Monday, February 1, 2010

Serving Others in Need

Beguinage Kortrik Belgium

From the beginning, the Beguine movement was all about serving others in need. Many of the first informal Beguine communities in fact formed around specific ministry opportunities.

Mary of Oignies, her husband John and the women who joined them gather around the common task of tending lepers in Williambroux, not far from the town of Nivelles. This was grueling work, bandaging the festering wounds of the lepers, feeding them and praying with them as they were dying. It was also dangerous work—leprosy is highly contagious. Like Mother Teresa of the 20th century, the Beguines were willing to serve Christ in the most humbling ways.

Not far away in Leuven (Louvain), a group of devout believers also formed an infirmary or clinic for the ill around the year 1200. That original building still stands today as part of the University of Leuven. (See photo.) In time this group formed into a community of Beguines.

Beguines became known for their care of the sick and dying. In Germany, the term “Beguine” became synonymous with what we would call “hospice” work today—tending the dying, both physically and spiritually.

Beguines also became known for educating children, especially girls from poorer families who otherwise had little opportunity to learn how to read and write. Beguines not only taught them the basic language skill in the local language (Middle French, Flemish or German) but also instructed them in faith and godly character. The same beguinage in Leuven—that eventually numbered nearly 300 women—served as home to some ten small schools! In fact, they had to limit themselves to these ten schools because even more girls wanted to come for an education.

The balance of solitude, prayer and Scripture, on the one hand, and practical service, on the other, is one of the reasons that the Beguines are so interesting—and such a good model for passionate Christians today. These women were very active in the towns in which they lived. While many enjoyed the peace and safety of living in Christian community, they did not cloister themselves away. Instead they sought to share the love of Jesus that they had experienced with all those around them, especially those in greatest need.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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