Tag Archives: laurie-ann copple's cancer journey

Growing in and through God’s peace

“Wimbe beach fishermen” drawn in Pemba, Mozambique by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple

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 live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last articles, we journeyed through growing in courage.  We found that true courage is a gift from God. But it is also developed as we choose to focus on our source: God. This is what David did when he confronted Goliath in a mighty way to defend God’s honour to the Israelite army.   Courage, strength and joy are connected, as the joy of the Lord is our strength.  But so too, is courage.  Courage goes beyond the ability to stand and not back down. It’s also strength in the face of pain and grief; especially in the example of fighting an extended illness with great courage.  The illness could be cancer, or many invisible disabilities that bring daily pain and discouragement.  This is why courage to face the day is needed. Canadian prophet Darren Canning recently shared a great example of courage a few months ago:  He said, “One person in a war may seem like one piece of sand upon the seashore but one person filled with courage can speak to the wildest waves and they will have to obey.”  (Darren Canning, FB post October 10, 2019)

Everyday courage is also shown in your life wherever you are.  Perhaps you are looking at your OWN situation through your perspective. God wants you to come up higher to where he is, so that you can view the things that make you feel small and weak.  Instead, be strong and accept HIS strength in you.  To move forward, it is best to face your deepest fears!  Through God’s perspective, those fears are small and He helps you move through it to conquer.  You are a warrior.  Now we are going to learn about peace, which to be honest has been a difficult topic to nail down.  

Peace is not just the absence of war and strife, but this is something that many people give a toast towards.  They clink their glasses and say “to world peace.”  I doubt that would happen, especially in some troubled spots, but we like to think that we have a handle on the situation.  We care.   A Christian version of that is to remember those who fought in World War 1 and 2, as well as later conflicts.  There are so many.  We remember them on Remembrance Day, November 11, at 11 in the morning.  The British call this Armistice Day and the Americans call it Veterans’ Day.  It’s important to remember those who work to protect us from harm, like the military and the police.   I remember when I was part of a church choir. I love to sing.  There is a song that we used to sing that goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  If you know it, that mention may put the tune in your head.  It’s a good thing to remember.  

Peacemakers are special people put in difficult situations.  They can be military, chaplains, or ordinary folk like you and me.  Many times in church history, missionaries and pastors have been used to diffuse situations.  I remember reading some Olea Nel books about Andrew Murray’s life.  He diffused many storms during his ministry in Bloemfontein, as well as being used as an instrument of revival in the Cape Awakening in the 1860’s.    

Peacemaking is one aspect of stewarding God’s grace and peace.  Ken Sande has written a few books on resolving conflicts.  I read through much of his book The Peacemaker. He talks about the four G’s of peacemaking. These are: Number one: Glorify God.  How can we please and honour God in this situation? Glorifying God benefits you as well as inviting the Holy Spirit into the situation. 

Number two:  Get the log out of your own eye.  How can we show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for our own contribution to this conflict?  Jesus challenged the Pharisees in Matthew 7:3. He said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”  Sometimes our own sins and struggles colour your perspective and worsen the situation. 

Number three:  Gently restore.  How can I lovingly serve others to help take their own responsibility?

Number Four:  Go and be reconciled.  How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?  [Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, P 37 – 38]

Ken also notes that when people hurt you, and you respond in pain, he has a solution for that:  “Instead of reacting harshly or seeking revenge, God calls us to be merciful to those to offend us. Luke 6:36 says, “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”  We cannot serve others this way in our own strength. We must continually breathe in God’s grace” (through Bible Study, prayer, worship and Christian fellowship).  [Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, P 34]. You need to have peace to be a peacemaker.  Running away from conflict is not the answer, although temporarily it may give a little break.  It’s not a long term solution. 

But when you are in a situation, and show God’s glory in diffusing it, there is a special blessing for you.  Matthew 5:9 says,  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”  Now all who come to faith in Jesus are sons and daughters, so this likely means peacemaking is very much part of our role at some time or another.

Peace is also something that combats uncertainty.  When you have confidence and trust in Jesus, you can have peace that while you aren’t in control, he is.  You can’t do anything about what you can’t control.  If the storm or situation feels too big, He will help show you the steps, one by one to take, to resolve the issue.  God is faithful and will finish what He started, and will fulfill his promises.  Philippians 1:6 shares that, “God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete.”

Max Lucado shares in his book Be Anxious for Nothing, on how to diffuse the anxiety that comes when you are overwhelmed and you don’t feel in control.  He confirms my thoughts that when you believe that God is sovereign and in control, you have a measure of peace.  He says, “Belief always precedes behaviour. For this reason, the apostle Paul in each of his epistles, addressed convictions before he addressed actions. To change the way a person responds to life, change what a person believes about life.”  “In the treatment of anxiety, a proper understanding of sovereignty is huge.

Anxiety is often the consequence of perceived chaos.  If we sense we are victims of unseen, turbulent, random forces, we are troubled.” [Max Lucado: Be Anxious for Nothing  P22]  So, the formula is simple: Perceived control creates calm. Lack of control gives birth for fear.” Here’s an example: “A team of German researchers found that a traffic jam increases your chances of a heart attack threefold. Makes sense.  Gridlock is the ultimate loss of control. You may know how to drive, but that fellow in the next lane doesn’t! We can be the best drivers in history, but the texting teenager might be the end of us. There is no predictability, just stress.”  Anxiety increases as perceived control decreases.” [Lucado, p 23] 

We want certainty, but the only certainty is the lack of it. This is why the most stressed-out people are control freaks.  “We can’t take control, because control is not ours to take.” The Bible has a much better idea. Rather than seeking total control, relinquish it instead. You can give it to God.  Peace is within reach, not for lack of problems, but because of the presence of a sovereign Lord.”   Instead of rehearsing the chaos of the world situations or a personal crisis, instead, rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty, as Paul did.” [Lucado, p 24]  To read Paul is to read the words of a man who, in the innermost part of his being, he believed in the steady hand of a good God.  He was protected by God’s strength, preserved by God’s love.  He lived beneath the shadow of God’s wings.  Do you?”  It’s a choice.  Do you want to live in fear or let go and live in peace?

Peace is also a fruit of the Spirit, as shown in Galatians 5:22-23.  The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.”  Peace is a supernatural by-product of getting closer to Jesus. If God is peaceful by nature, then to get close to God is to live in His peace. The nearer we move to Him, the more of His peace we can experience. Thankfully, the Bible provides us specific guidance about how to be closer to Him.  James 4:8 shares that if we “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” If you are genuinely seeking him, he will not turn you away.

Matthew 7:7-8 promises us to, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”   That promise is the Holy Spirit, and this includes peace. The Apostle Paul also advises us in Colossians 3:15.   He said to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”

I found quite a few readings on peace, from my former employer, Darren Canning, to the editors of Christianity.com.  Let’s hear Darren’s prophetic words on peace.  When I read his message, think about trusting Jesus and letting him carry you.  Darren shares that God’s peace drips on us like dew, when we are in his presence.  His message is called “His Peace in the Storm.”  When I hear those words, I think of Jesus being asleep in the boat, while his disciples were fearful due to the storm.  And when he woke up, he was still at peace and commanded the wind and the waves to be still.  And they were.  That is peace in the storm.  Peace wins out over fear.  Look up the story in Mark 4 verses 34 to 41. Here’s Darren:

“The term ‘fear not’ occurs in the Bible 365 times.  This is one for every day of the year.  There is a reason that “Fear Not” is in the Bible that many times and that is because as people we deal with all kinds of fear, but you do not have to fear in Christ.”  [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm” ministry email message, September 8, 2019]

Darren says that healing of the mind is really healing from fears.  What is the fear that you need to overcome today?  Jesus is the answer for it.  Darren met two older women recently who told him they had a fear of heights; so to overcome that fear, they went para-sailing in Florida.  Afterward they told him they still had a fear of heights.   That might seem funny but we do all kinds of things in the natural to try to overcome our fear but really our fears are healed in Christ in God.  What is your fear today?  Are you afraid of being alone?  Are you afraid of the dark?  Are you afraid of losing it all or dying?

Whatever you are afraid of, God has the answer for that fear.  Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Darren shares that “His precious peace in my heart says to me that everything is going to be OK.  There are times I don’t feel that peace and I even forget to pray in those times.  For a little while anyway his peace is not with me, but then I remember Him again and His spirit is with me.  His spirit inside of me is the assurance that I will pass through the troubled waters.  Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”] This passage in Isaiah actually represents a promise from God.  Your anxiety and fear may feel like a fire but the Lord will meet you in the fire.  Just pray.  Just seek Him.  Declare His name over that storm that you are facing today.  The waters may be churning inside your life, but He is the one who can end the storm.  He will be with you through every trial and every problem.  You will overcome this world by the power of God within you. [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”]  Darren says that God’s peace drenches him like dew.

When Darren becomes aware of it, things have a way of turning around.  God is able to make all grace abound in his life. and He does.  Stay close to Him today and watch as He shifts you into a new mindset.”  [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”]  This goes back to what Max Lucado shared earlier. When we believe Jesus and his care for us, we know we aren’t alone.  Jesus is with us, walking with us and when we look into his loving, fiery eyes, we can’t help but have softened hearts, and know that he cares for every detail. 

Peace is also very important as a confirmation in decision making.  Just as I was writing this devotional, a teacher friend told me that her husband was offered a wonderful work position in Clanwilliam.  However, it would mean leaving his wife and child behind, in a time when they want to have another child.  He said no to the opportunity, because he did not have peace about it.  And when he shared his decision with his wife, she felt such deep peace that she could stop, breathe and feel the peace come and fill her like a waterfall. 

What is the peace of God?  Is it just goosebumps, or fleeting moments?  It doesn’t have to be.  We can live in peace, as we desire more and more of God.  It’s one of the benefits of being with him.  When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt very deep peace when the doctor gave me the news.  I had a picture of Jesus carrying me, and since then, he still is.  Peace, joy and a positive attitude were part of the reason why the tumour already shrunk 60 percent in two months.  Think of it, 60 percent!  That’s not just the chemo.  It’s God.  It’s also the prayers of the children we teach, and the teens that we disciple.  It’s the prayers of many churches in the Western Cape, and eastern and southern Ontario.  There are so many factors.  But they are all weaved together by God through his deep peace.  Now in May 2021, I am cancer free! (However, the journey continues with recovering from the harsh treatments).

Elizabeth George writes devotional books.  One of them is Experiencing God’s Peace, which is a Bible study on Philippians.  I recommend this book, since normally Philippians is seen as a book of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Paul was in custody as a prisoner, and chained to a guard all of the time.  Yet he had joy and he had peace, as he got to share the gospel with his guards, and he had joy in counselling the Philippian church.  In the midst of her study, Elizabeth shares, “But our wonderful God has provided real peace for us as his dear children – and this includes you!  What a splendid thought to know that, even though Jesus stated in John 6:33, “In the world, you will have tribulation, (BUT) you will have the provision of God’s perfect peace in every circumstance through all of life.”   [Elizabeth George, Experiencing God’s Peace p 10]  She even pairs together grace and peace as supernatural power twins in Philippians chapter 1.  This is part of Paul’s greeting to the church.  It’s not a throwaway line!  Here is Paul’s prayer in verse 2: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”  These two together are like strength, perseverance and deep peace.  Wouldn’t you love some of that?

And then I read the very core of what God’s peace really is.  It’s not something that is fleeting.  It can last a long time.  Here’s the take on peace from the editors of Christianity.com.  “According to the Bible, the peace of God, “which transcends all understanding,” is the harmony and calmness of body, mind, and spirit that supersedes earthly circumstance. Nearly all of the letters of Paul start with the phrase “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Throughout scripture, we find that peace is defined as a blessing from God and harmonious with His character.”  [Christianity.com, What is the Peace of God? https://www.christianity.com/wiki/god/what-is-the-peace-of-god-biblical-meaning.html]

The Apostle Paul shared  in Philippians 4:7 that after we pray and leave our concerns with God, this happens… “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   The peace of God can also be described as a tranquil state of appreciation and faith. This happens especially when we submit to and trust the commandments of God and Christ. “It requires a mixture of humility and courage to experience God’s peace, seeking beyond the mere abilities of our own understanding.”  [What is the Peace of God] Sometimes we just don’t understand, but that’s okay.  We don’t see the whole picture.  Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. The next verse tells us to “acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will direct your paths.”  We need to trust God and let go of our fears.  Most of the fears are about things that won’t happen anyway. 

Ask him to give you that peace.  1 Thessalonians  5:23 shares a wonderful prayer of peace. Paul prayed:  “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The nearer we move to Him, the more of His peace we can experience.

Daniel Pontius also shares about that perfect peace in a deep way.  He says that this otherworldly Peace has the capability of not just safeguarding you and your life, but also shifting the atmospheres and circumstances wherever you go as well.” [Daniel Pontius, “Jesus’ Powerful Peace,” ministry email through Darren Canning Ministries, November 10, 2019]

Philippians 4:7 speaks into our hearts:  “And GOD’S PEACE WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This Powerful Peace bypasses your natural understanding; because it will be there when you shouldn’t normally be experiencing such peace. Then if you take it, and speak to the storms of your life with it, it will even silence those storms around you as well! Whether they are in your life or the lives of those around you, this Powerful Heavenly force of God will be your ally when YOU NEED IT THE MOST AND EXPECT IT THE LEAST!!! Jesus told us, in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” [Daniel Pontius, “Jesus’ Powerful Peace,”

So as I close, I pray over you the perfect peace that you need in your situation.  It’s not manufactured by us.  Our part is to stop, breathe and seek God.  Give him your situation.  And if you don’t know Jesus yet, give him your life.  Don’t worry, Jesus cares for you deeply.  Take a deep breath and walk forward.  Jesus is standing right before you.  Will you let him carry you?  Will you let him give you his deep peace?  Don’t be anxious.  Offer yourself and your requests to God.  Jesus is listening.  Holy Spirit is ready to touch and fill you.  He will wash away sins, and heal your heart as you continue to give all your hurts to him. 

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your perfect peace.  It’s not a worldly peace, but a supernatural peace that we all want more of.  We also want you.  You are the perfect prince of peace.  Thank you for all you did and do for us.  Thank you for everything.  Fill the hearts of all who are listening.  You are real.  And you are a very personal God.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Remember, do not be anxious about anything.  In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present those requests to God.  Don’t forget.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #66!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and blood work). 

On a side note, God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We would like to return in September 2021, and (after quarantine) we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Tony has prostate cancer, but it may wait until our journey to Canada.  We trust that its progress will be slow enough that the effects of the covid pandemic on the Canadian health system won’t hinder his healing.  It would have hindered me, since inflammatory cancer doesn’t wait!  Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.

We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower.  We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  I want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift in February.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!  Most people who are led to give are friends, or friends of friends, so when friends we’ve not met yet respond, it’s very special!

We are still crowdfunding to cover the L-A’s post cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB, eye and prostate treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:


The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works.  We just finished translation mode into Afrikaans, and the book is in proof reading mode in both languages. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in God through our place of refuge

“Safe in Durham Cathedral” – Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, October 2019

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 live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last article, we journeyed through renewing our minds.  Sometimes fears and old taunts that have been thrown at us can surface at times.   I call these playing the ‘old tapes’ from past experiences. Some of these experiences are from childhood, and others more recent. But they all play on each other until they are resolved.  The child inside us still remembers incidents with childhood bullies, or a throw-away line in anger from a parent. The child doesn’t understand, and these events and words can limit, wound, and sometimes paralyze us with fear. The words limit growing past the experiences that brought pain, and the person will continue to react to anything similar until the issue is dealt with.  Until the experience is resolved, it may continue to be a barrier for emotional and spiritual growth. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that we need to renew our minds.  Romans 12:2 says:  “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, pleasing and perfect.”  We need to, in a sense, have a mind transfusion – to get rid of all the bad stuff that would harm us that lodges in our memories. We need to be transformed.  We need to understand that we are loved and have been loved all throughout our lives. We have never been left alone.  Why do we specifically need to renew our mind?  Think of it as your mind being a computer.  When you go through computer maintenance, you need to run scan disk and defrag your hard drive.  You clean out the junk and empty the recycle bin.  But then you find other harmful things on your computer, so you clean those things out as well.  Otherwise you can’t run programmes properly.  The computer will be erratic because it’s trying to do too many things at once.  This is the same with us when we may try to do something that looks simple, but since our minds and hearts are full of junk, we can’t handle it and have a meltdown.  

Our mind is where we process info, thoughts and feelings.  It’s also the place where we make decisions and choose our actions through our will.  It is how we think that shapes our feelings and our behaviour.  It’s a process in cleaning out the junk in the computer systems in our minds, hearts and memories, but it is worth it.  In time, with God’s help through the Holy Spirit, you and I will change for the better.   Just be kind to yourself because this takes time.  Most good things do.  It takes time for good fruit to grow, but it’s worth it.  That fruit is a valuable symbol of how good things grow in our lives.  Refuges are also an important symbol to think about.

When we go through times where we may feel like the foundations of everything we know is challenged, we need a refuge.  When we have a storm, we aren’t out in the rain for very long. We go inside to be protected from the weather.  And then there are floods and earthquakes, where a house can’t necessarily protect you.  I don’t say this out of fear mongering, but out of having us consider where we take refuge and who we take refuge in.   Refuge is a powerful symbol.

This journey grows out of teaching Christian symbols to the kids we love in Legacy Relay. They have been learning about soaking prayer and drawing.  We do this with our teens in My Father’s House – but they already know many Christian symbols.  These children are only in grade one.  Our MasterPeace Academy and Legacy Relay learners learned about symbols slowly through their devotional times.  They know that Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is a symbol of Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  And Jesus is called the Lion of Judah, because that’s one of the ways that he appears in the Book of Revelation.

A refuge can be different things, but it comes down to this fact. To take refuge is to find a safe place.  You might take refuge under a bridge when it hails, or in a basement during a tornado.  Refuge comes from a French word meaning “to flee”, and in many cases, a refuge, or sanctuary, is  a place to flee to so you can get away from people or places that are unsafe [Google dictionary].  A women’s shelter fits this concept – to keep vulnerable women and children away from violent men who would want to harm them.  This is a desperate need here in South Africa, where so many women die from violent partners and ex-partners.

Some people who take refuge for protection and safety draw close to God as he walks with them.  Psalm 91 talks about protection by angels. Psalm 46, which was written by the sons of Korah, shares that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 34: 8 shares that we must “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed (or happy) is the one who takes refuge in him.”  Taking refuge during times of trouble is something that not only keeps us safe, we also receive JOY and comfort.  We receive peace.

The Psalms are a wonderful place to turn to for comfort and refuge. The word refuge shows up 98 times in the Bible. 43 of those examples are in the Psalms, where most of the time, the referred refuge is of God. However, if you look at other translations, you can use the terms “put trust in,” “protection”, “stronghold,” and other safety terms.  Apparently the word for refuge, Hasah, calls our attention basically to sin and how it wrecks everything.  “When the Old Testament speaks of refuge, it is always in the context of a threat, something wrong or dangerous in the world. [But] sometimes [that] threat is physical as in seeking refuge from a rain storm, as in Isaiah 4:6. Or perhaps shade from hot sun in Judges 9:15. Protection from adversaries is a common theme, as in Psalm 61:3.  

The threat can also be spiritual or emotional, such as a refuge from shame, as shown in Psalm 31:1: “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”  The refuge can even protect from loneliness, as in Psalm 142:4: “Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.”  However, in all these examples, the Bible’s use of the word refuge reminds us that we live in a world wrecked by sin.  This is a world of dangers around us, and of brokenness inside us. We cannot avoid these realities, but we can seek shelter from them.  The authors at Bible Mesh share that “the word “refuge” also calls our attention to God’s power to save us from sin and its consequences. Many times, it [refers to] His ability to protect us from the dangers [I described.] God provides shelter in a storm. He gives vindication in the face of shame, and friendship in times of loneliness. But even more significantly, the Lord is our refuge in the Day of Judgment. Though He will bring a day where [sin is reckoned], he grants his people forgiveness and gives them refuge from his wrath. This is shared multiple times in the books of Nahum and Deuteronomy. Perhaps, the greatest need of all people is shelter from the horrible consequences of sin. Scripture reminds us that God offers such shelter. (paraphrase https://biblemesh.com/blog/refuge-in-the-psalms/)

The Bible also shares about places, or cities of refuge that were set up to protect people in trouble, or had done crimes in desperation.  Joshua 20:2-6 shares about why these places were set apart before the locations were chosen.  Here’s the passage: “Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”  The places of refuge they set apart were six communities around the east and west of the Jordan River.

There are cities of refuge now, for example during the beginning of the migrant crisis from the Middle East.   Writer Mathilde Teheur learned about refugee-friendly cities in Europe. In some places, they had sanctuary and supportive citizens who wanted to build a more humane migration policy (at least until it was abused).  She said, that during “September 2015, the mayors of Barcelona, Lesbos, Lampedusa and Paris [created] a network of ‘refuge cities’ aiming to provide better reception conditions for migrants at local or municipal level. Though the declaration is not legally binding, Teheur believes it was a first step towards ensuring that both the wishes of local entities, and the vital role played by them, are taken into account in national debates on how migrants are received. (Mathilde Têcheur, Cities of Refuge in Europe, 25 July 2018, https://www.equaltimes.org/across-europe-cities-of-sanctuary#.XXvpeS4zbIU )  However, the tide seems to be turning against many migrants currently, perhaps because there were too many at once.  Also, some migrants are spoiling it for the others with violence and criminal acts. 

Michael Syder from Charisma News speaks about another kind of refuge – that of people getting away from broken down, fast-paced Western society to live a healthier lifestyle. He met a New York state man who intended to convert a hotel and surrounding facilities into a place of refuge that could potentially accommodate hundreds of people for an extended period of time. (Michael Snyder March 2016 – Charisma News, (https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/55513-why-people-are-creating-hundreds-of-cities-of-refuge-across-america)  He has also corresponded with other communities in Idaho and elsewhere in North America with a similar mind-set.  Others in South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East are doing the same.  Every place of refuge looks different – from former hotels and schools, to RVs and tent-cities.  Synder said in these places, major community concerns remain: food, water, shelter, electrical power, and security.

Places of refuge were also common in early and medieval church history.  Roman pagan temples took in people who needed help.  This especially applied to runaway slaves.

The Early Church took notice and took in people as well.  The symbols of sanctuary and fortress developed later in church history. Even Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in the late 1520’s to remind us that God doesn’t fail us and is greater than our circumstances.  Here is the first verse: ‘a mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing: Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work his woe; His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” [Luther, wiki.]   Both refuge and fortress are defined as places of protection and defence.  Refuge is a place where one can have hope and or can put trust and confidence in that protection; whether it is fortified or not.  A fortress is a fortified place that sometimes shelters: a town, fort, castle, stronghold, and is for defence and security.  Our little gated retirement village in Worcester is like a fortress, rather than a refuge, but it’s nice when we find a place that can be both.  

The Church equivalent of the cities of refuge in Joshua 20 is reflected in the sanctuary of the English church (and elsewhere in medieval Europe). When people, usually the poor and downtrodden would steal or hurt someone, and it was either unintentional or out of poverty, they could run to the nearest cathedral, grab the sanctuary ring and claim sanctuary.  Sometimes this meant a longer arbitration through the church, which was either resolved, or the person would have to leave England. They would be shipped off to America or Australia.  They called this ‘transportation’ – the British way of getting rid of difficult common poor folk out of their country.  At one time it was to Ireland and France [Eric Grundhauser] and later, America and Australia.  Here’s Eric Grundhauser on what it was like to seek asylum in medieval England:  “So you are in 13th-century England, and you’ve been accused of, or maybe have actually committed, a murder. To be taken into custody and tried would likely result in execution, so you need to go to ground, fast. [All that you had to do, was to run] into a Christian church.

The right to sanctuary, as the tradition is called, is probably best known through the titular outcast of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who used the protective right to save his true love. But it actually dates all the way back to traditions from the ancient Greece and Rome, yet surprisingly survived (in a much changed form) into the 17th century. Taking refuge in these miraculous safe zones, though, was far more complicated and dangerous than most people think.” [Eric Grundhauser, What it was like to seek asylum in Medieval England, July 21, 2015 [https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-it-was-like-to-seek-asylum-in-medieval-england]

Professor Karl Shoemaker shares that early sanctuary examples of places of worship were knowns as examples of holy forgiveness.  He shares that “The earliest Christians were aware that pagan temples offered sanctuary for criminals, and they did not want to be shown up in their piety by their pagan rivals. Thus, criminals could be offered protection within Christian churches as well, with the added benefit that asylum seekers might be converted or offered a chance to repent.” [quoted from Grundhauser] Shoemaker explains that “as Christianity spread across Europe, sanctuary protections came along with it, supported by the church as well as the various crowns. Thanks to the precise and pervasive record-keeping of the English, their codified and standardized version of sanctuary procedure is the process best known today.] [quoted from Grundhauser]

 In order for asylum seekers to gain sanctuary, they only had to enter a church and wait for an appointed coroner of the crown to arrive.  The refugee was to confess the crime, and then was given the sanctuary of the church for a time, as a safe arbitration place.  In some cases, more specific action was required. One liturgical act was to ring a certain bell, perhaps sit on a special “frith-stool” (bench), or wrap their hand around a special door-knocker, as was the case at Durham Cathedral, and knock on the door.  I have seen that sanctuary ring, and held it.  I was not seeking sanctuary from the law, but I did seek the Lord’s touch in that very special place.

Shoemaker says during the early 17th century, “up to two-thirds of all the felonies were “resolved” in a sanctuary.” [quoted from Grundhauser] During this period all Christian churches offered sanctuary within their walls, although 22 particular churches were known safe places, including Durhum Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, fugitives had to forfeit their possessions, money and land to the crown before they left the country.  This left them vulnerable in the places that they emigrated into.  Shoemaker believes that when English law evolved in the late 16th century, it was the ultimate downfall of the church asylum. Before this, sanctuary was understood as an act of kindness, forgiveness, and piety on the part of both Christianity and the crown. But public feeling grew, which gave the belief that criminals took advantage of this option to avoid punishment.  They began to believe that sanctuary’s penitent treatment of fugitives seemed only to reward criminal acts by allowing asylum seekers to avoid the official penalty. By 1624, standard sanctuary laws were abolished, and fugitives were no safer in a church than they were in the streets. [paraphrased from Grundhauser]

One of my favourite places to meet God is in a place called Lindisfarne, Holy Island.  It is a tidal island in north eastern England, south of Berwick-on-Tweed.  It’s not far from Scotland.  It’s a place where Irish missionary monks, under Aidan of Iona set up a mission centre. He was similar in temperament to Francis of Assisi, and became known as the apostle of northern England.  He loved to relate on the same level as the common folk, so he never rode a horse, even though King Oswald gave him one.  Other monks followed for years.  Many pilgrims would walk over to the island during low tide.  However, even now during pilgrim walks, you must be very careful when you cross.  It is the same with the road that links to the mainland.  If you are caught when the fast moving tide comes in, your car can be flooded, and you must seek shelter.  There are refuge boxes along the trail and one on the road just for that purpose.  The threat of water is real if you are not careful.  Those refuge boxes, are a real symbol of refuge to me. That whole island, is like a ‘thin place’ where I can hear Holy Spirit’s whisper as easily as if I were having coffee with Jesus across from me. I feel safe on that island, especially in two of its churches that I attended. I also loved staying with the people at the Open Gate Christian guest house.

Earlier I quoted from the first verse of “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  There are other songs about refuge that come to mind.  A favourite of ours by English composer and playwright Roger Jones is “God is our shelter and strength.”  It’s the song Tony and I sang while we were barefoot pilgrims along the mud between the shore of mainland Northumberland and Holy Island.  There is also the children’s favourite, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.”  But one of my current favourites is “You are my hiding place.”

Earlier I mentioned places of refuge: cities in the Bible and communities today.  Those who take refuge are refugees. Even Jesus and his parents were refugees, when Joseph was warned by an angel to take baby Jesus to a place of safety away from King Herod, who was trying to kill him.  He narrowly escaped the slaughter in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:13-14 relates the story:  When the [Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c]

There have been refugees in many ages, although they are called by different names. Some biblical names for refugees include strangers, sojourners and foreigners. Strangers and foreigners refer to anyone from another ethnic groups who have chosen to live in Israel.  Expats may be included in this list.  Tony and I might be considered one of these while we are here in South Africa.   The book of Ruth is about one such ‘foreigner.’  Sojourners are those who temporarily live in Israel or who are travelling through.  So in this, the Biblical world view would call us sojourners in South Africa.  Other sojourners would include: displaced persons from war and disaster and refugees.  Emigrants who stay longer would include: economic migrants, immigrants, asylum seekers fleeing from persecution, and even stateless persons.  Visitors are just that: people seeking education, a holiday or a sabbatical.

The Bible is clear in how God’s people are to treat these “strangers and foreigners.”  Even Matthew 25:35 shares a reward for those who treat these people well.  He ways to the sheep who follow his commands to reach out to specific people, including ‘strangers,’  “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  World Vision’s Denise Koenig shares that “Middle Eastern cultures are famous for their hospitality.  For example (in Genesis 18), Abraham invited the angelic visitors into his tent and provided a lavish meal for them. Even so, strangers among the different tribal groups were looked at with suspicion, often conned or taken advantage of, and not treated well, especially if they were poor.  God’s instructions in the Old Testament were counter cultural.  Jesus (also) follows the Old Testament pattern and takes it a step further by saving that how we treat strangers indicates whether we are his followers.  We are to invite the stranger in if we are his disciples.  Foreigners or refugees are not to be oppressed.” [Denise Koenig, June 19, 2019, What does the Bible say about refugees? https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/what-does-bible-say-about-refugees]  Exodus 23:9 reminds us and the Jewish people to “Not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

The Old Testament law has more in how to treat the foreigner:  the cities of refuge as I mentioned earlier, and farmer’s gleanings for the poor and the farmer are great examples.  The gleanings were mentioned in Leviticus 23:22. It says, “when you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.” Remember that Ruth herself gleaned in the fields, as a widow, a stranger, and a kinswoman through her dead husband.

Strangers are also to be included in festivals and celebrations. The Passover celebration is mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, but later in chapter 26:12, they are especially noted in the year of tithing to the poor.  “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.”  This indeed shows that God is generous, and gives us the provision to be generous also.  Notice the needs of the gleaning and special tithe. These refer to helping displaced people with food.  As Christians, we also are to treat the stranger with kindness.  We ourselves didn’t realize the kindness of God chased us until we came to faith.  Perhaps we are the very ones to reach out in God’s kindness to these people and offer them not only refuge, but to point to the one who GIVES refuge.   The author of Hebrews reminds us to open our hearts in Hebrews 13:1-2: Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  The Apostle Peter adds to this command by saying in 1 Peter 1:17, that we must “live out your time as foreigners here with reverent [godly] fear.”  “Think of how graciously God treats us, the foreigners living in his world. His kindness to us can guide our thoughts and actions towards those living as strangers among us.” [Denise Koenig, June 19, 2019, What does the Bible say about refugees? https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/what-does-bible-say-about-refugees]  

And so, we who are no longer strangers to God, can be used as representatives of God’s refuge.  It’s like we’re invited to be a part of a post-modern underground railroad, like the days when slaves were rescued from the southern US.  Some mission minded people, like Cal Bombay of 100 Huntley Street HAVE gone to Sudan to rescue those sold into slavery.  He was bringing refuge and redemption to these slaves.  Ministries like Arkenstone in the Greater Toronto area and Iris Cambodia work against human trafficking.  They also offer refuge.  Homeless shelters such as Sanctuary retreat in downtown Toronto and Cornerstone in Chicago offer the same to those on the streets. There are many more that do the same – but not all take these in overnight.

These refuges are for certain circumstances.  But you may be listening to me while you sit safely in your home.  You may be in physical safety, but your heart is in turmoil like a stormy sea.  You may have been hit by a heavy loss recently, or found out some news that absolutely shocked you.  You probably didn’t believe the words you heard and said, ‘no, that’s not me’ and yet you knew in your heart it was.  During times like that, will you look up at Jesus?  As you look up into his face, he brings you peace, through your shock, denial, and the emotions that come later.  

Tony and I returned from our home visit on July 10th 2019.  Shortly after I began to feel pain and tinglings in my left breast, and I thought it was odd.  I’d never felt this before. I happened to ask the Holy Spirit, “what is that?”  The whisper I heard in my spiritual ears was “it’s cancer.”  I was in shock. I didn’t think anything – it didn’t even register until much later.  A few days after that I began having pain in the nipple and I went to our doctor. He wasn’t available, but a wonderful female doctor helped me.  She helped diagnose another condition I had that masked the issue.  But she was clearly worried about what was going on with my breast. We tried antibiotics, thinking it was post-menopausal mastitis.  After it didn’t respond to treatment twice, I was booked into the local hospital under antibiotic drip and introduced to a wonderful surgeon who cared for me. He expected to find lumps that he could remove, after imaging.  He didn’t find them, but some cancers don’t have lumps.  One week later, he took six large biopsies.  During the procedure I was nervous and asked the Holy Spirit to fill the room.  He came. When the procedure began, I was laughing at the sound of the machine, thinking that the doctor was stapling posters to my chest. I was given humour and peace.

After the mammogram and most lab work was completed, I was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer, which was staged later as 3B. When the surgeon phoned with the news, I had peace.  I already suspected due to that whisper a few weeks earlier, and a hint that the doctor said we should rule out the possibility of a rare form of cancer.  By then I knew what to research.  In my mind’s eye, I could clearly see that I was being held by Jesus, close to his chest.  When I would raise my head, the Holy Spirit would push my face back into Jesus’ chest.  I remained there for over a year and a half. Now my husband is carried in his own illness journey of TB. I let him continue to carry me.  Will you let him carry you?  Psalm 46 offers God to be our refuge.  Do you want to be safe in him?  You only need ask him. He’s listening.  

There is a special poem that shows Jesus carrying a pilgrim in distress.  The authorship is disputed, but the origin is still divine.   If you haven’t heard this poem, give it a listen:  [A] pilgrim arrived in heaven and God said to him, “Would you like to see where you’ve come from?”  When the pilgrim responded that he would, God unfolded the story of his whole life and he saw footprints from the cradle to the grave.  Only there were not only the footprints of the pilgrim, but another set of prints alongside. The pilgrim said, “I see my footprints, but whose are those?” And the Lord said, “Those are My footprints. I was with you all the time.”

Then they came to a dark, discouraging valley and the pilgrim said, “I see only one set of footprints through that valley. I was so discouraged. You were not there with me. It was just as I thought–I was so all alone!” Then the Lord said, “Oh, but I was there. I was with you the whole time. You see, those are MY footprints. I carried you all through that valley.”[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footprints_(poem)]

Think on how he carries us.  There is room for you in his arms.  Lord, Thank you that you continue to carry me, and we will beat this cancer together.  I put my trust in you.  I pray for my friends who are listening and ask that you reach out to them as well.  It may not be cancer, but it may be bad news.  You are there for them.  You are their refuge. You are their strength.  And as they abide in you, they will be made strong.  In Jesus’ name,  amen. 

I also share my own version of being carried in my song lyrics, “Thank you Jesus:”

Thank you Jesus 
by Laurie-Ann Copple 
Lord, you are near, not far
You hold all things together
Spinning planets with the stars
It’s a dance you set forever
And even though you hold all things
You noticed I was falling
You promised you would carry me
When the cancer came a calling.
Chorus:   Lord, I want to thank you
You brought me back to life
My healing is a foretaste
Under heaven’s loving knife.
You carried me close to your chest
As we went through death’s dark shade
This journey was for my best
In your face, my troubles fade.
Chorus:   Lord, I want to thank you
You brought me back to life
My healing is a foretaste
Under heaven’s loving knife.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #64!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I am still receiving oncology visits, and the awaited plastic surgery on the left side of my mastectomy scar has been postponed, since the surgeon was concerned about me being exposed to covid.    I did have an excellent cancer post treatment appointment a few days ago. There is no trace of cancer in my blood, although the high level of pain meds I receive does show.   The supplements however, have made a difference in recovery from the treatments as well as the cancer that was in my body.  Now we will continue to keep watch that the cancer doesn’t return.  I have extensive scans and blood work in July (pending a medical visa extension).

I also receive MLD therapy, lymphedema treatments and physiotherapy to get me stronger for our eventual return to Canada (which was to be in May 2021, but it’s difficult to return so we will see if we can return in September). 

We did receive our first, allow us to stay until May 2021, but we must reapply for the extension in March.  According to Home Affairs, the wait can be up to 60 business days. That’s a long time without our passports, but we need to be patient and trust God and our lawyer during the process. 

We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower.  We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.htmlI want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift last month.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!

 We are still crowdfunding to cover the cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works – in translation mode. Bless you and thank you for your support!