Sunday, 9 February 2014

My baptism testimony.

On what was probably the coldest day so far this year, I gave my testimony and was baptised at Grange beach earlier today. Many thanks to everyone who came, and all my family and friends who have supported and prayed for me over the years.

If you missed it, here is the transcript of my speech, complete with excessive punctuation and incorrect grammar, used in an effort to slow down my talking, and make it flow better for reading aloud.

Hi everyone, my name is Rohan, and today I would like to share with you some of what God has done in my life, and why I’ve chosen to be baptised. Along with several of our awesome youth kids; Jacinta, Tim & Kirstie, we have made the decision of taking a public step of commitment and faith in God by being baptised today; although they’re doing it a tad earlier than I am.

I’ve been coming to Grange since before I was born, brought up in strong, loving Christian family home with my parents, and two brothers. While I’d thought of myself as being a Christian since I was 6 or 7 years old, I didn’t fully understand who God was, or what being a Christian really meant.

This changed to a more serious faith at a Franklin Graham outreach event I attended when I was 13 years old. There wasn’t anything earth-shattering being said compared to what I’d heard for years at church, but God really spoke to me at that point, and I felt a strong push to go up the front, and declare my faith in Jesus as my saviour.

After struggling a with bullying and social exclusion in primary school, knowing that Jesus would always love and accept me, even if most people didn’t, was a great reassurance.  Now, I’d like to be able to say that my life since then has been amazing, happy and easy. However, after a couple of years of a regular life as a teenage boy, eating ten Weet-bix for breakfast, without much to challenge my faith in God’s goodness, I stumbled onto a rocky, difficult path of chronic illness, that has tested my faith to the breaking point time and time again, over the course of many years.

As some of you may be aware, I’ve struggled with some very debilitating and serious health problems for a long time. It all started in January 2000, with a chronic food poisoning infection in my digestive system which has prevented me from living a full life, being able study and work like everyone else my age. To give a very brief outline, this infection has caused the muscles in my stomach to become paralysed, and completely unable to digest any food or water.

 So as of today, I’ve been unable to eat even a mouthful of food or drink for the past 1,221 days, or 3 years and 4 months if you don’t have a calculator on you. Instead, I receive liquid nutrition for 13 hours a day, pumped by a machine through a feeding tube, which was surgically inserted into my intestinal tract, just below the stomach in November 2010, and is essentially what keeps me alive.

 At times, these symptoms have been so severe as to render me hospitalised, then bedridden, and completely unable to function for nearly a year at a time; namely during 2002, 2006 and 2010. Overall, there hasn’t been a single day since I was 15 years old where I’ve felt well and healthy, which has caused enormous struggles with my faith, healing, the effectiveness of prayer, and the concept of God’s kindness and mercy.

 How can suffering through so many years of debilitating illness be his great plan for my life? What kind of God just sits back and watches people suffering, when he could so easily heal them? It’s hard singing praise songs in church, when you’re feeling too sick to stand up and take part, and difficult to align God’s goodness, with being simply too ill to even go to church in the first place, month after month.

Perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t chosen to be baptized until now, is that while I’ve been a Christian for a long time, for much of the past 14 years, when I have prayed, cried out and begged God to heal my body, my prayers seemed to go unanswered, with no response, or even a feeling of God’s presence; just the torturous physical suffering, while feeling terribly alone and abandoned. 

And while baptism is a declaration of commitment, not warm fuzzy feelings, I feel that 5 years ago, I would have had to come up with a testimony that would be forced, and just something that I thought was what a testimony “should” sound like. But as I’ll explain, I think that now is the right time for me.

So clearly, I’ve had a very tough journey for the second half of my life. However, in the midst of all that suffering, there have been numerous examples of God stepping in as an answer to prayer, showing his love and care, and reassuring me that I’m not battling through this alone.

On March 16th, 2012, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer; six weeks before I married my lovely wife Sally, and the day between her birthday and bridal shower; incredibly poor timing at best. Later that afternoon, we were also told that the house Sally had been renting, which we planned to move into following the wedding, had to be vacated a few weeks afterward. Obviously, the cancer diagnosis was some shocking news, and for a couple of days afterward, I was freaked out, tense, shaky and upset about what was going to happen to me. But after visiting a friend’s house with Sally, at first discussing, and then praying about the cancer and upcoming surgery with them and Sally, the feelings of terror and dread melted away.

This might sound a bit weird, but despite having already gone through so much with my stomach problems- only to have this dumped on top of it- the times surrounding my cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery were accompanied by the strongest sense of God’s presence and comfort I’d ever felt in my life. This feeling was amazing, as well as surprising, considering how much I felt God had abandoned me in my times of need with my stomach problems, and that it would still be a while before we knew whether the cancer had spread, or if I would need further treatment.

For the first time, I finally experienced the emotions and calmness described in Philippians Chapter 4, Verse 7; “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Now, it’s not like my heart rate wasn’t a little elevated while lying in the hospital bed, waiting to go into surgery, particularly considering they were hacking through a fairly sensitive area to remove the tumour. But by praying, denouncing Satan and any power he tried to hold over me, and running praise songs through my head, I was at peace with what was about to happen to me, feeling safe in the knowledge that God had his hand over me, and that everything would be ok.

Not only was the strong sense of ‘peace beyond all understanding’ present, but God’s practical and material blessings were also abundant during this time. While trying to sort out living arrangements, it came up in conversation with my parents that a house owned by extended family had been empty for several years, and made the suggestion that couldn’t we live there for a year or so, until the property was sold?

In a humbling display of generosity from family, friends and strangers, hordes of people descended on the messy and overgrown house and jungle-like yards, putting in lots of hard work to transform it into a suitable home, where we could live rent-free for some time. This was an amazing blessing, with my health too poor to work much at all, allowing Sally to study full-time at TAFE and Bible College, as well as work 25 hours a week.

And just in case we hadn’t noticed this blatant display of God’s provision, he made sure of it with the house literally being a 30 second walk away from Sally’s work across the road. In addition, an internet car enthusiast community, which I’ve been a part of for many years, banded together after hearing about my health problems. A group of people, many of whom I've never met in person, threw $6000 in a hat as a wedding gift for us , and helped to clean up the house inside and out; the abundance of God’s blessings was even clearer. The only thing missing was God plonking a flashing neon sign on the front lawn, quoting the first part of Isaiah 41:10; ‘Fear not, for I am with you’.

On our wedding day in April 2012, we had to contend with a fairly significant number of problems compared to most newlyweds our age.  Such as me having a feeding tube plugged into the left side of my intestinal tract. A bag of antibiotics, liquid feed bottles, and enough medications to tranquilize a small herd of elephants. Recent surgery to remove a cancerous tumour, with a gaping wound that needed frequent dressing changes, and uncertainty about our ability to have kids following that. Unable to eat or drink, lugging around a feed machine instead.  Very little income besides a disability pension and occasional photography work. 

But God had blessed me with an incredibly generous, loving and understanding wife in Sally who was OK with all that! Well, apart from the wound dressing changes anyway, which I did myself. Apparently, it’s not considered ‘romantic’ to spend half an hour with a dressing kit, cleaning out a gory wound on your husband’s torso, while lying on your bed in the honeymoon suite.

Life has still continued to be very difficult since then, with almost permanent nausea and fatigue at various levels, and some days where the stress, frustration and anger at my dysfunctional body boils over, and I break down in tears. But again, when I settle down and think about it, God has quietly provided moments of mercy when needed in recent times, of which I’d like to give just one example.

While spending 2 months in hospital at the end of 2010, a skeletal 50kg and clinging on to life, the idea of going on an overseas holiday, or even a plane to another city, was far beyond something I would have comprehended as being possible, being barely able to muster the energy to sit up in bed. But, a couple of years later, not only was I able to spend three amazing weeks touring New Zealand, but was at the point where I even went skydiving and bungy jumping!

Another more recent example of God’s timely intervention was during a weekend trip on Peter and Vikki Hart’s houseboat a couple of months ago, with our small group. After mistakenly trying to get to Blanchetown via Murray Bridge, which while being a lovely drive, is NOT the fastest way to get there, I had already been feeling pretty awful the few days previous, with severe nausea and fatigue putting a dampener on things, that I would otherwise enjoy doing.

The first half an hour was rather unpleasant; my already high nausea levels exacerbated by the gentle rocking motion of the boat, as we putted down the river. While everyone else was sitting around on the front deck, chatting and laughing while tucking into a plate of cheese and crackers, I was pacing inside the kitchen area, trying to breathe slowly and settle the nausea, without much success; calculating and dreading the remaining hours of the weekend that I would have to spend feeling like this.

 Noticing my distress, Sally brought Vikki over to pray for me. In a frustrated and angry mood, I was not expecting anything to happen, like so many other times when people have prayed for healing for me. But over the next few minutes, after the heartfelt request to God for healing, the nausea gradually dissipated until it was at a low enough level where I could actually enjoy the weekend, rather than being forced to endure it. Not only that, but I was able to jump on a jet-ski, and went knee-boarding behind a speedboat, albeit in a somewhat uncoordinated fashion for the most part.

So while my body is still stricken with illness, preventing me from living a ‘normal’ life, which can at times be frustrating, scary, upsetting and depressing, God has still blessed me many times in the midst of all my times of trouble. These blessings are not full physical healings, and certainly not a complete return to good health. But, these ‘small mercies’ have allowed me to experience hope, joy, love, peace, and fulfilment in what can be very trying circumstances; keeping my hope, and faith in God, and helping me to appreciate what I do have. So whatever the future may hold, with this public declaration of faith and commitment, I trust that God will guide my amazing wife Sally and I in making the most of our lives, working for his glory.

You will more than likely have experienced some incredibly difficult circumstances in your own lives, be it through illness, family difficulties, death, or loss. But I would like to leave you with this thought. If you sit down and really think about it- and maybe even write out a list of them- what are some of the many blessings God has shown you in your life, or in the lives of others? Does it change the way you feel about His mercy and grace?

It doesn’t mean your life will be easy; or that God will fix all your problems for good. Two weeks ago, I had to leave the church service after about 20 minutes, because simply standing, then even just sitting up, was more than I could physically tolerate. I almost fainted while trying to drive home, swapping seats with Sally halfway there, before spending several hours curled up in the foetal position on our couch. Writing this testimony made me feel so sick; I couldn’t even look at my first draft for a week.

 But, God is always there, carrying you through your troubles, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times. And if you haven’t made a commitment to follow Jesus, I hope that my story has helped give you some understanding of what he is capable of doing in your life, no matter how trying the circumstances, if you will just open your hearts and minds to him. And, for those of you still awake at this point, thanks for listening, and I’ll see you down at the beach!

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