Today’s blog is dedicated to a dear colleague and his wife—Travis and Mariah West. Those of you who know Western Theological Seminary likely know their names. Travis is one of our Hebrew instructors. To say he is a gifted teacher would be an understatement. He’s been central in revolutionizing the teaching of biblical languages in our school. His students memorize, dramatize, and sing Old Testament texts, bringing them to life in playful, compelling ways. I’ve actually seen Hebrew students running through the halls in bizarre attire! If the joy of the Lord is our strength, then WTS students, and by extension the rest of our community, are strengthened daily by Travis’ presence and leadership.
Two days ago, Travis and Mariah got into a new car, with a few new pieces of clothing, and embarked on an unexpected journey marked by an amalgam of hope and surrender, grief and joy. They left Western Theological Seminary, Michigan, the Midwest . . . to head to a still somewhat unknown destination in Arizona. To a place of hoped-for healing.
For the past 12.5 years, Mariah has suffered from a chronic, debilitating, and (up until very recently) mysterious illness. She saw 45 different doctors and spent tens of thousands of dollars on medical bills before receiving a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan just two weeks ago. She has CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome), an illness with a genetic basis that has ravaged her body. She and Travis, as I’ve listened to them, feel relief, gratitude, and hope. (Read here about the diagnosis in Mariah’s own words.) To say it has been a long journey is woefully inadequate. Biblical images of living in the midst of an untamed wilderness or desert seem more apropos. Of course, even there, the Lord provides, as Travis and Mariah attest again and again.
Now they are headed to an actual desert area of this country. In order to heal, Mariah must live in an arid, mold-free, nontoxic environment for at least six-to-nine months. She and Travis can’t ever return to their house in Holland. They must get rid of all their possessions—clothes, books, technology, documents, memorabilia. They are surrendering all of their earthly goods for the sake of healing and wholeness. And that’s not hyperbole.
The financial impact of this is staggering, to say nothing of the emotional toll. What’s more, much of the treatment and doctors’ visits are not covered by their health insurance. Nor is the medication for CIRS patients. Out-of-pocket costs for that could be $3000 per month.
A web of family, friends, and colleagues have surrounded Travis and Mariah with love and support these past twelve years and especially these past two weeks. As Travis said to me, they couldn’t make this journey without such a vast “WE.”
Which is another reason that I’m writing this blog. I’m hoping that more people will join that “WE”—praying for Travis and Mariah, following their blog, awaiting their return, and giving financially to help cover the many expenses associated with this hoped-for healing. There are at least two ways to do that:
You can make an online donation via credit card. It’s quick, easy, and secure. You can keep your donation anonymous to the public if you’d like.
You can send money to a special bank account set up for them. Checks payable to the Mariah West Health Donation Account can be sent to:
Mariah West Health Donation Account
141 E. 8th Street
Holland, MI 49423
I spoke with Travis earlier this week. I wanted to know how he and Mariah were doing, to convey my care, and to ask permission to write this blog on their behalf. He spoke of the wilderness in scripture, of God’s presence in the midst of hiddenness, of feeling overwhelmed by both the magnitude of changes before them and the outpouring of love from so many. He expressed sadness for other CIRS patients who don’t recover precisely because they lack a large “WE.” And he spoke with excitement about projects at WTS in which he is invested, including our growth in diversity and cultural competency. That conversation was an embodiment of a prayer that Mariah posted earlier this week, a prayer that belongs not only to them but to all of us who seek to follow the One who lived a life of joyful surrender to God. I hope it becomes one of our communal prayers, extending beyond our friends and associates to include a whole world of people wandering in the wilderness.