Facing Cancer Sharpens My Focus
Nobody wants to have cancer. This is the last picture I will have of my “real” face. The surgeon showed me photos of people with no nose or cheeks and how reconstructive surgery is done. Two reconstructive surgeries. Maybe three. And what about radiation? Hopefully none. The doctor spoke gently, but made no promises. My stomach fell to my feet. I couldn’t swallow. Then there’s the waiting game…in the month or so awaiting the surgery wondering if it’s spreading, getting worse.
Cancer has a way of sharpening my focus, of causing me to reexamine my call from God. I KNOW what makes me tick. I have lived a deeply passionate life. Yep, I’ve made my share of stupid mistakes, blunders, sinful straying. But nobody will ever say I lived dispassionately. I weep when I remember how loudly and clearly God has spoken to me and how much I love hearing His voice.
Passion is a fascinating two-pronged concept. Passion can mean affection, ardor, animation, ecstasy, fervor, fire and joy. Conversely, it also means agony, devotion, fury, intensity, suffering, vehemence, wrath and zeal. Jesus turned over the temple tables and said “Zeal for my house has consumed me” (John 2:17).
My little flame began to flicker when I was six. The day I became a Christian I shared Jesus with my best friend Lana. We were baptized together on my seventh birthday. But God begin to call me in a unique way even as a little squirt.
Every December I received a plastic mayonnaise jar with a hole cut in the top and a label marked “Lottie Moon.” I figured her Mom must have named her “Lottie” because she wanted a “lottie money” for the children overseas who hadn’t heard about Jesus. This brave lady who crossed the ocean to tell boys and girls the Gospel made me shed tears at Christmas. I pictured myself beside her, reading Bible stories and hugging those skinny little children with open hearts. Week by week, we sang at the top of our lungs the lyrics “…red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I knew who they were, and I gave them my quarters, pennies and dimes. And someday, I wanted to meet them.
So why didn't I finish college and take up residence in a mud hut in the Amazonian jungle? Why didn't I don my serape and huaraches and head south of the border? Well, God had other plans ... Roger walked into my life. It was love at first sermon and God called me to be his wife, a pastor’s wife. Our call from God to serve Him was clear. We applied to the Foreign Mission Board of our denomination to serve overseas, but our request was denied because of Roger’s health issues.
We were devastated. How could this happen? The smoldering embers of passion for people across the globe still burned brightly in our hearts, unquenched by disappointment and disillusionment. During the ensuing days, God led us to the wild, wild west in Tucson, Arizona. You have to understand that when we came on the scene 30-some-odd years ago, the smell of gun smoke still filled the air, and ornery gunslingers were a not-so-dim memory. Tucsonans were tough, independent and scrappy. Arizona was still a faith-frontier, miles from the southern Bible Belt where we grew up.
Planting, sowing seeds of the Gospel and watering the hard ground took many years of cultivating the desolate desert soil. Would Roger ever go to foreign fields and live the life of a jungle pilot or itinerate preacher? The answer was an unsuspected no. But to our amazement, God gave our church an abundant harvest-an army of missionaries sent from our church around the world. Our church, Casas Church became a launching pad. Our call from God was to give money, recruit manpower and sow seeds of fervent prayer. Countless members now serve abroad as beacons in dark countries still waiting to hear the message of Jesus.
In spite of Roger’s physical challenges, God did the impossible. He gave us the privilege to speak to thousands of missionary pastors and leaders in 32 countries around the globe. Has a short-term mission trip opened your eyes to the “other world” outside the safety of America’s borders?
Because of my days overseas, I still feel the sizzle of burning flesh when Talid, my Turkmen Christian brother, had his feet branded with a white-hot iron. He narrowly escaped and limped across a scorching desert to safety. My dear friend, Iranian pastor Anoush, was forced to witness his captors raping his wife. He didn't recant and neither did she. My precious Ellen was a Harvard professor who left her lucrative career to serve God in Uzbekistan. The secret police split her skull with an axe and left her for dead. Fictitious tales? No! I have countless friends on foreign soil who lay down their lives every day for the gospel.
When I eat a meal or shop at the grocery store, I ask myself how many hungry children would these dollars feed? When I walk through the doors of an elegant American home, I wonder how many people could fit into these rooms to house a church? I remember the icy room where Russian believers gathered as Roger preached. No room for chairs, we stood nose-to-nose and arm-in-arm.
We retired from full-time church ministry after 35 years. Roger, my husband, is now unable to travel and teach. Was our ministry over? No! He called us to share Christ over the internet. I wake up every morning eager to chat with Japhter, Javed, Naeem and Tonatiuh-just a few of our pastor friends overseas.
God has given us a worldwide missions venue. Preach It, Teach It, our website (www.preachitteachit.org) provides free (no pastor should be excluded from receiving valuable teaching tools because he has no money) resources for pastors, missionaries and Bible teachers in 213 countries around the world. Every day we counsel hurting servants of God who have nowhere else to turn.
My vision of a mud hut and a single tribe in the boondocks seems so far from the scope of what God has done. Teaching and encouraging my brothers and sisters around the world makes me tick. My heart beats with them and for them. Yes, passion’s fire is both agony and ecstasy. I agonize that I am apart from all of my loved ones worldwide, but I rejoice in the part God has given me to play in their ministry and in His mission.
What fuels your fire? What would you do differently today if you knew this day might be your last? I know that as long as God gives me breath, I will continue to share my love for Jesus with anyone who will listen. Cancer or no cancer.