My sister sat quietly on the crude, worn bench in the sweltering African church listening to her missionary husband inform his congregation that soon he would accompany his 29-year-old wife back to the States.
She had been diagnosed with cancer. Examinations by German doctors in Monrovia, Liberia confirmed it, as did a careful biopsy. Her husband was advised that she had three months to live; a prognosis that, for compassion's sake, he did not share with his wife.
Unaware of the harsh time line, she stood to face her African friends, people she had taught, loved, cared for and won to Christ.
Opening her well-marked Bible, she addressed the familiar faces. "My friends," she said, "God has given me two verses in Psalm 118:17,18: "I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death."
The African Christians moved restlessly on their benches. "Doesn't she know?" they whispered to themselves and to each other. "Hasn't anyone told her she has only three months to live?"
Bidding the congregation an emotional goodbye, she assured them that she would indeed return to Guinea, West Africa. In her heart, she knew their work was not finished; indeed, it had barely begun.
They had been married eight years but still remained childless. Her heart's continued cry had been to become a mother.
And now this. Not only could she not expect to have children, but she had been diagnosed with cancer as well. She crawled inside her bed that was tented with mosquito netting and began her long prayer vigil.
In the deafening silence of the long night that followed, she heard the quiet, distinct, inner voice of the Spirit. "He maketh the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children." (Psalm 113:9)
Ultimately, her choices were two: accept the verdict of the German doctors or place her faith in the timeless word of God. She chose the latter. She would stand on the promises of her Lord.
As she penned these thoughts to her family back home, they remained incredulous. They talked endlessly about how to deal with her insistence that God would heal her. Was this basic faith or stubborn denial on her part? They began to make extensive plans for her care, her comfort, and sadly, her funeral.
Arriving in New York, examinations and testing began for the young missionary, with doctors meticulously comparing new x-rays with those of German doctors in Liberia. There was more than convincing evidence in the first x-rays.
Further examination by the oncologists in New York revealed that indeed she was full of malignant tumors. Doctors discussed the necessity of a hysterectomy which made her wonder how God planned to bring Psalm 113:9 about bearing children to fruition in her life.
But six weeks later, the New York specialists were stunned. They could detect nothing. The malignant tumors had virtually disappeared. There was no trace whatsoever of cancer.
Finally, they were forced to concede that God in His mercy had reached down with His mighty, sovereign, healing hand and performed a miracle. She had stood valiantly on God's promises, had taken Him at His Word and he had honored her simple, unadorned faith.
God directed their return to Africa seven months later to continue the ministry to which He called them, a ministry that extended over 30 years.
Two years to the day on which Norma Gardner arrived in America with her husband, Andy, for cancer treatment, their first daughter was born.
In the six years following, two sons were added to the family of this dedicated couple. Two of the children returned as missionaries to Africa and a third, also a seminary graduate, is on the staff of an upstate New York church.
For the grateful missionary couple, God had made a miraculous U-turn on a path that others had too readily assumed was a heart-breaking, one-way dead-end road.
Mariane Holbrook is a retired teacher, an author of two books, a musician and artist. She lives with her husband on coastal North Carolina. She maintains a personal website
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