My name is Crystal. My family and I have lived in Brno, Czech Republic for the last 11 years. We came to help Wesleyan pastors across Europe receive training they need so they can lead their own churches confidently. Another responsibility we have is to pastor here in Brno an international fellowship where people from all over the world come to worship together in English.
Over four years ago, I went to the doctor here in Czech, and received the news that I have breast cancer. This was not what I expected at the age of 35! The doctor said, “Well, I think you have a chance.” It was not what I hoped to hear. I had listened to God’s call to be a missionary as a teenager and was now working in Czech for Global Partners. I had a wonderful husband, Matt, with three small children and all I could think was, “God, I want better than this from you. I want a guarantee that my life will be long and, of course, I will follow after you.” Instead, I had cancer—stage 3.
My life, my hopes, and my dreams seemed to be over except for one thing: God kept speaking softly into my heart from Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” God’s peace overwhelmed me more than the cancer diagnosis. With this verse also came an understanding that while there are few guarantees in life, there is a guarantee that God would hold me close, no matter the outcome. That was the guarantee I craved more than anything.
After chemo, surgery, radiation, and more surgery, I was told I was cancer-free. We all celebrated and went to the States for our home ministries seeing friends, family, churches, and supporters, all the while sharing about God’s goodness to deliver me from cancer. Each time I spoke, I thanked God that I was past this blip in our lives. We returned to the Czech Republic to continue sharing Jesus and to begin working with the international church, confident that God’s hand was on us and the next chapter would be better than what we had just gone through.
God’s hand was indeed on us, yet his plans for us were different than we expected. About a month after we returned, I began to feel sharp pain in my hip and within three days could no longer walk without a cane. I went again to the oncology hospital. The appointment I had with my doctor less than a month earlier had been joyful. I had more scans done and found that I had metastatic breast cancer with cancer now found in my hip bone. Again, God infused Matt and me with peace, gave us time to cry together, and then gave us strength to start a new battle which would begin with radiation, chemo, and an unknown future.
I asked my doctor if I could go on our planned family vacation with two other families. She agreed, yet I could see in her face that this might be the last holiday for me. I wrote on my blog on Caring Bridge, and many people around the world began to pray. They prayed for healing, they prayed for comfort, they prayed that God would use this for his glory. God heard their prayers. That weekend holiday, God looked down on me and touched me, taking away the cancer in my hip. Though I still fight the cancer with chemo and radiation, to this day it has totally disappeared in my hip.
His peace has overwhelmed me more than any cancer diagnosis.
You might then ask—is the story over now? Did God heal me and am I now living free from cancer? Yes, God healed my hip bone, but the cancer also attacked me again—it is still breast cancer, but now in the liver. I have been fighting cancer for the last 4½ years. My small children are growing and are now school age. I have lost my hair multiple times. (My boys are pretty convinced that they will be bald when they grow older since my husband is also bald.) I am still taking chemotherapy, and fight through the side effects that affect me harshly.
My future is still unknown, yet instead of worrying about it or fretting about what could come, I am actually, surprisingly, filled with joy and peace. Why? Because God has proven himself to me that he is really there, he loves me, and I can trust him to have the best for me. This does take a conscious choice on my part to believe that God’s best for me is what I am currently going through. Does it feel like it? Not always. When the side effects force me to stay in bed, thereby making me miss out on fun memories with my kids, or the pain that comes from cancer or chemo is harsh and I wish for something different, I still choose to remember to thank God for strength for the day, and for his love that shines on me.
When I am quiet, and I allow God to speak through the Bible, I am reminded that Jesus suffered so much more than I ever will. Jesus gave up heaven to come to earth. He gave up his right to live in perfection in order to come into our world where there is imperfection and suffering. Me? I will have pain and trouble in this world, yet Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
My future is still unknown, yet instead of worrying about it or fretting about what could come, I am actually, surprisingly, filled with joy and peace.
I don’t enjoy having cancer. It is an awful disease that destroys. Yet, I know that God has the last word and will make us new, and even better. Since the cancer, I have been able to grow more deeply in love with our Savior. I have more time to spend with him, as well as ministering for him. I let Jesus minister to others and sometimes I get to see what happens through the words that I write or through time that I spend with people. I am blessed so much to be able to live my life ministering next to my husband.
Together we share life with people here in the Czech Republic. For people in this atheistic country, we provide an example of what is means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. It is a privilege to listen to people’s stories and then share the stories that God has given to us, sometimes because of the cancer. God is answering our deep desire to know him more and to share him with others.
One of my greatest joys is hosting Bible studies in our home to read the Word together, knowing that God is the ultimate transformer of people. In some ways the last year has been our most fruitful and exciting year of ministry. Matt shares in his sermons that God is our provider. Matt’s authenticity draws others to know Jesus more. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Could this have happened had I not gotten cancer? Not in the same way. God has taken what destroys and made something beautiful.
God has helped us to accept our present circumstances and to thank him for the strength, peace, and unexpected joys that he provides. God truly loves us and his best will never be realized on earth. His best is perfection: a disease free, sin free place—heaven.
The medical tests have not been favorable. Yet we continue to see God's miraculous faithfulness to us in so many ways. Yes, God could choose to heal me and keep me here no earth longer, and I would welcome that. It would be a little foretaste of heaven! However, if he chooses to heal me by taking me to heaven sooner, my purpose on this earth is fulfilled–to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Either way, I know that he holds me in his right hand.