We live in challenging times. Tuesday morning while waiting for my youngest son to finish skating lessons I came upon the praiseworthy news that Wyoming, Ohio’s Otto Warmbier would soon be released from N. Korea and flown home to be reunited with his family. While I have not met Otto, I am a father of two boys. As any parent in their right mind can attest, we will do absolutely anything possible to protect our children from harm. Several parishioners of Ascension & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church know the Warmbier family. After all, Wyoming is a small town, and it is quite easy to make connections with neighbors, especially when your children are in the Wyoming School System. My boys are middle schoolers, but if they were older, I may very well know Otto. All this to say that Otto and his family have been and continue to be on our hearts and minds regardless of whether we’ve met.
As all Episcopal Churches do, Ascension & Holy Trinity has “The Prayers of the People” each Sunday during our Eucharistic liturgy. Often we will use one of the six suggested forms from our Book of Common Prayer, and we will occasionally write our own Prayers of the People using the guidance of the Prayer Book rubrics. Regardless of which prayer form is used we always have a section of the prayers designated for those who suffer or are in any trouble. In said section we pray for people who suffer from cancer, folks having surgery, those with terminal illnesses, those grieving the loss of a loved one, and a whole host of intercessions, that is, prayers offered on behalf of others. Otto, Cindy, Fred, and Family have been in this particular prayer section for quite a length of time.
What is my Christian response to Otto’s homecoming? My heart rejoices that Otto is back on American soil and that he is reunited with his mother and father and the rest of his family. Still, my heart is quite heavy knowing the Otto has been in a coma for about a year. While I’m a priest, and certainly not a physician, I know that it cannot be a good thing for one to be in a coma for that period of time.
And so, my response to Otto’s return home is to continue praying, for I believe that prayer draws us closer to God and draws those for whom we pray closer to God, as well. Otto is back in Cincinnati, yet he and his entire family are still in great need of prayer. Otto and family shall remain in our prayers of the people. I encourage our parishioners to take a quiet moment before the Sunday liturgy begins to be still and pray for healing for all of the Warmbier family. Pray for strength. Pray for comfort and for hope. Pray for the doctors and the nurses and all of the hospital staff working with them. Pray for God’s peace that surpasses all understanding to envelop Otto and his human family that they may know God’s presence during this time of deep pain and hurt in their lives. As parishioners prepare to receive Holy Eucharist, sit or kneel at your pew and prepare to receive Christ into your hearts that we may have compassion. After we have received Eucharist, sit or kneel in your pew, and give God thanks for God’s love for the whole human family, and pray that the Warmbier family may know God’s healing.
Lastly, my response is to respect the family’s privacy. We all know the sort of people who like to know things to simply be in the know. We also have people in our lives with the understanding that we do not need to know everything. The last thing the Warmbier family needs is for folks snooping. Our role as Christians is to pray, and certainly to be present to the Warmbier family, if requested. And remember, prayer is not reserved solely for Sunday mornings. I hope that our parishioners pray first thing in the morning and all throughout their days; actually, my hope is that we can see our time on earth as one big living prayer marked by periods of intentional prayer.
Heavenly Father, we come before you and we give thanks that Otto is back home. We give thanks that he is receiving the medical treatment needed. We pray for every member of his family, especially for his parents, Fred and Cindy. We ask you to give them the strength needed in the days to come. We pray for Otto’s healing and recovery, and we pray for his family’s healing and recovery, too. We pray that as all of us wait, that it will be clear that you are present in our joys and in our sorrows. May we ever put our hope and trust in you. Amen.
In God’s Grace,
Eric L. Miller+