By Heather Hagstrom
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I enjoyed actively participating in my church and thrived in a young adult weekly Bible study. It was a blessing to worship God and fellowship with other believers regularly.
After I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t attend church or Bible study consistently for seven months while going through a major surgery and cancer treatments. Throughout my cancer journey, the church included me even when I couldn’t attend consistently.
This inclusion gave me hope and perseverance to view my trial from God’s perspective so as to bring Him glory through my suffering.
With the number of people forced to stay home because of physical or mental illness, how can churches include these isolated and hurting people in their congregations?
“Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18 (CSB)
Throughout my cancer journey, I was humbled and thankful my church and other churches throughout my hometown—and even other places in the U.S.—were praying for me.
A pastor and his intern met me in the hospital at 5:30 a.m. to pray with me before and after my cancer surgery. My 28 days of radiation promoted prayer as a pastor prayed for me daily at my scheduled times for radiation. Sunday school classes also kept me on their prayer chains throughout all my treatments.
All these prayers helped to ease my fears, encouraged me to persevere, and prompted me to keep my focus on God, knowing He had a good plan for me even in the midst of my pain and heartache. Even when I couldn’t physically attend church, I felt included through the prayers of God’s people.
As I was encouraged by people who prayed for me, God gave me the desire to start praying for other people who were also battling cancer.
2. Displays of compassion
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (CSB)
When I was isolated at home, my pastor took the time out of his busy schedule to personally write a note of encouragement to me. This helped me feel included as part of my church.
I also felt included in my church when I was able to attend online through livestream and people applauded to welcome all those who were attending online.
When I couldn’t physically attend church, my parents, who were my caregivers, stayed home with me to watch the church service online. They graciously served me communion at home while we watched communion being served at our church service.God changed my attitude to see my cancer journey not as a crisis but as an opportunity to share His love and compassion with those in difficult situations.My church friends showed me compassion when they came over to visit on a regular basis. When I couldn’t physically attend the monthly game nights my church hosted, my church friends brought the games nights to me!
Before my chemotherapy treatments every three weeks, they would bring over food and games to encourage me and provide Christian fellowship. I felt included in my church through this consistent encouragement and compassion my friends and parents provided.
God used this compassion to give me joy in the midst of my trial to smile at the nurses and doctors who treated me. As I learned the importance of including the isolated, God led me to start looking for opportunities to demonstrate compassion with the comfort He had given me through writing letters of encouragement to other isolated and hurting people.
God changed my attitude to see my cancer journey not as a crisis but as an opportunity to share His love and compassion with those in difficult situations.
3. Above-and-beyond outreach
“Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts.” Romans 12:4-6a (CSB)
As people from different churches volunteered their time and talents to help me throughout my health crisis, their skills were increased to help others. Many cooked and provided delicious meals for me and my parents through a meal train after my surgery. Others wrote encouraging cards, offered rides to my treatments, and provided thoughtful care packages.
Including me in my weekly Bible study through the use of technologies such as FaceTime and Skype when I couldn’t physically attend has provided skills and resources to include others. All these people were utilizing the gifts and skills God had given them to provide outreach to others.
As I was included through creative approaches, I received encouragement, which motivated me to promote the gospel in my cancer center. Each time I went to my cancer center to have blood drawn, receive treatments, or attend a follow-up appointment, God led me to bring in cancer devotionals.
After He healed me from cancer, God gave me the desire and opportunities to serve people both inside and outside my church by bringing them home cooked meals after a surgery or by sending care packages to people with cancer.
Being on the receiving end of these gifts has led me to look for opportunities to reach out to others.
HEATHER HAGSTROM is a member of the Heart of America Christian Writers’ Network.