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Over 12 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year 1.5 million more are added to this grim statistic.
Is your church equipped to minister to this growing need?
CHRISTIAN NEWS SERVICE, May 5, 2016 -- A word so terrible it describes a disease and is a synonym for “pernicious, spreading evil” (The American Heritage Dictionary)1.
For many diagnosed with cancer, that’s exactly what it feels like. Pernicious evil.
According to The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)2, “Cancer isn't a single disease. The term cancer encompasses more than 200 diseases all characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of cells.”
While cancer is not a single disease, it tends to have a singular impact on our psyches and souls. Something usually akin to terror and helplessness.
Just as the person stricken with cancer is befuddled and overwhelmed, often, so are those nearby.
In church, we hear a prayer request related to cancer and our Holy Spirit honed instinct is to do something, to extend help, to be the living body of Christ.
But do what? Help how?
Beyond offering prayers -- friends, family members, fellow congregants -- we’re at a loss where to begin.
Responding biblically to stand in the gap
In 2003, Pastors Percy McCray and Michael Langham were chaplains for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) [http://www.cancercenter.com/]. Ministering alongside doctors and nurses, they discerned a common thread of frustration while caring for patients and their families.
Medical care addressed physical needs, but when it came to spiritual and practical support outside the hospital walls, there was a gap. As the stricken turned to their churches for support, help was virtually non-existent. While there was no lack of desire to help, there was a lack of information and structure for doing so.
Over time, wrestling with this need, McCray and Langham birthed what has become Our Journey of Hope®, a biblically-based cancer care ministry sponsored and supported by CTCA.
The program offers two days of training hosted at CTCA regional hospitals. The training, which includes meals and one night’s lodging, is free of charge for up to two pastor-approved representatives from a church.
According to Rev. Dr. Drew Angus, Director of Spiritual Outreach based out of CTCA in Philadelphia, the program initially involved chaplains going to churches to give talks and do cancer care-related training. The response was incredibly positive but soon became overwhelming.
“As the program grew,” says Angus, “we realized we could be more effective bringing the church representatives to our facilities. Here, it’s easier to draw together oncologists, surgeons, clinicians, nutritionists, dieticians, and others to present the training.”
Equipping and empowering with knowledge
Over the two days participants are equipped with helpful information on cancer, its side effects and possible treatments, as well as guidance on how to extend support.
Topics covered include why cancer care is unique, identifying those in need, understanding spiritual and emotional needs, effectively communicating with those impacted by cancer, the kinds of cancers, and much more.
Explains Angus, “What we provide is an information-infused framework that will allow each church, small or large, to customize support to their congregation’s unique needs.”
“Timely information is essential,” says Angus. “For example, a huge issue is that many patients succumb to malnutrition because it’s hard to eat during treatment. It’s vital to be aware of this and other side effects that influence quality of life.”
The goal is to equip caregivers to walk alongside patients and families, offering just the right kind of support.
As Angus explains, “This could mean one person on a care team drives Jane, the patient, to doctor appointments. Another may take her husband out for a round of golf. And another team member will help their children with homework.”
Applying God’s love through practical action
Connie Hulsey, Director of the cancer care ministry for the First Baptist Church of Montgomery in Alabama affirms, “Each person handles their journey differently and so they need different approaches.”
Hulsey says of their 60 volunteers, they have team members who send flowers weekly to those fighting cancer, others provide encouragement through cards and letters, and still others knit shawls and blankets.
Says Hulsey, “People are just amazed that we take time to share God’s love for them in such practical ways.”
When considering starting a cancer care ministry, Hulsey advises, “First, spend time in prayer seeking wisdom, direction, and guidance. Second, confirm support within the congregation. Third, begin recruiting volunteers. Finally, attend the Our Journey of Hope training to ensure a strong foundation.”
In addition to the training received at the event, attendees are sent home with an eight-week DVD based training program to equip their team in the church.
“There is no fear in love,” declares 1 John 4:18, “but perfect love casts out fear” (ESV).
When it comes to caring for those with cancer, fear is quelled, hope is sparked, and love perfected through practical care offered within the living, breathing body of Christ -- the church.
- 1. The American Heritage Dictionary, https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=cancer
- 2. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), https://www.aacrfoundation.org/CancerTypes/Pages/default.aspx
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Knowing who needs care
“At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) [http://www.cancercenter.com/], our hope is that no one goes through cancer alone,” says Drew Angus, Director of Spiritual Outreach based in the Philadelphia CTCA hospital. “I’ve been surprised by the number of pastors who didn’t know one of their parishioners had cancer until they were well into their cancer journey. It’s surprising the number of people who don’t feel they can share what they are going through.”
Connie Hulsey, Director of the cancer care ministry for the First Baptist Church of Montgomery in Alabama agrees saying, “Some people are very private. Identifying those in need and determining how to best serve them has been our greatest challenge. This is why prayer is key. We ask God to lead us to those in need and to give us wisdom to care for them compassionately.”
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Finding a church trained through Our Journey of Hope®
To learn what churches in your area have been trained and offer active care support, or for more information or to register for training, contact the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital near you:
- Eastern Regional Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA, (215) 537-7400
- Midwestern Regional Medical Center, Chicago, IL, (800) 322-9183
- Southeastern Regional Medical Center, Atlanta, GA, (770) 400-6000
- Southwestern Regional Medical Center, Tulsa, OK, (623) 207-3000
- Western Regional Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ, (918) 286-5000
Churches interested in the training may also register through the Our Journey of Hope [http://www.ourjourneyofhope.com] website.
OPTIONAL SIDEBAR 3 of 3
Our Journey of Hope statistics of success
- ...795 churches who have gone through training.
- ...1,223 people have attended the training.
- ...299 churches have developed active cancer care ministries.
OPTIONAL OTHER RESOURCES:
- Cancer patients find a new therapy: Forgiveness
Stephen R. Clark is an award-winning writer and communications professional. Learn more at www.cleversmithwriting.com.