September 15, 2010

Vision Check

I met an incredible man in Sabbath school named Ray McAllister. In 1999 he received a Master of Divinity with special emphasis in Old Testament Theology from our Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. On August 1, 2010, Ray graduated to a thunderous standing ovation of his peers and professors with a doctorate in Old Testament and a cognate in Religious Education. He’s proficient in several ancient biblical languages, such as Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as French and German—despite being totally blind.
Born in Nova Scotia, Ray has been sightless since the age of 12, the result of Peter’s Anomaly, a degenerative disease. Yet he never allowed his disability to hinder him from achieving his dreams and goals. Here’s an excerpt from his autobiography, And My Eyes Were Opened:
“My resulting total blindness didn’t stop me from going to high school and college. . . . From the moment I began taking doctoral level classes in January 2001, I saw God’s hand of providential leading. First, the Michigan Commission for the Blind committed to assisting and supporting my journey [and paying for his doctoral education]. . . . In my Ezekiel and Malachi classes, one of the other students and I were allowed to . . . share sources. He would read his commentaries onto a cassette tape and I would take notes from that for my paper. . . . For my theological German class, which would prepare me to understand technical literature in that language, the teacher had written a textbook himself, and he provided me with electronic copies of everything I needed for the class.”
2010 1531 page29These and many other generous students and faculty helped McAllister through the difficult courses. But his greatest assistance came from his wife of nine years, Sally. She received a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Jewish/Muslim faiths, so she could read texts of various languages to Ray, in addition to being his eyes in every other aspect of their loving relationship.
Ray has also committed approximately 10 percent of the Hebrew Bible to memory, including the first 23 chapters of Genesis, Isaiah 53, all of Daniel, Psalms, Song of Solomon, and the first 11 chapters of Revelation in Greek. He has an incredible knowledge of Hebrew culture. Did I mention he’s also a poet? For graduation he wrote “The End and the Beginning”:
“I stand
At the end of one miracle
And at the beginning of a thousand more.
I rest
Having finished one impossible journey
And about to start
What will seem as countless others.”
Problem is, Ray doesn’t have a job. Despite his outstanding achievements and miraculous journey, no one has offered him anything. In fact, after the public applause of graduation passed into memory he said, without a hint of recrimination, that several potential employers have given him good reasons why he just wouldn’t fit into the Adventist ministry—not the least of which is the fact that he’s blind. “Sally and I will be a pastor for free. We are willing to offer ourselves as two for one,” said this former Sabbath school teacher and available itinerant preacher. “But we’re not desperate. Our hope is in the goodness of God who called us to this ministry.”
No theology or church doctrine bars blind persons from serving our church and leading physically sighted people to Jesus Christ. If the Michigan Commission for the Blind and Christian Record Services recognize the talents and potential in Ray, surely someone in our church would be willing to put him to work for our Lord’s sake! Perhaps some have not come forward to offer the McAllisters employment in churches or universities because they are unaware of this jewel waiting to shine for Jesus.
Perhaps someone reading this column has the vision and imagination to “see” where they can use their unique talents to build up God’s kingdom. 
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published September 16, 2010.