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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Her Father’s Care

By Scott Harrup
Aug. 19, 2012

It was the only time in her life Cheryl Christman heard an audible promise from God.

“I will take care of them.”

The voice of assurance came during her morning time of prayer and Bible study. It was October 1993.

For some months, Cheryl and her husband, Max, had been wrestling with a life-changing decision. The Christmans were staff members with Special Force Family Ministries in Waconia, Minn., a residential ministry for adults with special needs.

The previous spring, Max and Special Force founder Tom St. Angelo had visited Nixa, Mo. The town meandered among pleasant rolling hills and trees, had a population of about 6,000, and was within easy reach of the Assemblies of God national offices in Springfield, a few miles to the north.

Though Max and Tom couldn’t know at the time, Nixa would soon become the fastest-growing community in Missouri, and the city would triple in size by 2012. But it already seemed like the perfect location to establish a Special Force home.

The Christmans wanted to spearhead Special Force’s expansion to another location, but they were concerned for the continued care of the clients they would leave behind. Cheryl believed the voice she heard was the confirmation she and Max needed regarding the care of two elderly clients with Down syndrome.

“We need to step out in faith,” she told Max, “because we’re the ones who are supposed to go.”

In January 1994, Special Force purchased a beautiful brick home in Nixa with five bathrooms and seven bedrooms. The house was surrounded by 3½ acres and was completely handicapped accessible. That spring, Max and Cheryl took their step of faith and moved to Missouri with toddler Ben, soon to be joined by baby Alicia. The new Special Force Family Ministry residential care facility was dedicated on Sept. 25.

In the years since, about a dozen adult men have established a semi-independent home life under the care of the Christmans and their associates, Pete and DaNell McConnell.

“We don’t have a high turnover,” Max explains. “We’re pretty much like an extension of the family — that’s our philosophy — so we’ve had perhaps three turnovers in the 18 years or so we’ve been here, and we have remained totally occupied.”

Special Force has a waiting list, but it is impossible to know when a bedroom will open up.

“We hear a lot of heartbreaking stories of families desperately needing placement,” Max says. “They ask if there’s any other home like ours, and there are a lot of places out there, but they don’t have the same values as we proclaim here.”

Those Christ-centered values treat each of the men with love and help them maximize the abilities they possess while living with Down syndrome, autism or traumatic brain injury. Eight residents stay busy in an on-site workshop; three others work in the community. Ages range from the early 20s to one resident in his mid-80s. Most of the men are in their 30s and 40s.

Max and Cheryl take the men with them to church at Oak Grove Assembly of God in Springfield (Ron Morein, senior pastor), where they are involved in ministry and a variety of activities.

“Our church has been excellent in getting them involved,” Cheryl says. “It has a Sunday School class for them and has involved them in Men’s Fellowship.”

By 2009, Max and Cheryl could reflect on more than 15 years of enriching ministry with men who truly felt like their family. Then, Cheryl received the most devastating news of her life, and the Christmans faced a personal crisis that threatened to derail everything they had seen God build.

Following an Oct. 9 car accident, Cheryl had her head and neck imaged to see if her pain was due to serious injury. But when the doctor asked for a more detailed image of her neck, it became apparent something was wrong beyond the car accident. The eventual diagnosis was frightening.

“I had metastatic bone cancer in my neck and skull,” Cheryl says, a former oncology nurse herself. “I knew when they told me it was in the bone that it didn’t start in the bone. It started somewhere else, and it had gone to the bone.”

A cancer spreading from a primary location to the bone meant it was Stage 4. Doctors raced to locate the origin of the disease, and eventually identified breast cancer.

“The right breast was the primary source, and I also had cancer in my lymph nodes under my right arm and in my spleen,” Cheryl says. “The oncologist told me I had a 20 percent chance of living for five years, but I certainly wouldn’t live 10 years.”

Cheryl was told surgery was not an option. She participated in a clinical trial in which she received two different types of chemotherapy. She received treatment every week for three weeks of the month and then had one week off to recover. During the eight-month course, doctors just hoped the 24 treatments would buy her some time.

Then the Christmans’ medical insurance provider went bankrupt, and in the middle of Cheryl’s treatments the couple was forced to find new insurance and switch to another health network in Springfield.

“I really didn’t want to switch midstream,” Cheryl says. “But we knew that God knows best, our lives are in His hands, and whatever He chose we would accept.”

With the transition to new doctors in August 2010 came the possibility of new treatments. A mastectomy once thought to be completely ineffective now held promise. Following that procedure, Cheryl was told she might need additional surgery. But that proved to be an inaccurate prediction, for the best possible reason.

The day before Thanksgiving 2010, Cheryl learned she had a clear bone scan. Further, there was no sign of cancer in her spleen. Her doctor gave a guarded opinion that Cheryl was in remission. The following February, a PET scan confirmed that prognosis.

On Sunday, Feb. 27, Pastor Ron Morein preached on divine healing at Oak Grove Assembly. Only four days earlier, Cheryl had learned she was cancer free. For Morein, there could be no better living testimony for the truths he would preach that day.

“You have to give your testimony,” he told Cheryl, “because it goes right along with the message.”

A church that had prayed faithfully for the Christmans throughout their ordeal now applauded and praised God as Cheryl stood before them fully restored to health.

The balance of 2011 was a year of renewed strength as Max and Cheryl continued to serve their extended “family” at their Special Force home. With the standard array of follow-up appointments post-cancer, Cheryl continued to see her doctors into 2012.

“I had two bone scans and CT scans in June and November 2011, and a second PET scan in May this year,” Cheryl says. “All have been negative.”

But while the PET scan showed there was no active disease, it also revealed the scars remaining on Cheryl’s bones.

“The oncologist said the scars will always remain,” she says. “This reminded me so much of Jesus — the scars of His crucifixion still remain!”

Those divine scars made possible the healing Cheryl continues to enjoy. Although she has never heard another audible promise from God, the voice she clearly heard in October 1993 spoke a promise that connects with her experience today.

For, whatever the need, when anyone places their trust in a trustworthy Heavenly Father, the pronouncement holds true: “I will take care of them.”

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. CHERYL and MAX CHRISTMAN continue to lead Special Force Family Ministry in Nixa, Mo. For more information on Special Force, email

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