche USA.