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3/26/2020 – The Parable of the Lamp

Passage: Matthew 5:14-16

Written By: Margo Leavitt – Undergrad

In 1984, while visiting her friend in a Little Rock hospital, 25-year-old Ruth Coker Burks came across a patient who was completely isolated. The door to his room was covered in red plastic and the nurses on the floor avoided entering at all costs. Ruth knows now that God led her to speak to the dying man inside. He’d been there for 6 weeks and weighed less than 100 pounds. She understood that he had AIDS, at the time called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) or even the “gay cancer”. The young man, Jimmy, was asking for his mother. Due to the stigma, she rejected her son and instead it was Ruth who held his hand when he passed away that night.

Jimmy was the first of hundreds of men across Arkansas suffering from AIDS that Ruth worked with over about 15 years. She contacted families who often cussed at her before hanging up, gave patients emotional support, helped manage their medical needs, and gave them funerals when no preacher or priest would. She even buried over 40 of the men in her family’s cemetery when their own families refused. The partner of one of Ruth’s patients shared with her, “You were the only person that we could call. There wasn't a doctor. There wasn't a nurse. There wasn't anyone. It was just you. You loved them more than their families could. You loved them more than their church could.”

Of her work, she said, “It never made me question my faith at all. I knew that what I was doing was right, and I knew that I was doing what God asked me. It wasn’t a voice from the sky. I knew deep in my soul.” Ruth was courageous and loving in the face of this new crisis, while many chose hate and fear.

Even as a young woman, Ruth understood what it meant to let her light shine. She didn’t have a seminary or medical degree, but she did have faith, compassion, and courage. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In this parable, Jesus doesn’t ask for expertise or confidence. In fact, according him, we’re already lights. All he asks is that we don’t hide it away.

Many of us are preparing for our future and how we will make an impact in the long run. I encourage you to ask God how you can bring his light to the darkness right in front of you. While her legacy is remarkable, Ruth’s actions that day were simple. My hope for our community is that her story serves as a reminder of what God can accomplish when we are willing to “let our light shine”.

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