Geel is a charming town in Belgium with a unique population—a significant percentage of the people there have a diagnosis of mental illness. Host families to these persons are given no details of their guests’ diagnoses. Instead, they welcome their guests into the community like anyone else. “I have seen coffee served in a cafe with as much deference to actively hallucinating psychotics as to anyone else,” one observer described. Not surprisingly, people with mental illness flourish in Geel.
“I’ve learned more about God from the tears of homeless women than any . . . systematic theology books ever taught me,” said Shane Claiborne, explaining what drew him to sharing life in community with the poor. His words take me back to the first time I attended a church service in a poverty and violence-stricken neighborhood in Chicago. During the service, several people stood up to testify of their grief and longing for their community’s healing. As we prayed and worshiped with a depth I had never experienced, I realized that I too was broken and deeply in need of this kind of community—where pain is freely shared and together we encounter the One who meets us in our brokenness.