Letter From the President
In the middle of a storm
by Kevin Kompelien
Friday, June 11, 1999, was the first day of summer vacation for our four school-age children. But then Becky and I received a call at 11:10 a.m. that not only changed our planned trip to Disneyland but also led to a life-changing year for our family and the congregation I served as senior pastor.
The call was from our family physician, who asked if we were sitting down. I knew, from 15 years of pastoral ministry, that nothing good is shared in a call that starts with that question. She went on to tell us that the lump on the left leg of our oldest son, Brad, was osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. One of the most difficult things we have ever done was to tell our 12-year-old that he had cancer.
We were instructed to get Brad to the doctor’s office as soon as possible to be fitted for crutches. Instead of traveling to Disneyland, we ended up visiting a pediatric oncologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. The next year included 22 rounds of chemotherapy, four surgeries and 26 hospitalizations. It was the most difficult year of our lives, but one where we saw the Lord’s hand working powerfully in our family and in our church, Hillside Church (EFCA), in San Jose, California.
I found myself face to face with living out the things I had been preaching for 15 years. Becky came to a crossroads in her faith and chose to stick with the claims of God. During the greatest trial of our lives, we both sensed the grace and presence of the Lord in deep and personal ways. It was a time of refining our faith and defining our commitment to serve and follow Jesus no matter the outcome.
There were many sleepless and tear-filled nights as we walked the long and difficult cancer battle with Brad. At the same time, Becky and I tried to keep life as normal as possible for our other three children. We often felt like “two ships passing in the night” as we worked to balance all the responsibilities.
From the first day, however, our church family demonstrated the compassion and love of Christ in practical ways that uniquely ministered to all six of us. We weren’t expected to be perfect, nor were we kept at a distance and treated as though we were fragile. Rather, they loved us like family: weeping with us, praying for us, rejoicing with us, providing for us and coming alongside us when we needed them. Cancer was not a challenge just for our family; it was something we all walked through together.
I preached most Sundays that year—seeking to both consistently teach the truth of God’s Word and transparently live out a genuine walk of faith in the middle of a storm. I regularly shared both the challenges we were facing and the incredible ways we saw the Lord at work in our family and in chances we had to share Jesus with people at the Children’s Hospital.
Our church family grew in faith as they watched the Lord answer prayer and grew in unity as they demonstrated the love of Jesus to our family. And the experience shaped our four children as well. Today, each of them has a genuine faith in Jesus and is involved in local churches. Brad’s twin brother, Brent, is a church planter in San Francisco. He shared recently that one reason he is a pastor today is because of what he saw in the Hillside Church family as they loved us during his brother’s battle with cancer.
Today, Brad is 30 years old and married with three beautiful children. I would never want to go through a year like that again, but I wouldn’t want to miss what the Lord showed me, my family and our church family through it all.
You and your family might not be facing cancer. But you, or those in your own congregation, have indeed faced your share of health challenges. My prayer is that your church family would surround its own with compassion, and that you would lead the charge in being the hands and feet and voice of the body of Christ. Like my son Brent, may the members of your church be so gripped by seeing the compassion of the body of Christ that their faith would be deepened and they would be moved to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those in need around them.