HopeKeepers support group begins

he name summarizes plenty for people such as Columbus’ Kathy McCreary.

HopeKeepers has helped her believe that on her worst days facing a painful neuromuscular condition known as spasmodic torticollis in her neck, tomorrow can be better.

“After hearing a little about other people’s problems (at group meetings), it made me realize that I am not alone,” she said.

Therein lies one of the strengths of the free HopeKeepers chronic pain support group, launching again at 6:30 p.m. April 7 as part of Community Church of Columbus’ Tuesday Connections network of groups. The group will meet for seven consecutive weeks.

Attendees come from a variety of churches or no church, since faith is not a required element of HopeKeepers.

The local group, normally including about 12 people per session when it meets for periods of a few weeks at a time, is part of about 300 such groups worldwide, according to the San Diego-based Rest Ministries, which is overseeing the effort.

“The whole point of a group is helping people learn to live with chronic pain or illness from a biblical standpoint instead of spending the day just emoting,” said Will Henning, who has facilitated local groups for several years. “And it’s not that people can’t share their frustrations, because they can. But the point is not to merely vent, but to learn to get past that and actually live with an illness as best you can.”

HopeKeepers national leaders are careful to require that each group be led by someone who faces chronic pain or illness in his or her own life. Henning deals with chronic bowel disease severe enough that he can no longer work.

Amid the group’s backdrop that usually includes a wide range of people’s conditions, Henning never allows group members to quiz others about their situation during meetings. And yes, at some point in group meetings, he deals head-on with some church people’s thought that perhaps a person’s sin has triggered their struggle.

Henning regularly points to the horrible suffering of Job in Scripture, which plainly refers to him as “a righteous man.”

Lisa Copen, who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for more than 20 years, started HopeKeepers to reach others battling physical, emotional and spiritual issues amid their medical condition. She realized while in a secular pain support group that speaking of faith issues was not necessarily welcomed.

“We tell people, ‘You’re still loved. You’re still worthy. Even amid all this, God’s still got a plan for you. And it’s not a Plan B. It’s still Plan A,’” Copen said.

Pain does not hide the idea that HopeKeeper leaders still believe that God can dramatically change things.

“We’d love to go out of business if everyone was healed tomorrow,” Copen said.

The group makes ample room for participants to grapple with questions about where God is on their most painful days.

McCreary, living with her adversity for 40 years, still can recall watching her father suffer with her same condition, only at a more severe level years ago. Medicine helps her substantially, she said.

But others’ love and concern helps, too, McCreary said.

“And I just thank God for being there when I need him,” she said. “My pain used to be constant. So, I think I have been healed, to a certain extent.”

Biblical pain relief

What: HopeKeepers chronic pain support group.

When: Will meet for seven weeks from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 7.

Where: Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road.

Cost: Free.

Free meal: Served 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. on meeting nights.

Information: Community Downtown at 812-348-6257 or cccolumbus.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.