“Praise be to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” (2 Co. 1:3-4)
St. Paul is suggesting that whatever comfort we have received from God for troubles we have experienced, we can offer that same comfort to others who are experiencing similar troubles. This is a form of peer ministry. We all have the opportunity to be peer ministers.
God personally ordained peer ministry when he decided to become one of us in the person of Jesus. He experienced all of the trials, pain, sorrows and joys of our human condition, and showed us how to understand and live our lives. He set both the precedent and the model for peer ministry.
While there are many examples of peer ministries such as Alcoholics Anonymous and various Christian outreaches to high school and college students, there is also the personal peer ministry arising out of the personal challenges we have experienced that we can share with others who are experiencing similar challenges.
Our daughter Emily was born with Down syndrome and serious heart complications. The first year was very challenging with all of her medical issues, but we also began to experience the blessings of her big beautiful smile, her unconditional love, and her purity of heart. Over the years we have been able to share our experience of dealing with both the challenges and the blessings with numerous couples who have given birth to children with Down syndrome.
We have also experienced the friendship and community of other families who have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. You won’t find a group of people more loving, compassionate, supportive, and committed to one another. Several years ago, some of these parents joined together and helped establish one of the first special education programs in the United States for a Catholic high school in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.
These same parents then created a non-profit organization by the name of Porto Charities to raise funds to support inclusive Catholic education in diocesan schools. To date, there are similar programs in all four of the diocesan high schools and thirteen of approximately thirty elementary parish schools. It is the Bishop’s objective for every diocesan school to be able to offer an inclusive education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Someone who is struggling with a particular problem is more open to hear from another who has experienced the same problem and understands what they are going through. Add God’s love to that experience and you have a peer ministry.
What kind of trial in your life have you experienced that enables you to support someone going through a similar trial?