The church in East Germany, one of the few Eastern European countries with a Protestant majority, has for half a century sought ways to serve the “city of God” while living in an officially atheistic “city of man.” Early on, they adopted a commitment to care for the neediest members of society, especially the profoundly disabled.

Sometimes suffering seems almost devoid of meaning. What meaning is there in a severely disabled child, IQ in the 30–40 range, who lies motionless in a crib, unable to talk, unable to comprehend? Compassionate Christians in East Germany, who have grown up in a society acquainted with suffering, have set an example of reaching out to these least “valuable” or “useful” members of modern society.

A Question Of Meaning

“What is the point of their lives? Do their lives have any meaning?” asked Christian pediatrician Jürgen Trogisch, one of the doctors who works among the severely mentally handicapped. For many years Trogisch could not answer the question of meaning. Although he performed his medical tasks anyway, he had no answer—until he began to observe the gradual changes taking place in the young helpers in his institution.

These young people grew visibly more responsive to human suffering. They began to re-evaluate what was most important in life. They learned to be patient and to appreciate even the slightest sign of progress. “Especially, I thank God that he has shown me that love can achieve more than hate or force,” said one of Trogisch’s students.

Trogisch ultimately concluded that the meaning of the suffering of his disabled patients was being worked out in the lives of others, those who stood alongside and served. “Could it be that these children have come into this world just for me?” he asks. ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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