July 2019 Newsletter – Encouragement in the Valley of the Shadow

Posted on 07/28/19 by Russ Corley

Through the years of my work with EM, I have had many conversations with people about death. Some were facing death; others were dealing with the death of someone they loved. These conversations are never easy, but they are important. The way we talk about death is shaped by our understanding of the meaning of life.

As a minister, I have been honored to witness the deep faith of many who believed in Jesus as they grew to love and trust Him more while walking with Him through the valley of the shadow of death. Let me share a story that created my deep desire to work in such situations and eventually led to the formation of EM in 1990.

My first conversation with a dying patient happened during the early 80s while I was a minister in Columbus, OH. I learned about ministry in hospitals by visiting patients with my friend and spiritual mother, Barbara Young. She was the first to model for me listening with compassion, sharing a scripture that spoke to the situation, and the power of prayer at the bedside of suffering.

After a referral about an out of town patient, I began to visit a young man at OSU Hospital. He was in his late twenties and had brain cancer. When I first met him, he was in his bed, standing on his head with his feet against the wall because this position brought some relief to his headache.

During our first conversation, I found out a few things about him. One of the most important pieces of information was that he had grown up in a small country church and had a little faith in Jesus, but that faith seemed to be waning as he faced cancer.

On subsequent visits, we talked more about what he believed and about his questions. Often, I did not have strong answers, but I would listen, share scripture, and pray with him. Over time, something began to happen in him. His faith in Jesus became real and personal. For a while he improved and went home in rural OH.

When he came back a few months later, the cancer was growing worse and the pain was intensifying. He called and asked me to visit. I saw him often over the next few weeks. He was getting sicker, but his faith was growing stronger.

We now had two anchor passages: Psalm 23 and 2Cor. 4:7-5:21. Each visit, we would read one or both of these texts. We would talk about what they meant in light of his life and the reality of his approaching death.

He shared with me some personal things about people back home. Some of them he was forgiving for hurt that they had caused. Others were people that he cherished deeply. A few were both. He talked about the things that he was learning to appreciate with deep gratitude. He shared what he wanted me to say at his funeral.

When he died, I drove down winding country roads to the small church where he grew up. On the day of his funeral, I spoke using both texts and sharing some of the beautiful reflections that he had shared with me.

When I finished, many people talked with me. What I shared included things that they had never guessed about this young man who was introverted and shy. They were surprised by the depth of his faith and feelings, his courage in suffering, and his tender heart towards people in that small town.

There are other kinds of conversations that occur in the face of death. Some people are terrified, others are very sad to leave people that they love, and some are angry at God for not healing them. Still, most of the conversations that I have shared with people, became an expression of the confidence of David when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” When we discover the reality of the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus in the midst of our suffering, we realize that there is a hope that cannot be destroyed by death.

Pat and I thank you for supporting us in this work. Your generous giving, your referrals and your prayers sustain us and create the opportunities for conversations about faith, not only in the valley of death, but across many of life’s toughest situations. In the midst of suffering, the strongest faith is formed.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

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