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Seminarian with sickle-cell anemia buoyed by classmates’ compassion

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Each day Clayton Barnes faces the possibility of more IVs, catheters and extended hospital stays. Afflicted with sickle-cell anemia, Barnes, a master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been in the hospital for almost two months of the fall semester. Yet, the prayers and support of the seminary community — especially those of his fellow students in Ted Cabal’s philosophy class — lessen many of the burdens and frustrations.
“The people in that class are just great people. I can’t speak highly enough of them. I always knew they were praying for me,” said Barnes, a native of Inkster, Mich. These students, according to Barnes, “have epitomized going the extra mile” in ministering to him.
Often forced to miss lectures, Barnes said his classmates keep him from falling behind: “Somebody would always bring the notes and the tapes down to the hospital. I can honestly say that sometimes I didn’t know who they were.”
Because many of the class members commute long distances to attend the Friday-only class which is part of the new Billy Graham School weekend program in Louisville, Ky., these hospital visits frequently necessitated an extra trip for Barnes’ fellow students. “To go out of your way like that is head and shoulders above what needs to have been done or what should have been done,” said Barnes.
During his last hospital stay, he faced the additional burden of the death of his nephew, Evan. Barnes, unsure of whether the hospital would release him in time for the funeral and of whether he could afford the trip, called Cabal, dean of the Southern’s James P. Boyce College of the Bible. Cabal teaches the philosophy course in the seminary.
The next time the class met, Cabal took up an offering of $260 to pay for Barnes’ airplane trip home. “We literally took a student’s hat and passed it around the room,” Cabal recounted.
That night Cabal and several students took the money to Barnes at the hospital. “We had a good ’ole time,” Barnes said. “We sat, talked, goofed off and prayed.”
The generosity overwhelmed Barnes: “What do you say to something like that? It was just incredible.”
Cabal said Barnes’ strength and faith in the midst of such pain ministered to the class as well. “Clayton touched the hearts of our class from the beginning of the semester,” Cabal said. “He exemplifies a Christian witness in his attitude toward suffering.”
Unfortunately, the suffering lately has increased. “It’s got me good this semester,” Barnes said. “When it chooses to bite you, you know that you’ve been bitten.”
The disease’s unpredictability adds to the struggle: “There’s nothing I can do to prepare for it. One minute I’m feeling absolutely fine, and the next minute I’m not. Sometimes I get pretty frustrated and pretty depressed. I can’t lie and say that I haven’t. I still have my questions. I still ask God why.”
Still, the questions do not discourage his faith in God. “I would not be able to make it without him,” Barnes declared. “God has given me my portion, and it keeps growing. I keep learning more and more about his grace.”
Neither does Barnes want people to pity his situation: “I don’t want people to think, ‘There’s Clayton. Feel sorry for Clayton.’ Compared to some of the other things in life — the cancers, AIDS — it’s nothing.”
Barnes finds comfort in the fact that God has blessed and encouraged so many people through his sickness. “If they found a cure, I don’t know if I’d take it just because of all the things God has done through me having it. That probably sounds silly, but it makes it all worth going through knowing that God has gotten some kind of glory from it,” he said.
Barnes strives to “live day to day for Christ.” Each day, he explained, “gives me another day to try to encourage somebody else and gives me another day to tell somebody else about how good God’s been to me.”
And Barnes knows the suffering will not last: “One day I won’t have to deal with this anymore when I go home — when I go to see Jesus.”

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  • Bryan Cribb