Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 13, 2002
Sharing God's good life
L'Arche's egalitarian community makes time for love, life
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
From Switzerland to Canada, from a fast-paced life to a slower one, from sticking to schedule to being flexible.
These are the changes Jonas Rapp, experienced when he became an assistant member of L'Arche in Edmonton.
Because L'Arche's core members, people who have developmental disability, lack the ability to do things as fast as other people do, their assistant members have to pace with them.
"You take your time and it's all right. We probably spend one or two hours at the supper table and it's all right," Rapp told the WCR.
"You learn to enjoy it because that's what it's all about. We're living with each other so we are sharing our lives. That's what we are taking the time for," said the bespectacled youngster.
Rapp finished school in Switzerland and decided to do something completely different.
"I just wanted to leave home and experience something different. When I read about L'Arche, I thought, that's the place I could live and that's the place that can cover the expectations that I have for my year abroad."
For Rapp, his almost one year stay at Noah House has been very fruitful. "Practically I learned a lot about how to handle people with special needs, like how to give care, practical things like how to administer medication."
His fulfillment comes in small dozes, like someone waving back at him when he goes out of the house. Sometimes even a small gesture or signals like a noise when he comes bring affirmation to Rapp.
"Other people would even say 'I trust you.' These are little experiences that show they invite you into their lives," said Rapp.
"We share our lives with them. We make sure that their needs are taken care of. But in general it's a life together. It's a family. What we do here is what a family would do."
The philosophy for the existence of this community is recognizing the unique value of persons with a developmental disability and revealing that human suffering and joy can lead to growth, healing and unity.
The people in the community share, celebrate and strive to help each other grow in relationships based on love and respect.
Worshipping each day, the people at L'Arche are sustained by daily prayer in homes and monthly services with the community.
Live-in assistants, who come from different parts of the world, usually make a commitment of one to two years while long term assistants can sign up for five to six years.
"What we do here is what a family would do."
- Jonas Rapp
Andy Illig came from Germany in 1987 as a live-in assistant. "It's the way we live and work together that made me stay. Living with the core members is not a one way street. We are not only helping them. They are helping us."
One time Illig was really tired and he fell asleep in a couch. When he woke up, one of the core members had placed a blanket over him. That is one experience he won't forget.
"They are really sensitive to your needs. They ask you what's wrong and you can't hide it from them."
L'Arche community provides two programs for the people: a home, where people can live as long as they want and a day program, which is designed to accommodate people from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The day program provides work experience or a place to do things during the day. They often have outings and projects. They do quite a bit of art works.
Other core members of L'Arche go to day programs of other agencies to meet their particular needs.
Marguerite Denman is the information and outreach leader of this community in Edmonton. From her perspective L'Arche is a community built on acceptance of everyone's gifts.
"The premise is that everyone is valuable and everyone is valued. So it's a community of acceptance. It's a community of welcoming and trying to be a real sign of love and of God's love to the world."
One of the people in the community welcomes Denman everyday.
Every single day this member would ask her, "When are going to wash your car? What time did you arrive in the morning? Are you coming for lunch on Friday?"
"He really touches me," said Denman. "He shows me the side of myself that is different, the side that I need to welcome him in the way that he welcomes me. He does not particularly know my name but he calls me 'My friend.'"