by Tim Zacharias, pastor of Community Baptist Church, Branford, CT.
In February of 2009, I started to experience some back pain while I was on my regular jog. At first, the pain was a dull ache, but later it grew to something more acute and debilitating. During the spring and summer of the same year my back began to “lock up” without warning. On one occasion, I could not move for two hours. I lay immobile on the floor, writhing in pain. An MRI confirmed my worst nightmare. As a 43 year old man I was diagnosed with a rare cancer for someone my age. I had multiple myeloma - a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow that eats holes in a person’s bone structure. In my case, it was attacking my spine.
The day after my diagnosis was a day of depression for me. Maybe it was more shock than anything else. I went over a multitude of bad scenarios in my mind. What if this? What if that? Through prayer and Bible reading, God quickly pulled me out of that mindset and helped me to face what was ahead.
At first, I had to endure a 20-round course of radiation to shrink the size of a large tumor or lesion that was on one of my vertebrae. During that time, I also started a round of chemotherapy. My body did not respond well at first. My abnormal plasma cell count grew higher. People were praying for me around the country. I sensed the Lord working in my life like never before. My wife Stacie was a constant encouragement to me. In time, the chemo began to work, and after five rounds, the doctors prepared me for a stem cell transplant. This procedure would require that stem cells be harvested from my own body. I would be given a high-dose chemotherapy treatment that would kill all of my bone marrow. Stem cells would be deposited back into my body that would hopefully build new, stronger bone marrow and strengthen my immune system to control the cancer and put it into remission. My oncologists told me that because my immune system would be weakened for a while, I could expect to be out of work for about six months. This was hard to hear as a pastor of a young church. I quickly made arrangements for a retired pastor to fill the pulpit for that time. I entered the stem cell procedure vacillating between bouts of fear and moments of faith.
Four weeks after my stem cell transplant I had one of the worst days of my life. I was extremely sick and fatigued. My hair had fallen out a few days earlier. My taste buds were not working. And I was experiencing these strange sensations. I felt as if I was losing control over my brain and my body. Once again, I drew strength from my own personal prayers and from the knowledge that many family members, church members, friends, and loved ones were praying for me. The next day I woke up feeling 100% better. It was remarkable how well I felt. I felt that way the next day and the next. After a long string of good days, I told my wife that I didn’t feel right about staying away from church and ministry when I felt so good. She told me to be cautious and to call the doctor to get his opinion. To make a long story short, I went back to work six weeks after my stem cell transplant and I have felt awesome ever since.
Looking back now, five years later, I realize that God was using this trial to purge me and prepare me for greater ministry. Soon after my cancer went into remission, I began writing a book entitled Working Through an Asaph Moment: And Dealing with Doubts About God in which I expound the message of Psalm 73 and relate my trial with that of Asaph, the writer of the psalm. The book was accepted by a publisher. It went to print and I have been amazed how many people have been blessed by it around the world. God also gave me an opportunity to teach a one-credit-hour course at Yale Law School about the Christian principles in early American Law. This was one of the greatest honors of my life. I believe God used me to reach some students who were searching for God. Finally, God lead our church ministry to purchase a new building. This was a dream that we thought might never come to fruition. My wife and I started our church from scratch in 1999. Our church had met for years in places like a hotel conference room, a gymnastic room in a recreation center, and a storefront site located between Curves and Zumba (You can imagine what that was like.) Through an amazing set of circumstances, God gave our church an old building built in 1893. We have since remodeled it. It is a beautiful structure. We are amazed when we walk in every Sunday for services. We are even more thrilled that God is drawing people to Himself and filling the house. To God be the glory!
There have been burdens along with the blessings. I can’t say that has all been easy after my recovery. It seems as if the blessings are more brilliant and the burdens are less troubling. Every day is a gift from God no matter what it brings. God has certainly given me a greater passion for life and ministry.
I still need all the prayers I can get. Supposedly, my cancer is incurable. It generally returns 3 to 5 years after a stem cell transplant. I am going on 5 years of remission. Who knows what is ahead? I do know that God will be with me. That gives me hope.