Progressing Toward Something

By: Cynthia Butler

I used to like hanging out with the nerds: the SAT-acing, philosophizing, scientific minds of my generation (or at least my high-school). Maybe they were rubbing off on me. That would explain why I started using mathematical functions to describe my love life (or lack there of). I was sitting next to Eric in the bus one morning, talking about my big crush: Kevin. He was musical, cute, Christian, everything I was looking for, but we were still just friends.

“I think our relationship is like a hyperbola,” I said. “You know, that line that gets closer and closer to the edge of the graph, but never intersects it? That’s us; we just keep getting closer and closer, but we never touch.”

“A rational function?” He clarified. “If that’s true then you should be making less and less progress.” I thought about his answer as the bus bumped along. It was surprisingly encouraging. Kevin and I were not making less progress; our interactions were, in fact, accelerating. We were progressing toward something. Yes, it had to be true. Who but Eric could use math to cheer up a frustrated friend? In retrospect, the conversation seems almost prophetic, or like some obvious foreshadowing in a quirky chick flick. Soon Kevin would unexpectedly put his arm around me during the long ride to Mexico with our church. Soon we would be sitting next to each other on the cool concrete rim of a fountain pondering our future together. Soon I would be spending who knows how many pesos making a call from a hotel in San Luis Potosi telling my parents that I was practically engaged.

It’s kind of romantic looking back on the days of longing, before I knew how the story was going to end. That uncomfortable waiting period, that expectant feeling; sometimes I think I even miss it. But here I am, married to my soul mate, living what I had previously only dreamed of. And when I am playing the waiting game in other areas of my life, I would do well to remember to have faith.

For some reason, The God who is eternal decided to confine his created beings to the boundaries of time, like little one-dimensional lines traveling on two-dimensional graphs toward an unknown destiny, while the all-knowing one looks on us with his multi-dimensional eyes and gives us little clues along the way. We hunger for those clues from God, never realizing that the very desire we feel may be a clue in and of itself. And desire that turns into hope could be a glimpse of the future.

How many afternoons did my sister Alicia and I harmonize in the backyard imagining what it would be like to record and perform our songs for audiences? Then the childhood fantasy became a calling one day when Alicia felt God tell her, “You will be Christian singers.” And these clues from God were treasures to us through the years as a ministry was born. Still, after we were married and moved to separate towns, ministering together became difficult. At times, it seemed that the dream would die completely. Finally our hope was rejuvenated and opportunity presented itself, inspiring us to quit our jobs and set out with our husbands as musical missionaries. After years of carrying this vision, we entered a season of fulfillment.

Now there is a new hope that is taking form in me. For a long time I was afraid to want it. But I am ready to pursue what, at one time, seemed unattainable: to live like Jesus did. I’m not just talking about remembering the golden rule like your Sunday school teacher taught you with her felt board characters. I mean calling down the power of God, healing, performing miracles. If we really believe that God is a miracle-working God then why don’t we expect Him to do the impossible? And why don’t we expect to do the impossible through His power?

Let me stop myself before I preach. The point is, I want to see this happening in my life. And I’m finally believing that it can. But I’m not there yet. I still feel like I’m manufacturing confidence if I rebuke illness, like I’m trying on clothes that are too big for me. I memorize scriptures, and I quote them in prayer, but I don’t know that I’ve ever healed the sick or cast out a demon. I could become discouraged, wondering if anything will ever come of my efforts. But it’s not as if nothing is happening. What was once a distant dream is now a passion. And God is awakening me to miracles that are happening even now, positioning me to be taught by those who have experienced them. He is broadening my understanding of scriptures about healing, and He is answering my prayers, even if not all at once.

I remember standing in my room when I was a child, wishing I could be a teenager like the big kids I admired. Time passed slowly back then. I felt so frustrated that I began to cry. “I’ll never be a teenager,” I thought.

Of course, that day did come eventually. It was inevitable. And I suspect spiritual growth is inevitable too, as long as we remain connected to Christ. I need to trust this process. A child cannot see herself grow while she looks in the mirror, but it is constantly happening under her nose (even to her nose).

The apostle Paul encouraged us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9) So what can I do but continue on, celebrating each victory along the way, small though they may be. I will read the words of God and internalize them. I will trust them more than I trust my own perception. I will pray for what is humanly impossible. And I will believe that, whether or not I can see it happening, I am being “conformed to the likeness of [Jesus]” (Rom. 8:29)

“Heir of salvation, purchase of God”

By: Cynthia Butler

             John brought a cigarette to his mouth and took a long puff. Smoke rose in front of his eyes adding to the haze of his drunkenness. He could hear the sound of his grandfather’s melodic voice through the open hospital window as he sang a hymn. Johanna Muturi was on his deathbed, but his faith was still living. And he hoped that it would live on through his grandson.   He had raised John in his own home ever since he was a baby. As an Episcopal minister, he had set an example of Holy living. But John had become rebellious, delving into drugs and alcohol without regard for the consequences. Mr. Muturi had not given up on his grandson, though. He knew that his time on earth was nearing an end, and he had something important to tell him. How grateful he was to hear John’s voice when he walked into the hospital room that day.

‘Grandpa, can you recognize me?’

‘Oh, my grandson, you have come to see me. I have been wishing that you could continue the work that I started as an evangelist. I would love you to continue the work of the Lord.’ But John just squeezed his hand noncommittally before going outside to smoke.   He had no plans of becoming a preacher.   He didn’t want anything to do with salvation. Still, he listened to his grandfather’s comforting refrain drifting to his ears. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”   The song was gentle enough to soften his resistance.   “Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.”. . . until all of a sudden the singing stopped. What had happened? John hastily crushed his cigarette stub underfoot and returned to the hospital room. He gazed at his grandfather’s lifeless body. A hundred years, countless sermons, and his last words had been for John.   Something stirred in John’s heart.   But he was still not ready to surrender. Little did he know that he’d nearly be on his own deathbed a year later.

A devastating car accident claimed the life of a couple of his friends when he was riding home with them from the bar one night. But John’s life had been spared. Bleeding and bed-ridden, he promised God, “If you get me out of this bed, I will work for you.” Maybe alcohol numbed the pain of his loss. Or maybe the grip of his addiction seemed unshakable. For whatever reason John broke his vow and continued on his collision course until he finally came to an impasse.

It was 10:00 in the morning. John had been up all night ordering drink after drink after drink until he had run out of money. He staggered to the nearest bank and asked to see the bank manager. Concocting some story about how his children were sick and his electricity was disconnected, he pled with the bank manager for a loan.

“I don’t believe you,” the manager informed him, “but I’m going to give you an overdraft.” John reached for his checkbook to write in it. Then he noticed a red badge that the manager was wearing over the pocket of his suit. The words “Jesus Saves” were printed on it. Again his heart was stirred.

“Are you born again?” John asked.

“Yes, I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior.” The manager told him

“Ok, I have lied to you Mr. Manager. And I need this Jesus Christ,” John confessed. He had been given warning before: the words of his grandfather, the accident. Now he could feel the voice of God in his spirit: “It is now or never”. Tears welled up in John’s eyes, and he dropped to his knees. The bank manager began to pray for him, and John received Jesus that very morning.

God immediately drew John into a church that focused his attention on the Holy Spirit. The bishop and the elders mentored him and they often invited him to pray with them. Over the course of three months God began to transform John and wean him off of his addiction. He was learning to live soberly. But he had no idea that the high he had experienced with drugs and alcohol would be surpassed by the euphoria God would give him through worship.

One night in the house of God John was worshiping and thanking the Lord, praying the scriptures and getting lost in a song. All of a sudden his tongue became loose, and an unfamiliar language leapt from his mouth. He didn’t know what he was saying, but he quickly realized that he was in the midst of a divine visitation. He could feel his whole body vibrating as he fell to the floor of the sanctuary.   There he prayed more intimately than ever before.

Now empowered by a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, John began to develop his prayer style. The gift of tongues that had come upon him involuntarily at first became a regular part of his worship experience. He would wake up early each morning and sometimes stay up late into the night to seek the Lord. One time around midnight John was praying alone at church when a scripture flashed across his spirit: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed” (Jeremiah 17:14). “You’ve got to give that scripture to Beatrice,” God instructed him. John had worked with this young lady at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute until she had grown too sick to continue. She was beyond help as far as the medical community was concerned. Cancer had attacked her liver and practically turned her into a skeleton. The doctors could do nothing but send her home to die.

Her husband was shocked when a knock at the door roused her from bed. It was the first time she had been able to walk since the cancer had overtaken her.   “I am not here to stay,” John told them that dawn, “but the Lord gave me a scripture to give to Beatrice.” After he’d done what he came to do, he went home.   He didn’t even think much about the experience until a letter came in the mail years later. Beatrice had enclosed her picture, the photograph of a healthy vibrant woman. She told John how God had delivered her completely after he had come to their home.   She had been saved both physically and spiritually. What an encouragement it was to see the evidence now of what God had already revealed to him in scripture.

Ironically, when John was sent to speak healing over Beatrice he was still in need of healing himself. His blood had been poisoned by the toxins he had willingly ingested through the years. Chest pains, headaches, fatigue, tremors, lack of concentration; they were all signs of his body’s contamination. But God took John by surprise and healed him in an instant.

He and his wife Catherine were in bed fast asleep.   Suddenly John awoke in the middle of the night. A laser thin light was traveling directly toward him. It hit his eyes and filled the room with brightness. He could hear a deep voice saying, “GET HEALED!” John jumped out of bed in fear. But on his window there was an image of Jesus smiling at him kindly. “GET HEALED!” he heard again. Then the light retracted from his eyes. All he could do was scream. Catherine sprung up in bed startled. “I have just had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has healed me.” John explained.

That week John felt as if cool water had been poured over him; his whole body had been cleansed. He was free from pain, and able to think clearly. It was like a heavy load had been lifted from him.

John had begun to experience abundant life in Jesus. Not only did God restore his body, He also prospered him in educational opportunities. After John finished his masters in analytical chemistry he was selected to continue his studies in universities all over the world. He traveled to the Netherlands, Great Britain, again to Kenya and finally to the United States. But while he was at Oregon State University working toward a PHD God redirected his course.

John was working at the U.S. Agriculture when Bishops Robert Mzomba and Wellington Irungu found him. “God has sent us to come and ordain you as a pastor,” They said. “We were praying in Kenya, and God spoke to us that he wants you to start a ministry here in America.” John trusted that this was a message from God, but he didn’t know where to start. After the unexpected ordination, John enrolled in a Bible school in Washington State. The director discerned that God had chosen him for ministry, so he, too, ordained John. Two more times John was ordained. And two more times God confirmed his calling, but still he was working as a chemist. Finally a lady from Kenya came to America and sought him out. She was a stranger, but she had a message specifically for him: “I have been sent by God to tell you that God wants you to stop doing what you are doing and start the ministry.” By that time there was no doubt in John’s mind that the time had come. He had no funds to start the ministry. It would be Catherine’s salary that would support the whole family. But she knew as he did that God was directing his steps. Even his children assured him, “Daddy, we are going to back you up; we are going to do whatever we can, because we know God has called you.”

John recalled how God had spoken to him while he was still at Oregon State: “Gather my saints together.” (Psalm 50:5) “The end of all things is at hand.” (1 Peter 4:7) John knew that the Lord would be returning soon, and it was time for revival. He and his whole family had packed everything and boarded a train bound for Houston, Texas.   This was where God was leading him to preach the good news. But preaching is only one facet of his ministry.

Pastor John took the pulpit Sunday morning at End Times Revival Ministry Church, now 10 years past its inception. He called those who needed healing to come to the front. “The Holy Spirit is saying to me, ‘Don’t even preach if someone is in bondage.’ He proceeded to lay hands on the people and pray for their healing. The sermon could wait; healing ministry would come first.   John knows from experience what a blessing it is to be free from infirmity, and He knows that God is still working miracles on the Earth. So Pastor John is not waiting for Heaven to seek the supernatural presence of God, and neither are those who worship with him. They come with expectant hearts. And God is moving among them.

A Saint in Santhipuram

By: Cynthia Butler

We were in our dorm room at college when we got the phone call. The news from India was that Chicky had just died. People had come from all around to attend her funeral- even people who didn’t know her- because they heard that a saintly woman had passed away. Like the prophet Elijah, she had been given warning of her departure. She was about to be taken to Heaven, she told her family; so they all prepared for that day. It was a car-wreck, though (not Elijah’s chariot of fire) that ushered her into the next life. But just as the prophet centuries before, her destination was sure and her mission on earth was complete.

It was strange news to swallow. We had only just returned to The States. Chicky’s home had been our home. She had mothered many people in her lifetime, and for one summer we had been like her children, too. Everyone who loses a loved one ponders such things, but Chicky’s death was different. She could have died only months earlier due to cancer, but God had healed her miraculously. What an odd final chapter to a story that seemed to have already ended so well.

I remember sitting with Chicky at my parents’ dining room table as she prepared us for some of the things we would see when we entered her country. “What do you think happens when someone visits an idol and they pray for healing?” she asked us. “They are praying to a demon. Can a demon heal?” It was something that we had not encountered before, but the answer seemed obvious enough. An idol has no power to heal. And yet there were many who were being deceived by false gods. These idols were drawing crowds of people, some of whom were claiming to have been healed of one disease or another. “A demon cannot heal,” Chicky continued, “But a demon can give someone a disease in order to draw them into idol worship and then take it away once they begin to pray to the idol.”

We listened to her wisdom from across the table, and thought of what we would encounter across the globe. But it was at her family table in Andra Pradesh where we would dine with her once again after she herself had experienced healing; true healing from God’s hand.

The mayflowers were about to bloom when we arrived in Santhipuram; the winds were changing. Soon the monsoon season would descend on the countryside; but for now the sun was shining down on the dusty campus and the thick summer trees provided welcome shade. We settled into our simple apartment just beside the school dormitories and listened to the chatter of little voices as we unpacked our bags.

We had come to partner with Stuart and Chicky Taylor in their ministry for a month and a half. The Taylors were native to India and God had placed many children in their care; some in their household; some in their schools. Taylor High School, run by Stuart, was one of the best schools in Kupam and surrounding areas; so, although it was a Christian academy, people of all different religions sent their children there.

The school at Santhipuram, run by Chicky, was a Christian boarding school. For some of the children who had been orphaned, though, it was more like a home, and the Taylors were like parents to them. Eleven children also lived in the house with Stuart and Chicky. Although not biologically their own, these children, who had each been abandoned, became their family.

On this first night of many in Santhipuram, we walked to the Taylor house to gather with all the children and their parents for dinner. We took our place at the long wooden table. The plates were filled with a fresh variety of foods in front of each person, but not where Chicky sat. Instead she held a cup of milk and drank it contently as she watched the rest of us eat. Chicky had committed to a 40-day fast just as Jesus had undertaken. It was something she felt God had called her to do after learning about the cancerous growth that was in her body.

Most people seek medical answers when they have a disease, especially cancer, but as Chicky anticipated a trip to the hospital she sensed that God had a different plan. When she told her family that she was going to fast and avoid medical treatment they were afraid that she would die. They desperately tried to discourage her, but she was convinced that this was the right path. So, to the dismay of her loved ones, she followed through with her intentions and began to fast. The first week passed and then the second; God gave her strength despite her lack of food. But on the 18th day she felt so weak she wondered if she was about to die.   Collapsing on her bed she prayed to the Lord, “I’m not ready to go yet.” Like a second wind, Chicky’s strength returned, and she rose up in thankfulness to get ready for the day. It was that morning in the shower when she saw the cancerous growth pass from her body.

Peace was written on her face as Chicky recalled her journey toward healing, and we listened intently. We had never experienced a miracle before. It seemed like such a rare blessing to talk with someone who had.

That night, lying on our straw mattress inside the mosquito net, our minds replayed Chicky’s story. The sun would set on Santhipuram 44 more times before our last night there. By then Chicky was not only someone we respected, but someone we loved- someone who had brought us breakfast in bed when we were sick, held our hand while we cried; someone whose gentleness made us feel at home although we were oceans away from our own family.

Boarding the plane to return to Texas, we wondered whether we would get to visit our friends in the future. Little did we know that we had shared some of Chicky’s last days on earth. Only months later, when we heard about her death, I cried, even though I hadn’t know when I would ever see her again. I wondered why God had cut her life off so soon after He had healed her. And here I sit over a decade later pondering the same thing. Why does God ever heal a person? What is the purpose of healing?

When we pray for a friend to be healed, we are often praying that he or she will survive their illness, but the purpose of healing is not to keep a person from dying. The Bible teaches that everyone “is destined to die once” (Heb. 9:27). Other times we pray for a person to be healed so that they will not have to suffer anymore. God is our deliverer and offers salvation not only from condemnation, but also from the evils of this world. Even suffering, though, is not purely an evil. It is said to produce perseverance which leads to character and hope. (Rom. 5:3).

So what is God’s reason for healing? I believe that it is for our good- to bless us; to give us relief and joy; to strengthen our faith. But more importantly healing is for God’s glory. And death can also glorify God. Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) And the scripture teaches that the death of His saints is precious to the Lord (Psalm 116:15). For the believer, death is only a passage into everlasting life.

Last night I dreamed that I returned to Santhipuram. But it wasn’t the concrete walls and dirt paths I remembered. Instead, I saw opulent flowing fountains and tile mosaics. “Santhipuram”, meaning “a place of peace”, lived up to its name. But there is a place of deeper peace, and that’s where Chicky is now. Maybe that’s what I saw in my dream; a Heavenly “Santhipuram”- a place of eternal peace.