Friday, September 21, 2007

Lymphoma, Missions, and the Sovereignty of God

Later today, we will be going out of town for a few days to visit family and friends in North Carolina and Virginia. Two of those friends are bloggers: Alan Knox and Mael Disseau. I will probably not have access to the internet; therefore, I'd like to give a brief update on how our family is doing right now.

As many of you know, we were serving in Asia with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We were in the middle of culture shock/cultural adjustment/language learning when we noticed a lump on the side of our son Bobby's neck. After trips to multiple doctors, we were finally given a preliminary diagnosis of Lymphoma. We quickly packed up all we could and flew back to the US on March 1st.

After meeting with pediatric oncology specialists here in Savannah, Bobby was given a diagnosis of Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma. We spent much of March to May in the hospital as Bobby received multiple chemotherapy treatments. After a PET scan on May 30, we received the great news that Bobby was cancer-free.

After several months of just trying to get his strength back (including a Make-A-Wish trip to San Diego - see the photo above of us on the USS Ronald Reagan), Bobby had another PET scan. This occurred a few weeks ago. The results of that scan were not exactly what we had been hoping and praying for. We have been told that the PET scan showed two areas of swelling in Bobby's tonsil region. We would like to think that these are just some sort of infection, but Bobby has been taking an anti-biotic for some time, so an infection is not likely.

So what are the swellings? We don't know yet. Bobby's oncologist has suggested to us that we wait two months and then have another PET scan. The reason for this is that after a person has chemotherapy, the lymph system often rebounds and swells. However, once the person reaches six months out from the last chemotherapy, the swelling should have stopped occurring. In other words, if the swelling is still there in November, then we could be looking at a relapse into Lymphoma.

As far as the IMB goes, we are somewhat confused and discouraged right now. We realize that Bobby needs a clear PET scan before we can return overseas. We asked the IMB that we be able to transfer to a different region of the world where Bobby could receive better medical care than our part of Asia. We were thinking either Spain or Argentina because both have good medical care, and the primary language is Spanish. Alice is fluent in Spanish from growing up in Puerto Rico; this would reduce our adjustment time to a new culture. Spain may have a Roman Catholic influence, but it is only 1% evangelical Christian.

Unfortunately, we have been told by the IMB that we cannot transfer to another region. This is based on a policy (I'm not sure which one), and the decision was made by people fairly high up in the Board (I'm not sure who). We, therefore, have been given two options: return to Asia or resign from the IMB. We accept this decision, but are also saddened by it. We either have to take our son where he won't get, at least in our opinion, adequate medical care, or we have to leave the IMB. Neither option is one we like.

We are not sure what we are going to do now. In some ways it is exciting because we are wide-open to whatever the Lord wants. However, it is also difficult to feel so unsettled. Our plan now is to wait two months and see what the results of the next PET scan are. If Bobby is relapsing, then we will enter back into hospital life. If he is not, then we will move in one of several possible directions. The possibilities include returning to Asia with the IMB, looking to go overseas with a different sending agency, remaining in the US with me pastoring a church, or remaining in the US with me working a regular job and us getting actively involved in a local church.

In the midst of this situation, we have been forced to rest in the sovereignty of our good and gracious God. We have by no means displayed perfect faith, but God has sustained us nonetheless. He has faithfully answered the prayers of so many people over the past seven months. In our imperfection, He has been perfect.

In light of what has happened and what is happening, I echo Habakkuk's cry in 3:17-19, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."


Elder's Wife said...

Dear Eric-
I'm praying that God will show you the path He has planned for your ministry. Trust Him to correct any mis-steps you may make along the way. (Prov. 3:5-6) I pray that Bobby, too, will grow in spirit as he learns to depend more and more on the Lord himself.

Eric said...


Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement. This is not an easy time for us, but we know God is in complete, utter control of the situation.

We look forward to His plans.


Steve Sensenig said...


I'm here from Alan's blog, and I recall some of your story from reading on his blog in the past.

You don't have to publish this if you don't want, but I just wanted to comment on the IMB issue.

I can think of no good reason why your son's health shouldn't be taken into consideration by the IMB, and I am dismayed by this "return to Asia or resign" ultimatum.

I pray that God blesses and guides you in this and that his peace will flood you during this time (and always!) :)

Eric said...


Thanks for your words of encouragement and comfort. This is definitely a difficult time for us.

As for the IMB, I know they would not tell us to return to a place where they do not think Bobby could get adequate medical care. The problem is that we don't necessarily agree with the IMB on what adequate medical care is.

We have met with two of the IMB doctors - they are very nice and competent. However, we simply do not agree with their conclusions on this issue.

Thanks again, Eric