The Year of the Cancer

Just because you surrender to serve God in ministry or missions doesn’t mean that nothing will get in the way to distract you, pause, or completely stop the direction you were headed.

Even in service, life happens.

There are many examples of this in our lives—we get malaria, a child breaks an arm, depression strikes, children need help with school issues, or your marriage needs repair. This is the stuff of normal life, and it is also that of life on mission.

One example for me was what I call “The Year of the Cancer.” It was 1996, and we had just returned from a wonderful six months in the States, where our two-year-old was the center of attention. We were back, rejuvenated, and ready for exciting days ahead. That was until my brother called me with the news that my mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

My mind was anywhere but where I was serving that day.

In fact, for the next year and then on into the next, I served on half-capacity, as I waited on sporadic phone calls and letters. Pre-cell phones, we had to drive up to the next village to the post office to make a long-distance call, asking for the charges to be reversed. The Internet and email were still in their early days, so communication was irregular, to say the least, and added to my struggle.

After a short-lived remission, the disease returned with a vengeance, and I asked for permission to go help my parents for a few months in mid-1997. This put a pause on my work and kept Raouf from having me by his side to help with his ministry. I’m grateful, however, that I was able to go, as it would be the last time I would see my mother. She died on January 1, 1998. I received the call as we were finishing up a mission meeting at our home with colleagues. I did not make it back in time for her funeral, as I had just given birth to our second son and needed to get him an emergency passport to travel.

Family emergencies don’t ask for permission to push their way into your life.

That’s why it’s comforting to know that God understands. Remember, Jesus was the one who healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, after all. He knew Simon would not be able to focus if all was not well at home. Healing was more permanent for my mother, but it did allow me to experience a new level of relationship with the people we served, as they showed their sympathy for my loss.

Even in our trials, God can build bridges to his glory.

I don’t know what trial of life is weighing on your mind today, but I know this—God sees you and understands. He’s not counting the days until you return to service full of vigor and strength, no, he’s walking with you through this and allowing others, who do not have the benefit of the Spirit’s comfort and help, to watch how you, as a Christ-follower, bring him glory, even in the hard times.

Don’t deny yourself room to stop and focus on the health crisis, schooling issue, marriage tension, or other problem that is taking your mind away from ministry. Accept it as part of life and as an opportunity to make your ministry stronger by being vulnerable and frail.

The Apostle Paul struggled with an unknown thorn, some kind of trouble in life; yet, as he prayed to the Lord for release, this is what he heard:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is why he could then say:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

Rest today in the strength Jesus provides.

Grace and Peace

For more on doors that close quickly, read When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way.

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