Where My Church Got It Right
Stories of loving care, congregation by congregation
The Unexpected Blessing of Dependency
In June 1987, at age 40, I had what doctors describe as a sudden onset of paralysis. Everything was fine when I woke up on the day that it happened; but at about 7 p.m., a blood clot damaged my spinal cord and I ended the day in the intensive care unit of the hospital, paralyzed from head to toe.
While I experienced a partial recovery over the next couple of years, I never regained the ability to walk and I have been in a wheelchair ever since. At the time, my wife, Patti, and I were members of Bridge EFC in Thousand Oaks, California. And we had three children, ages 6 to 10.
I was initially hospitalized for six months, and our church cared for us then and for the first six months after I came home. I couldn’t even tell you everything church members did for us, but in addition to organizing meals and a prayer chain, Chris installed a concrete walkway to our front door for wheelchair accessibility, Sharon did our laundry for nine months, Carol took my wife out on walks, and Tim taught my son to ride a bike.
So we knew we weren’t alone, and that helped us persevere during that first year, when things were the toughest. We survived the crisis, and since then we have gone on to minister to others in the church body as well as our community.
I have experienced firsthand that I need God’s strength to get through each day. And while it has been a big struggle over the past 29 years, it turns out that it is a pretty cool way to live.
John Franklin and his wife, Patti, currently attend Open Table Community Church (EFCA) in Atlanta, Georgia.
When Questions Surpass Answers
When Leigh was 20 weeks pregnant in 2010 with our second child, we received news that the anatomy scan was quite abnormal. During the ultrasound that followed, we learned that our child had multiple rare birth defects, one of which was a missing right leg. There was a lot of uncertainty while he was in utero, and we wondered what would be revealed at birth.
Jasper required a life-saving surgery when he was barely a day old, and we’ve since averaged two to three surgeries a year. Jasper now gets around great on forearm crutches (he isn’t a fan of his custom-built prosthetic) and was able to join a soccer team and run around on the field this past fall.
We were in our greatest need of support right after we received the ultrasound report of Jasper’s birth defects. At that time, we heard specialists speculating on any combination of issues we might be faced with. Jasper’s “anomaly” of birth defects was unlike anything they had seen before. Would his body organs function? Would Jasper be paralyzed? Would he even be able to survive on his own?
In addition to our anxiety, we faced the stress of sharing all this with our families and friends when we had no answers for their questions.
When we met with our pastor a few days after the ultrasound, he gave us an opportunity to talk through our feelings, which was very helpful. He shared Isaiah 26:3 with us—“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” —and gently reminded us that, with all the uncertainty about Jasper, we couldn’t even be certain about tomorrow. That helped us to turn our eyes back on God, and it put us in a better place as we faced the next four months before Jasper’s arrival.
The stress, physical demands and sleep deprivation of caring for a medically complex child are taxing. Not to mention the anticipation of your child’s arrival. To know that someone is praying for you and is willing to sit with you in a hospital room—letting you talk if you want to, or be silent if that’s what you need—makes the experience a little easier and less lonely.
You can “meet” Jasper here, via video.
Jacob and Leigh Vincent have been members of Trinity Church (EFCA) in Windsor, Vermont, for almost 10 years—Jacob formerly serving as worship leader and currently as elder, Leigh formerly serving as administrative assistant. They have three children, ages 3, 5 and 7.
Love Can Cost
This past year, a man in our congregation injured himself in an accident and was hospitalized for days. His right hip was broken and his left foot crushed. For months he was in the hospital or rehab, sometimes more than an hour away from our rural church. He eventually had to have the foot amputated, so he was wheelchair-bound when he returned home.
Our church family helped in so many ways, including helping to care for the small hobby farm and large vegetable garden that he and his wife own. She works a second-shift job, which often includes weekends. So for the first three weeks he was home, members of our church, in shifts, would sit with him for about 10 hours a day. This included giving an antibiotic injection through a PICC line, which was new for most of us.
Serving each other is just part of what discipleship means to us. It’s true that when we were scheduling caregivers for 50 hours each week, we had some compassion fatigue. What helped us keep going was knowing that this was of limited duration.
We are glad that our injured brother is now mostly recovered from surgery, off his antibiotics and is working on walking again.
I cannot guess at the amount of volunteer hours our members invested. I can say that in the three churches I have served in 34 years of pastoral ministry, I have never experienced such a need nor seen such a response. We were reminded that love can cost. I am humbled and grateful and encouraged to see people embody the hands and feet of Jesus.
Dale Van Deusen is pastor of Trade River EFC in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.
For 18 months, I suffered from a long, debilitating illness that culminated in my stepping down as senior pastor of Desert Hills EFC (Phoenix, Arizona) in November 2009. In addition to prayers, visits and cards (many of which continued faithfully for years, as my illness lingered), the body of Christ ministered to me in two other ways that were especially meaningful.
Every other week for more than a year, a professional Christian counselor from another church came to my house to counsel with my wife and I without charge, because she knew that caregiving often puts stress on marriage.
And even when I could no longer preach, teach or lead a Bible study, members of my church realized that I still needed to serve the body of Christ (Mark 14:8a). So they encouraged me to do what I could: serve in the nursery, read Scripture and pray short, public prayers. Part of my recovery process was focusing on what I could do now rather than lamenting what I could no longer do.
I also learned from those who seemed to abandon me in my illness. At first I was deeply hurt. However, I believe that God wanted me to learn what it is like to be a forgotten “shut-in.” Now, seven years later, I am starting a new pastorate in a retirement community with many shut-ins who need to know that they are not forgotten.
Charles Rasmussen pastors Sun Village Community Church in Surprise, Arizona. He is ordained by the EFCA and previously pastored Peoples EFC (Pinckney, Mich.) and Desert Hills EFC (Phoenix, Ariz.).
One-Size-Fits-All Doesn’t Work
Our second child, Kaitlin Ann, was born on October 4, 1994, while we were stationed at Beale AFB in California. During Kaitlin’s well-baby check at age 2, the doctor showed some concern at her speech development delay. Two months later, she received a diagnosis of PDD NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified).
Kaitlin was highly sensitive to sound and, when overloaded by noise, would withdraw. She would often be under the table at a large church gathering. Or while traveling in the car, we could only play the radio at a low volume and her brother could not sing along.
We arrived at Trinity EFC in Minot, North Dakota, in 1999, when Kaitlin was 5. Pastor Greg Strand and many other members showed a very sensitive spirit to our family (see Pastor Strand’s thoughts, below).
In early 2000, a family in our congregation had a child (Grace) with Down’s Syndrome. Together, we scheduled an evening informational meeting for the general church body, to share our situations in hope of receiving understanding, sensitivity and support. More than 75 came—a loving church body wanting to engage with our special little ones and with our families. This was such a departure from previous experiences, when we had felt isolated and unsupported.
Kaitlin was then welcomed in the AWANA program by leaders and peers—expected to memorize verses but with a modified vocal requirement, which gave her a great feeling of accomplishment and recognition. Sunday school teachers allowed her to attend a class below her chronological age, due to comprehension issues. This was especially helpful when she turned 18 and there was no regular class for her age.
There was never a clear road map of how Kaitlin’s development would proceed, nor a one-size-fits-all response to her. Every health challenge is unique to each individual and each family. So please enter into conversation with each family and respond as the Holy Spirit guides you.
Tim and Cindy Capp are members of Trinity EFC in Minot, North Dakota. They have three children, ages 19 to 25.
Just Offer to Help. And Then Offer Again.
When I first met Kaitlin, her communication was minimal and abrupt. For example, every Sunday morning as I greeted her with, “Good morning, Kaitlin,” she would not look at me but would reply sharply, “No, it is not.”
Over time, God did some amazing things in Kaitlin’s life through her loving biological family and the church family.
Early in this relationship I communicated my desire to come alongside the family to help, encourage and support. To this day I remember the words of her father, Tim (who had experienced hearing loss from the screaming Kaitlin did the first years of her life): “Since we have never experienced this before, we do not know what we are doing much less how you can help us.”
That began a shared journey of learning together. We eventually had a congregational time of teaching and learning about special needs, and the Lord used this not just to help a family but also to change a church.
I still occasionally communicate with Kaitlin and her family, and when I see her now, she looks me in the eye, says, “Hi, Pastor Greg” and gives me a hug—a hug thankfully and joyfully reciprocated.
Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing. He also serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing, the Spiritual Heritage Committee, and the ReachGlobal Theology and Missiology Advisory Council. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minn.) EFC.