Those who suffer from debilitating health
problems find faith —
and help — in the midst of challenges
By Peter K. Johnson
Liz Danielsen, nationally appointed Assemblies of God health
care chaplain, knows about chronic illnesses personally. Arthritic and blind in
one eye, she has overcome a mountain of obstacles, including abandonment as a
“The Lord Jesus has filled those empty places that no person
can fill,” says Danielsen, who operates Spiritual Care Support Ministries
(SCSM) in Warrenton, Va. “I understand the spiritual pain of the chronically
ill. They feel abandoned, fearful, lonely and sometimes cut off from the
church, and even God.”
According to the latest available figures from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 133 million people in the United States suffered
from chronic health conditions. Chronic diseases account for 70 percent of all
deaths and 75 percent of the nation’s $2 trillion medical care costs.
SCSM ministers to people with long-term illnesses such as
diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cardiac disorders, emphysema, migraine
headaches, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, cancer, asthma and chronic fatigue
SCSM endorses the official AG position that divine healing
is an integral part of the gospel, but the ministry recognizes that some
faithful Christians linger with physical illness.
“Symptoms like pain, fatigue, weakness, impaired vision and
memory loss are often invisible,” Danielsen says. “This can lead to a lack of
understanding of what chronically ill people deal with. They lose their
identities, careers, relationships and ministry opportunities, and face
rejection, loneliness, financial difficulties and estrangement from their faith
community. Sometimes the emotional and spiritual pain is worse than physical
Founded by Danielsen in 2004, SCSM (www.scsm.tv) offers
intensive counseling to the bereaved and chronically ill. Danielsen brings more
than a quarter-century of chaplaincy experience to the faith ministry that
serves hundreds annually at no cost. Aided by a team of volunteers, she
conducts weekly support groups, visits homebound and hospital patients, and
Amy Furr remembers driving by the SCSM building in 2006 on
her way home from a depressing medical appointment. She was considering
“I was ready to give up and take a bunch of pills,” Furr
Severe pain and muscle weakness from fibromyalgia and
polymyositis had devastated her life as a young mother. Relying on a walker or
cane, she had lost her teaching job and most of her friends, and could not care
for her son properly.
Prompted, she believes, by the Holy Spirit to remember
SCSM’s phone number on the outside sign, Furr phoned the ministry. She began to
improve on her first visit.
“I knew I was in a safe place,” she says. Through prayer,
counseling and weekly SCSM meetings with other sufferers, Furr feels like a new
person today. Born again and baptized in 2007, she attends Liberty Assembly of
God in Bealeton, Va., and participates in youth and nursery ministries.
And her condition has improved dramatically. She can play
with her son again, and she and her husband are expecting a second child. She
walks and climbs stairs without help, and is even participating in a 5-mile
charity walk this spring.
“If it had not been for this illness, I would not have known
how great God is,” Furr says.
Patricia Allis joined SCSM’s chronic illness support group
last December. A recent widow, she has endured the crippling limitations of
rheumatoid arthritis for 24 years. Leery about joining the SCSM group at first,
she discovered camaraderie among fellow sufferers.
“It’s uplifting to be with people who understand pain,” she
Allis needs three hours to dress herself when Danielsen
drives her to the weekly meetings. Before a donated chairlift was installed in
her home, she had to crawl up the stairs to her bedroom. The most difficult
issue of dealing with chronic illness, according to Allis, is depending upon
“It is very hard to ask for help and very humbling,” says
Allis, who nevertheless finds strength from her faith.
Those in ministry face similar issues. Pittsburgh-based
Douglas Wiegand has been a Christian counselor for 30 years and has authored
Struck Down but Not Destroyed: A Christian Response to Chronic Illness and
Pain. He knows suffering firsthand from the complications of type 1 diabetes
since his mid-20s — chronic pain, nerve damage, kidney failure and a
pancreas transplant. Legally blind, Wiegand travels with Rosey, his yellow
Labrador guide dog. Despite his condition and many setbacks, he brings hope and
a deep-rooted compassion for the people he counsels.
“I will be able to handle what comes along,” says Wiegand,
who cites Philippians 4:13 as one of his favorite Scriptures. “God will give me
the strength to do everything, and no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Donald McFarren, recently retired senior pastor of Metuchen
(N.J.) AG, struggles with a rare form of seizures. He has experienced
embarrassing events in the pulpit and bouts of short-term memory loss. He
admits questioning God about his illness and even being angry. But he says
those dark nights of the soul pass when he spends time alone praying,
worshipping and reading the Bible.
“My faith in the Lord has never wavered,” he says. “God
reminds me that He has called me no matter what I am going through.”
On all levels, the chronically ill seek acceptance and
understanding from the Christian community.
“Treat us like everyone else,” Wiegand recommends. “When you
meet us, don’t only talk about our wheelchair or guide dog. And please don’t
ask, ‘Haven’t you prayed for your healing yet?’ ”
Danielsen offers support, encouragement and compassion to
those experiencing dark times. She says her reward is seeing souls saved and
broken spirits healed.
“What blesses me the most is bringing people to peace with
God through Jesus Christ,” Danielsen says. “But it is also my desire to bring
comfort and hope back to those who have been discouraged by chronic illness and
Patricia Allis knows that comfort and hope.
“I don’t have anybody except God, and He sent Liz so I don’t
feel alone,” Allis says.
PETER K. JOHNSON is a freelance writer living in Saranac
E-mail your comments to email@example.com.