THE LITTLE BEDRIDDEN MISSIONARY – MICHAEL BANICKI
One by one, warily stepping out into the biting November cold, the string of people unfurls from the small chapel and down the steep hill toward the labyrinth of headstones. A narrow beaten path circles the chapel; then its skinny branches jet into the maze of graves, set so thickly the trails often disappear, re-emerging several steps to the left or right. It seems impossible that space have been found for one more body. The people shudder in the piercing wind and wrap their autumn coats around themselves more tightly. Their hands clutching the funeral wreaths have already grown numb. But for many guests, the premonition which slithers into their hearts is even more acute than the cold. “This is the end,” they are grimly convinced. “One day, death will come for me also, and I will be laid into the frosty earth just like the little Michael.”
Not only believers attend this funeral. News travels fast in small towns like Gniezno, Poland, and Darek Banicki, the father of the deceased child, is headmaster and teacher in one of the few local high schools. Among the Christian guests stand Darek’s non-believing work colleagues, student representatives, and the young people he tutors. They have come to express their sympathy with Banicki’s loss, and yes, it is grief they find – but also, confusingly, hope. Here is a community of people who seem to experience death as an ultimately hopeful event, as if it indeed were a passageway to a better reality. It is novel, perplexing, strangely attractive. Unbeknownst to them, the funeral guests are being drawn into the circle of people touched by the little bedridden missionary, Michael Banicki. If you are reading this article, you have probably been part of the circle.
At the age of 3, Michael, Darek and Daria Banicki’s son, was diagnosed with the Niemann-Pick syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which gradually disables all body functions necessary for life: walking, talking, swallowing, eating; eventually, even breathing. The same illness was later identified in Michael’s younger sister Eliza (now 9). The price of the only available treatment was out of bounds for his parents, and since the drug had not been registered by the Polish health authorities, the insurance system could not cover its cost. Undeterred, his family and friends joined forces to keep him alive until the medication has been introduced to the country. Believers everywhere prayed for the boy and donated funds for his symptomatic treatment, rehabilitation, and medical appliances. For 11 years, the action succeeded.
During this time, Michael earned himself the nickname “the youngest missionary.” Polish ITMI members liked to call him that, not without a reason. His stay here on this Earth might have been short-term, but it was fruitful. His feeble, dysfunctional body had the ability to kindle a yearning deep within a person’s heart – a desire for God. First, his parents, Darek and Daria, locked in a strenuous combat with their son’s illness, came to God one day. Their conversion resounded throughout Gniezno and the neighboring Poznan. Darek, a former DJ, became a minister, a co-pastor of the Gniezno Baptist Church and a leader of many influential Christian initiatives. But Michael’s heart-wrenching vulnerability disarmed others, as well. The teacher who used to give him lessons is now eager to learn more about the Christian faith. Refractory children at a camp led by Michael’s parents mellowed in his presence and took turns to nurse him. He was a powerful unifying factor for the Gniezno believers, as well as a reason for believers worldwide to show Christ’s overarching love through the help they proffered.
However, as all children, Michael loved to have his fun. The suit he had been given at birth kept playing nasty tricks on him, so one day he just slipped out of it to freedom. Although for the closest family members, a child’s death is always untimely, Michael’s was twice so. The long-awaited medication, Zavesca, was introduced into the Polish market in December 2008, a month after the funeral. Michael can laugh it off now. The illness which held him in a vicious grip and emaciated his body to the core has lost all claim to him. But the same deathly claws are slowly closing around Michael’s sister, Eliza. Her parents ache as they watch this sweet, dark-eyed girl whose face bears such a striking resemblance to Michael’s. Although the sickness has not taken its full toll on her body, the surfacing symptoms do not leave a shred of doubt. Her little hands quiver, a sign of muscles succumbing to the devastating illness. Her pronunciation falters and concentration powers have slowed down. She has difficulty walking. Soon, her mental skills will show signs of impairment.
In stunting the sickness’s progression, specialists underscore the value of physiotherapy, which counteracts muscle contractures and in result, enables patients to retain their physical abilities for longer. In a few isolated cases of specific genetic mutation, marrow transplantation may be a way to a complete healing. Eliza would have to undergo detailed genetic testing abroad to see if she classifies for such an operation. For the majority of patients, the only resort is Zavesca, which effectively inhibits the sickness’s development. Although the drug is available in Poland now, it is as yet uncertain whether every sick child will be entitled to the national money refund, without which the cost is virtually prohibitive. Eliza needs all your prayers so the scales would tip in her favor. For the medicine to work the desired effect, she would have to take it every day for 2 years.
With Michael’s death, the threat always present in the background of Banicki’s life has reified, manifesting its blatant tangibility. Now more than ever, Michael’s family is in need of Christian solidarity – heartfelt prayers and donations for the ongoing rehabilitation sessions and genetic testing for Eliza. In Wales, Darek’s former co-worker is staging a charity marathon for this cause, wanting to somewhat ease the burden weighing on the parents’ shoulders. Also your participation in the support circle generated by “the little missionary” can make a difference – for Michael and Eliza’s family and for the many unbelieving people whose lives they constantly touch.
Carolyn Zaremba – Poznan, Poland