Tony and I were Canadian missionaries in South Africa. We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational. This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn. So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.
My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we are living in Toronto, Canada.
During our last article, we learned about growing in God through generosity. We found that generosity, worship and obedience are all connected. I shared about a colleague of ours who always had an attitude of obedience to the Lord and worshipping him. She was always generous, and despite being a missionary on a trust the Lord type income, she gave to us more than anyone else during my cancer journey. Others were close competitors though! The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:13. “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for your obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” The giving is an act of worship, whether it’s giving in finances, time or talent. This attitude of giving to help others isn’t just in the New Testament, but was encouraged among Israel as well. Psalm 41:1-3 give a blessing to those who are generous to the poor. “Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble.” Giving implies pouring out oneself for another, and this is what Jesus does in Philippians chapter 2. However, there is another way to grow in God. It’s not as fun as generosity, but it’s one that can turn our journey in a broken world into one that makes us stronger. We can grow in God through pain; our painful experiences, emotional, spiritual and physical. None of our pain need be wasted.
I was a Canadian Iris missionary in a South African environment, a first and third-world country at the same time. I love the people, especially its children, very much. If you didn’t think that the first scenario of first and third world together is unusual, it’s actually evident in many countries. In some of these countries, he poor are often hidden (as in Canada and the US). They aren’t in South Africa. Here’s another interesting combination. I was an inflammatory breast cancer patient in a covid-19 world and we managed this journey on the mission-field until January 2022. We still safely ministered despite the varied levels of lock-down, although many of our indoor activities were cancelled to stop the spread of this nasty virus. We were to arrive back in Canada for a life-saving radical mastectomy, but the lock-down and covid-19 measures prevented us leaving our home, let alone flying back to Ottawa. My Canadian surgeon had been all set to receive me, assess me and schedule the surgery. But the aggressive cancer that had disappeared under strong chemotherapy (as verified by PET/CT scans) returned and my oncologist wanted us to act quickly. The pain increased, and I was back in another season of pain. I surely knew physical pain from osteo-arthritic knees, HS boils, and the burn of breast cancer pain since late July 2019. I was on opioid medicine in a careful regimen, only taking what was absolutely needed. I needed a clear head.
The mastectomy surgery rolled around on May 12th, 2020, and I spent four days under excellent care at Worcester’s MediClinic hospital. During that time, and upon arrival home, I knew a new pain – the pain of the incisions from mid-chest, around to below the adjacent underarm, and the underarm itself. I now was forced to learn my limits far more than in any other recovery. No more heavy lifting, no bending to tie shoes. Help was now needed to dress and wash. Thankfully Tony managed these quite well. He even became good at bandaging me for compression therapy and for lymphatic massage. And during this time, a teaching surfaced: a teaching on growing spiritually and emotionally through pain. It had been weeks since I had been able to write anything new for my Ways to Grow in God devotionals. I was drawing prophetic drawings instead for a colouring book. That’s a different story. Yet while I was in the hospital, I was reading Brian Johnson’s book, “When God Becomes Real.” This is a man who learned through a lot of pain, as did his famous dad, Bill Johnson, of Bethel Church, Redding California. Tony and I visited this church in June 2017. It was very special. The freedom in Christ at this church came through radical obedience, committed Christian love and an amazing transparency. When their leaders go through difficulties, they aren’t hidden; but rather they are used as an opportunity for God to work in their lives as a very real example to others. God’s Holy Spirit is seen most beautifully not just in our successes, but in our pain. People need to know how God is so very real in the midst of their pain. They need to see the very secret that holds together a Christian going through incredible pain, yet they exhibit a positive attitude of joy, trust, peace and gratitude. They are seeing God create a masterpiece right before their eyes. He invites all of us to also have a Holy Spirit make-over from the inside-out. We also don’t need to hide our pain from each other. Jennifer Camp from Gather Ministries shared this gem in an email in September 2021: “You might tell people everything is fine when you know it isn’t. I’ve been there, too. And I know it’s a painful way to live. But God has called you and me to something better and more beautiful! He’s called us to let our guard down with Him and with other people. Healing and strength come when you’re vulnerable with Jesus and His people.” We need to be willing to show who we really are.
We come to Jesus as we are, and he accepts us as the merciful Father accepted the wandering prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. God does deeply loves us, but as John Arnott used to say during the Toronto Blessing, “He loves us too much to let us stay that way.” This means Holy Spirit changes our hearts, takes away the fear, anger, rough edges and sinful ways that have marred the image of God in us. He changes us more into his likeness. He makes us more like Jesus. The more we allow him to change us, the better. This requires repentance, humility, and obedience. But then he gives us far more in return: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and tolerance (self-control). Just read Galatians 5. God uses the difficulties of life to refine us into beautiful vessels that reflect his love to others. One of these is pain. Pain? Pain, you say? How can God use something as difficult as pain?
Yes, God uses everything in our lives to whittle us down into something of beauty. Silver has to be fired several times to get the impurities out of it. So we too, go through struggles – some minor, some major, and still others that seem to happen all at once. One time, Tony challenged me and told me that he’s never seen someone go through as many physical challenges as I have. He was referring to the amount of pain and other medications that I have – either in Canada, or in South Africa, actually, especially South Africa. And yet, I still function and minister. Tony also told me that it is amazing that I still get up and minister. That’s due to determination to use the pain as long as I focus on what I am doing. I focus beyond the pain, just like Jesus did when he endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Listen to our colleague Pamela Jourden, who ministers in Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the US. She has major kidney problems and has been in hospital many times. She’s waiting for a new kidney. Her oldest son fell off a mountain near Cape Town and died. Later in 2021, she caught Covid and nearly died. Her younger son became seriously mentally ill as he battled serious autism issues. Both she, her husband and white international team were thrown out of Zimbabwe, because the country’s leaders became xenophobic. This is what Pamela had to share about pain on a May 23rd 2020 Facebook post” “What difficulty have you passed through? I have been in a mountain range of trials for some years. Loss of reputation, mental illness of the worst kind visited my family, death of a child, removal from a land I love, and a health condition that has threatened my life and sent me to the hospital several times. Facing famine, starvation, and hunger of thousands every day. Is this a sob story? Far from it! I just want you to know that no matter where you find yourself, He is faithful! I wish I could show you my heart. There are terrible scars there. Some make me shudder to behold. But the beauty there far outweighs any pain I have endured. The sheer joy of knowing God intimately through this mountain range of difficulty empowers me to put one foot in front of the other every day. Incredibly and against human reasoning, HOPE not only resides in me, but HOPE GROWS daily. Even after what the last few years have brought me, I am dreaming now more than ever. I am looking to a God who is TRUE and REAL and I know I will not be disappointed. I am not out of the mountains of trial yet. God is here though, most tangibly. He is my steadfast Rock and my Eternal Reward. I hope I get to stick around for a while longer because I am really just beginning to enjoy myself! What a good Father who hears and answers His dearly loved children.”
When I hear Pamela’s story, I think about the hope that grows as you persevere through trials. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 5:3-5 that “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Pamela has learned to persevere through her pain, as have I. Pain seems to come in season – it’s not forever. Even Job was rewarded at the end of his testing. Is pain a test? Not necessarily, but I believe that while God didn’t give me the breast cancer, and didn’t give Pamela a failing kidney, he is pruning us through our pain. We will be healed, we are being healed. Through my perseverance, the treatments, prayer and vigilance, my body has responded in ways far beyond doctor’s expectations; whether it would be the shrinking of the tumour in chemotherapy, as confirmed by PET scans, the report of excellent margins after the mastectomy, the radiation journey and the declaration of my oncologist that I was ‘cancer-free’ in February 2021. But the journey still isn’t over, but that will come in time. Then there’s lymphedema and physiotherapy treatments, and in September 2021, I developed issues with a pinched nerve in my neck. More pain indeed.
Katie Davis Majors is a well-loved American missionary in Uganda. Like most workers in Africa, she has encountered deep joys and deep pain. She shares many gems from her book, Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and Beautiful. Here’s one of them: “The world would teach us that once we are broken, we cannot be used, we cannot be strong, we cannot be happy. But this is not true. After Jesus’ beating and death, our Father God resurrects His Son Jesus out of the dark tomb and conquers death. Out of the black of the tomb, new life emerges and new light shines forth. […] God uses all things, even pain, for his glory. He teaches me to view pain as a holy invitation to know him more so I can share him more.” [Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and Beautiful. Pg. 61]
Here’s Brian Johnson’s take on the pain of his breakdown [from Brian Johnson When God Becomes Real]. His body and mind endured tremendous stress and panic. He said that he had to learn to go slowly. “The panic was a natural way of the body saying, hey, slow down and heal. Be still and know he is God. But “if we continue to ignore ourselves and numb the pain, then the pain gets infected. It’s this kind of infection that allows us to be poisoned from the inside out. And no one is exempt from this kind of poisoning.”
Then Brian, like me, agrees that there are seasons. We have crutches. Sometimes they are pain medications, like I was on oxycodone for nearly 11 months, just to get through the pain of cancer, and then mastectomy. But I had to come off, even though I was still in some pain, although less than it was. I eventually decreased to a few ibuprofen, Tylenol and anti-inflammatories a day. Brian says, “There are times when all of us need a crutch. … But crutches are designed for season. Eventually, you will have to throw these crutches out and learn to walk without them. I was learning to feel the pain and work through it with God, to deal with the real root of the matter. God wanted to bring complete healing and wholeness to my life. He wanted to fully restore me.”
How can God use that pain in the midst of bringing full healing? We know about pruning, but the rest seems to be a mystery. Brian also says, “How does God work through pain? How does he use it?” Brian didn’t understand it then, and to be honest he’s not sure he could understand it now. But he came to see that of his own efforts to ease the pain, pressure and tension worked the best. Brian found that It was his full surrender to the process with God that [finally] brought [him] peace. Brian says that “Pain is never God’s endgame. He allowed it to bring me to the end of myself. Brian Simmons says that “the heart that remains innocent will progressively see more and more of God.” That’s exactly what God had done. He’d restored my heart so I could see more of God.”
Brian found that his last step to his painful healing was publicly sharing his journey. [Brian Johnson When God becomes Real pg 172] Brian shares that “our culture always teaches us to man up, instead of admitting that we’re hurting or feeling any pain. We were designed to feel the pain, and then bring it to the Father. That’s what Jesus did. He felt the pain and laid it at the Fathers feet.” He explains the action of ignoring the pain or compartmentalising through an analogy of a balloon and that it overfills and eventually pops. Brian says, “there will come a time where you can’t avoid the stress of life or numb the pain anymore. And when your coping mechanisms don’t work anymore, consider it a gift. Consider it a gift when God becomes your only option! Experience the pain and bring it to God.” Brian says the same as Pamela does, that “You’ll find him faithful.
Brian found that sharing his story was the very last step to his healing. People needed to hear that he struggles too. “We are all desperate to know that we are not alone and are looking for a glimpse of hope. [Brian shares] that season of darkness had opened [his] eyes to the reality of a better way. That darkness gave way to light. It was in that darkness that God proved himself faithful. It was in that darkness that God became real.”
So pain is not something to be avoided. Like the Footprints poem, we find that this is the time when Jesus carries us. This is the time he is actually closest to us, even if he doesn’t say a word. Psalm 23 catches this beautifully when it says, in verses 4-5, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.” These verses show comfort, protection and provision in a very dark time. This is exactly what we have experienced during my cancer journey. Even in pain, God is there, and shows himself faithful. And so, pain leads us to the end of ourselves, so that God carries us. It’s a lesson that only God is faithful in times like this. He will not fail.
Lord, thank you that you are there for us when we are in pain. You are there when we mourn. You are there, making us rest when we are in stress, and to bring our burdens with you. You know pain, Jesus. You endured pain for us. So we bring you our pain, and ask that you would carry us through it. We won’t run away, but rather, run into your arms.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca. Mouse over the “Listen” drop-down menu, or click here: (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #75!
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Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer-free as of February 2021 (one year ago). I still have checkups to monitor if there is any resurgence, and a mobility disability, but am much more healthy than I was. My husband Tony is a different story. Tony has skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma) and prostate cancer. He is still waiting for Canadian treatment of the tumour in his left lung lining, since Ontario requires all foreign referrals and medical records to be referred by an Ontario doctor. Getting to see a local doctor during the pandemic is more difficult than we expected. His South African doctor gave a probable diagnosis of mesothelioma based on a recent CT scan (which needs to be followed up with a current scan). This is a form of cancer, and as a cancer survivor myself, I can see that chemo may be the way to go to get that tumour down to an operable condition. But I’m not a doctor. Please keep Tony and his health journey in prayer for healing, and favour for God to open doors for treatment despite omicron covid all around us. We had covid ourselves in December 2021, which prevented us from returning to Canada for an extra month. As of February 1st, 2022, we came out of post-travel ‘quarantine,’ and are ready to begin a new chapter of our lives in Toronto, Canada with my frail 92 year old dad. This is a challenge in of itself! He’s had multiple mini-strokes right in our presence, and his care requires a 24-7 watch, which may find it a challenge to go to the doctor ourselves, unless we went one at a time in a taxi (we don’t yet have our own transport)
We will work through our SA medical debt slowly, but we’re thankful for the care that helped save my life. We just couldn’t continue to stay for Tony’s care, after an additional year drained us (retinal re-attachment surgery, multiple hospital stays to drain his lungs, treatment of the skin cancer, scans and the like). Thanks for coming alongside in encouragement and prayer. If you feel led to contribute, it would be most welcome towards beginning again in Canada after returning from our South African assignment. It’s not mandatory, all my teachings are online for free to bless you. Here is our Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod
Laurie-Ann’s Colouring Books: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at LeRoux and Fourie wine shop on R60 beside Cape Lime. This is west of Robertson. Or you can have your own copies printed for you through Print on Demand through Takealot.com.
Link for Colouring with Jesus 1: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424
Link for Colouring with Jesus 2: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486
We plan to republish the updated books in North American format (and in English only) in the future (after taking care of family). Colouring sheets are available to children’s ministries for free, please just let us know. Bless you, and thank you for your support!