Guest Blogger: Dave White, AC3 Elder
In September of 2014 I got news that my brother Doug had mouth cancer. He had surgery scheduled in early October to remove part of his tongue and several teeth where the gums were affected by the cancer. A couple years earlier he had been diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver and several other potentially fatal conditions. He had been a heavy smoker and drinker all his life. About 39 years earlier when I became a Christian I had shared my faith with him and “preached” the Gospel to him. He told me that he believed that what I was telling him was probably true but that he didn’t want anything to do with it. He didn’t want to change his lifestyle. The lifestyle that led to the health problems he was now faced with.
The day before the surgery I called to talk to him. I was afraid that after the surgery he may not be able to talk and I really wanted to hear his voice. We talked about what was going on and how he was feeling, both physically and emotionally. I reminded him of the conversations we had years earlier and asked him if what he was going through was making him think about God and eternity. He told me that he was thinking about it a lot. We talked for a little while longer and I was able to briefly share the Gospel with him and told him that there were a lot of people praying for him; both for his physical healing and for his emotional and spiritual healing.
During the surgery they removed about 2/3 of his tongue as well as a lot of his teeth and gums. They did a biopsy of the lymph nodes and found out that the cancer had spread. They planned on taking out the rest of his teeth and gums and starting chemotherapy and radiation. The doctors told him that with or without further treatment he would most likely die within 6 months so he decided against treatment. My sister and I wanted to see him but he didn’t want us to come until “nearer the end”. We wanted to honor his wishes but at the same time we hadn’t seen him in close to 10 years and we wanted to go when he was still able to communicate and enjoy the visit as much as possible.
I was praying a lot, as were a lot of my friends and family. I was praying not so much that he would be healed, but that he would be saved. I started praying that God would surround him with His Spirit; that Doug would feel the presence of God and the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and that he would feel his need for God. One of my close friends sent me a message one day saying that she was praying that God would reveal Himself to Doug, and draw him to Himself “with or without human intervention”. It was reassuring to know that we were praying the same thing.
Over the next couple months we continued our text conversations. I didn’t call because I knew that he was hard to understand and that it was painful for him to talk. Texting was a great way to keep in touch. I could send him scriptures and words of encouragement and let him know that there were a lot of people praying for him.
During football season we would text each other during the games. He was always rooting for the team the Seahawks were playing. During one of those games, after commenting on a play he texted’ “I believe now”. It caught me by surprise and I asked what he meant. He said that he believed in God now, but made it clear he hadn’t gone so far as to become a Christian. Though he was not confessing Christ…yet…it gave me a tremendous sense of hope; I knew God was working on him.
I continued to get updates on his condition from his wife Marsha. He was getting worse. We finally got the OK to go see him in mid March and started planning the trip. We set up our flights for the week-end of March 12th. About a week later I got a message saying that he was getting worse and now had Hospice care. They asked if we could come earlier.
I was working when I got that message and I paused to pray. I wasn’t sure what to pray. I was feeling a sense of urgency and was afraid that he would die before I got a chance to see him and have another chance to share the Gospel with him. I felt like there was more I needed to do. As I sat in my patrol car and started to pray I heard an almost audible voice say; “I don’t need you for this Dave”. It seemed to come out of nowhere and surprised me. It wasn’t me saying that God didn’t need me to reach Doug. God was saying that He didn’t need me for it. All the stress and worry about being there and saying and doing the right things was gone. God was telling me that He had the situation under control.
We changed our plans and got reservations about 2 weeks earlier than the original plans. After a long day and a half of travel with numerous weather related delays we made it to his small run down travel trailer in Heber Springs Arkansas. Doug was in a lot of pain and taking strong narcotic pain medications. He could barely talk and had a constant flow of drool coming from his mouth. He had deep red and purple bruise type marks on his arms that were from the Cirrhosis and he had numerous golf ball sized tumors in his neck. He was miserable looked much older than his 59 years. We talked and reminisced for a few hours and then left for the night so he could get some rest.
The next day; Sunday March 1st 2015, we went up to see them again. After we talked for a while I was thinking about how I could bring God and eternity into the conversation. I wasn’t feeling particularly pressured to bring it up because of what God had told me a couple weeks earlier but I still wanted to be available if He chose to use me. About that time Marsha and my sister left to go have a glass of wine and Doug and I were alone. The conversation started to change into more serious topics. We talked about what Marsha was going to do when he was gone, what was going to be done with his remains and other things like that.
I felt the nudging to ask about where he was with God. I told him again about how me and many of my friends were praying for him and praying that God would surround him with His Holy Spirit; that he would feel God’s presence, comfort, and peace, and that God would reveal Himself to him. Doug looked up at me and with clear peaceful eyes and a voice that was the clearest it had been since we’d been there said: “I felt it”. What he said, and the way he said it shocked me. I felt an excitement and was getting chills as I realized that God had answered our prayers!
We talked some more about being a Christian and being ready for eternity. Doug looked at me again and asked; “What makes you think I’m not a Christian?” I said it was because he told me before that he believed in God but that he hadn’t gone any further than that. I told him that there was more to being a Christian and being saved than just believing in God. I continued on to give about a 2 or 3 minute long explanation of the Gospel message, from the fall of man to salvation through Christ. Doug looked at me and said; I believe that. I don’t understand it all, but I believe it.
I could hardly believe it! Doug was confessing his belief in Jesus Christ. I asked, still feeling like this was a very awesome dream, are you telling me that you believe that Jesus Christ is your Savior and that you are ready to be with him for eternity? He looked at me with the most loving and peaceful look I’d ever seen in his eyes and said “yes I am”. All I could think was God did it!After 39 years of praying for my brother to come to Christ it has finally happened. We talked more about God’s love and mercy and grace and how God uses bad things like what he is going through to bring people to Himself. We saw them one more time the next morning on our way to the airport. I hugged him, knowing it was probably the last time I would see him on earth. As we hugged I told him; “we’ll see each other again, in God’s kingdom”. He said; “yes we will”.
Four days later I got a text from Marsha saying “call me, urgent”. I called her and found out that Doug died about an hour earlier. As we talked I had the opportunity to tell her about the conversation I had with Doug while we were there and how he had confessed his faith in Jesus as his Savior. That’s where I found out that I was apparently the only one he had told. I told her that only a few hours earlier I had prayed that if Doug’s faith in Christ as his Savior was real, and that he was ready for eternity, that God would take him soon so he would not suffer any more. Hours later he was home with his Savior; no more pain, no more suffering.
I wonder if maybe Doug had held on and waited until he could see me and our sister again and so he could share his decision with me, knowing that I had been hoping for it for so long. Had we kept our original travel plans I would have missed seeing him that last time and sharing that moment with him. I may have lived the rest of my life not knowing for sure if my brother was ready for eternity. God is faithful, God is good! God doesn’t need us…but He chooses to use us if we make ourselves available.