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Chronic illness:

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 child.

“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 syndrome.

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 pain.” 

Founded by Danielsen in 2004, SCSM ( 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 counsels individually.

Amy Furr remembers driving by the SCSM building in 2006 on her way home from a depressing medical appointment. She was considering suicide.

“I was ready to give up and take a bunch of pills,” Furr admits.

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 says.

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 other people.

“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 grief.”

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 Lake, N.Y.

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