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Full Circle

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Packing; saying goodbye; and wondering what language study will be like, how we will deal with the heat, the new culture, and the new experiences—these are the thoughts that most, if not all, young, new workers have as they head to the mission field. But my wife, Patty, and I aren’t young and new. We are more “vintage.” Yet we were having these same questions.

Let me start from the beginning. I was saved at age 17, and during my senior year of high school I committed to spend my life wherever God would send me. Patty grew up in Viet Nam and felt called from a young age to serve as an international worker. So, 36 years ago, we had our sights set on a life overseas.

We were first assigned to Thailand, but later a need opened in Indonesia. We were prepared to go with our two small children. We had completed all the requirements and were waiting for our visas. But in October 1982, I got a headache. I came home from the church office, and my wife ushered me to bed. By morning my temperature was up, and I could not stand to be in a lit room.

Between Life and Death

We called our doctor, who sent me to the hospital. I was quickly admitted and was given medication for my headache as they searched for a cause for my pain. Patty and I were both concerned but felt confident that our doctor would find an answer, and all would be well.

Pastors and elders of Evangelical Church of Bangkok pray for Dennis and Patty at a consecration service August 19, 2018, in Thailand. Photo courtesy of the Whalens

On the second day I was on medicine, my health improved. They were ready to send me home the next day, but overnight, things changed. I awoke with large blisters on my lips, and soon sores covered me from my head to my waist, and my temperature kept rising.

Something was happening to my body, but nobody knew what it was. The nurses were concerned and refused to come into my room without being fully gowned. Hour by hour my temperature rose. Patty became more panicked and frequently went to the nurse’s station, pleading for help as I seemed to be slipping away.

The doctor was stumped. He quickly transferred me to intensive care and called in specialists to biopsy the blisters. I continued to get worse and finally fell into a coma and was unresponsive for four days. Patty sat at my bedside, knowing that I was dying, yet with no answers. One specialist told her I had two hours to live. Another felt I may live, but if I did, I would have brain damage and could be blind. Patty called everyone she could think of to pray.

People all over The Alliance prayed for this young missionary candidate, asking God to heal me. I have no memory of the many visitors I had or of these events, so I will let Patty explain.

From Patty

I asked the church elders to come to the hospital to anoint and pray for Dennis. The head elder asked if any of the men had anything to confess before they prayed. Each one said no, but they did not ask me.

I was angry that God was taking my husband from me. I loved Dennis more than I loved Jesus. Dennis was my rock; I depended on him. Jesus had nudged my heart to speak up, but I was scared and too proud to confess.

When the prayer ended, I sobbed. The elders tried to comfort me, but there was no relief. I was despondent. When they left, Dennis’s temperature continued to rise, finally hitting 106 and still climbing. I was losing him.

Visiting hours ended, and I was sent home. I went into my bedroom and fell on my knees. I prayed, demanding God to heal Dennis. I claimed Scripture verses. I complained it was not fair that through Dennis’s death, others may find life. I was adamant it was not a good exchange.

I focused on 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24. “. . . May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” I claimed this promise for Dennis, that God would make him whole and heal him.

Then my eyes went directly to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I read it and ignored it and went back to claim the promise of healing. Again, my eyes read the verse: “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances.”

Dennis and Patty sing with the choir at Evangelical Church of Bangkok where Dennis now serves as pastor of Mission and Communications. Photo courtesy of the Whalens

I said aloud, “God, I will not thank You for taking my husband” and continued to demand healing. Finally, I gave up. “OK, Lord, You have told me to say thank You, and I will obey. But I want You to know I don’t mean it!” I then said, “Thank You, Lord, for this circumstance,” and the floodgates opened.

I broke out in song. I came out of that room a different person. I knew Dennis would die, but I also understood God knew what was best. Within hours of that encounter, the doctor called and said, “Patty, I don’t know what happened, but Dennis has turned a corner. I believe he is going to make it.” God had worked not just in my heart but also in Dennis’s body.

After the healing took place, three months of steroids were prescribed to destroy Dennis’s immune system, which had attacked his body. The name given the illness was Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

No Plan B

While I was in the hospital, my mother-in-law and Patty moved our family from our apartment to the parsonage at New City (N.Y.) Alliance Church where we were serving. When I returned home, I was placed in isolation for about three weeks. I had lost more than 25 pounds, and my face was covered in black, dried blisters.

Slowly I began to regain my strength, and within four months, I was serving in the church again. Life felt normal, and we were ready to continue the visa process. However, I was instructed to visit the Alliance doctor for clearance for service.

To our utter surprise, the doctor said we could not go overseas because he did not know what could trigger the syndrome. I was also told I needed to take a five-year leave of absence from all ministries.

Our dreams and hopes were shattered. Patty and I fell into each other’s arms in disbelief. We had planned, dreamed, and prepared for overseas ministry. Now we could not even work in the church. We were living in a church parsonage, so we would lose our job and our home. We were in a fog, angry and disappointed. Yes, God had saved my life, but for what?

Something New

We decided to visit Patty’s parents for counsel. During our stay I was offered employment with a management company. They trained me and gave me a position, but our hearts still yearned for some far, distant land.

Five years to the day after I was put on medical leave, Nyack College called and offered me a position. We knew God was opening the door to ministry again. God had now given me experience in the marketplace that could be used at our alma mater. I would work with young people who could take our place on the mission field.

Photo courtesy of the Whalens

From there, He opened the door for me to work at World Relief, where I served for the poorest of the poor and ministered in churches to represent those needs. Finally, for the last 12 years, I served at the C&MA National Office as vice president for Development all because of my experience as an Alliance pastor, a manager, and a fundraiser and because of my passion for missions.

Over these last 30-plus years, our heart for the world has never dimmed. In fact, under U.S. C&MA President John Stumbo, the flame grew hotter and brighter as he brought stories from around the world back to the office in Colorado Springs. God was readying our hearts for something new.

God had a wonderful surprise for us: an opportunity to minister in Thailand. Yes, Thailand. Thirty-six years after the fact, we had come full circle. The Evangelical Church of Bangkok invited us to join the staff, and after discussions with President Stumbo, he gave his blessing for this new calling. Instead of thinking of retirement at age 63, we said goodbye to family, friends, and country.

If God has laid a call upon your heart, it is never too late to see its fulfillment. Although His timing may not be yours, He cares about you. He sees you, and Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Yes, it was a process, but we found delight in the Lord as He led us with each step with each new ministry.

God had His timing, and it was good. Take it from me: If He has chosen to fulfill our dream at our age, He can fulfill yours as you take delight in Him.

8 responses to Full Circle

  1. Dennis and Patty, thanks for sharing your story of God’s faithfulness. Patty, I smiled when I read your struggle to thank God for the horrible circumstances you were facing. I could hear you speaking as I read. I love your honesty. We don’t have to pretend we like what’s happening. God knows how we’re feeling. God honored your obedience. I’m so happy to see how God has led you and prepared you for this unexpected season of life.

  2. Dear Dennis and Patty,
    What a great testimony you both have! God never forgot your desire to serve Him overseas and neither did you. How encouraging that is to keep hanging on to the dreams and desires God gives us. At the proper time, He will bring them to fruition. May God bless you as minister in Thailand.

  3. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to
    Shine upon you and bring you peace! Go with God, dear Patty and Dennis. Be strong and of good courage! Thank you for letting your lights shine!

  4. Loved reading your story Patty and Dennis. So happy for the full circle. Love to both of you! Linda Young Morgan

  5. Denis and Patty,
    Thank you for sharing your story of God’s faithfulness! I pray you treasure your time and opportunity to join the Kingdom work in Bangkok. David and Ty are a blessing to partner with in ministry.

  6. Patty I just love your story, especially the “I will thank you but I do not mean it”…..
    It is so real and how we fight God when we know He is on our side. Thank you for the smile as I saw myself in you.

  7. Hi Dennis & Patty,
    What an encouraging testimony of how our wonderful God sees the “bigger” picture. My husband and I are retired, but not in God’s eyes. We are busier than ever ministering for Him. He gives us so many open doors of ministering to hurting people in our area and all over the United States through GCW and Biblical portrayals, a gift God gave me 24 years ago coming home from Council. You have blessed my heart so much today. Continue to let God’s arms hold you and hug you so your smiles and loving hearts will reach many, many lost souls for Him.
    Blessings, John & LuAnne Baker, Western PA

  8. Hi Denis and Patty,
    What an encouraging article! Now that we are neighbors (country wise), we hope to see you in Bangkok. Thank you for sharing your story. God’s timing is always right and perfect.

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