I want to tell you two stories today. The first is about a man from a large municipality called the Decapolis. We read his story in Mark 5. Here’s a synopsis:
- Lots of trauma, since he was a kid
- Spent most of his life as a patient, different doctors and psychologists had done what they could to help him through the years
- Sometimes it was good, sometimes bad
- Something happened in life that broke him and sent him into a psychotic episode
- His neighbors started complaining, calling the police but the police couldn’t help him. he would scream at all hours of the night. He would sit in the middle of the street and cut himself with whatever he could find, even rocks.
- They signed a petition to get the housing corporation to kick him out.
- Finally, they succeeded. The man was homeless but he never left the neighborhood.
- One day, the neighborhood had had enough. They caught him, tied him up with chains and took him outside the city to a cemetery and chained him to a tree.
If he were alive today, he would be a patient at the GGZ, would live in a temporary apartment or “verdien woning”, or he’d be homeless. We would know who he was cause we would see him often. But most people would avoid contact with him. The only interaction we would have with him was when he was making us uncomfortable or causing a disturbance. We would tell him to “doe normaal” and if he didn’t, we would call the police. How do I know this is what we would do? Because we just lost Carla.
Carla Floriano Rodriguez moved to the Netherlands from Brazil in her later teenage years. When she did that she left her 3 children behind in Brazil. Why and how she did it I don’t know. But she moved to Alkmaar and started working on the Achterdam, the red light district of Alkmaar.
She became addicted to alcohol and drugs and experienced physical abuse. When she first moved to the Elgerstraat in 2014, on the outside things seemed to be going okay. Now in her early 40’s, she would help in the garden or sweeping the foyer of her appartement complex.
Things started to go bad a few months ago when Carla got the news that her son had died. Her mother was going to come visit her but had to cancel because she had spent her travel money on a facelift.
Carla, who was already being treated by the GGZ, started to breakdown mentally. Her neighbors would find her laying on the stairs of the apartment complex, or sitting in the middle of the street, staring at the son with a knife in her hand. As the days went on she seemed to get more and more aggressive. The police were called frequently, the GGZ was called. One day she charged at one of her neighbors with a knife in her hand. He was able to escape, she was arrested by the police but released the next day. That neighbor started leaving his apartment with a shovel always in his hand.
Almost two weeks ago, that same neighbor was outside his apartment building and saw Carla in her home, trying to break her front window. He calls 112. She sees him standing there and in his words, “her eyes were black like the devil.” She runs outside after him with a hammer and a knife. He’s able to run away so she goes after a car. The police arrive and she goes after them. One police officer was forced to draw his weapon and shoot. Carla Floriano Rodriguez died shortly thereafter.
Listen, I am no psychologist but it is obvious to me that Carla was traumatized, addicted, depressed, abused and lonely. Broken. If she were born in the region of the Gerasenes and had lived in the time of Jesus, she could have easily been this person Jesus met in Mark 5.
I’m not telling you this story to make you feel guilty or to say that we have done wrong as a society in our treatment of Carla. We are no better than the townspeople in Mark 5. Societies everywhere will always push the problems out to the fringes. We try to be more humane and that is good. But society cannot offer a solution for Carla, even when they do their best.
I don’t tell this story to cast blame. I tell this story because the devil just made a mistake. He showed his work too clearly. In a civilised society like ours, we also push our problems out to the fringes. We do our best to explain what it is or to cover it up. But it is the enemy of God working below the surface, sowing sadness and hopelessness and mistrust, sowing fear and anger. I’m not necessarily saying that all mental health issues are issues of demonic oppression. I am saying that the root of them all is the brokenness of the spirit and that is the work of the darkness. And because we can have found out ways to talk about these things without dealing with the root cause, the enemy is able to do his work below the surface, without drawing attention to himself, to the evil he works. He is able to do his work and to let us think, “some people just have bigger issues.”
But with Carla he took it too far. He exposed himself. With Carla, he was too obvious.
I believe the front at which the enemy is currently attacking us the most in North Holland is mental health. How many teenagers commit suicide every year? How many times has your train been delayed, cancelled or rerouted because some desperate person jumped onto the tracks? How many people do you know that have suffered a burnout or are struggling this moment with depression?
The devil took it too far with Carla. If he wanted his work to be kept secret, he should have just left her alone a little bit more. He should not have driven her to madness and an equal evil would have overcome her: she would have lived longer, and been tortured the rest of her natural days.
Imagine something with me. Imagine that the story in Mark 5 happened with Carla. Imagine that she met Jesus through you or through me and he set her free from the guilt of leaving her three children behind, that he restored the dignity she lost when she was selling herself on the Achterdam, that he would have cured her depression and spoken peace to her mind.
In every situation, the root issue is brokenness. Did Carla have psychological problems that were tested and given reasons for? Definitely and I’m sure there were many appointments that she had at the GGZ and they did their best to help her. Could Carla have taken medication that could have helped her? Sure, and she probably did at some point in her life. Don’t answer this question out loud but ask yourself: Could Carla have been set free by Jesus? Completely free? What do you truly believe? Is it possible that her life could have been changed, that instead of being broken that she could have met Jesus here and then gone back to her family and friends and told them what the Lord had done for her and how he had mercy on her? That her neighbours would then bring their sick and their broken here because of what they heard Jesus had done?
Could Carla have been saved?