“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.” This is the resolve of a person living with cancer, who is looking for light amidst the darkness. While government agencies and secular non-profits do the honorable work of raising awareness for cancer prevention and money for research, the fact is churches can do more to fight the secondary leading cause of death in America.
According to American Cancer Society estimates, there will be over 800,000 new cases of cancer in the U.S. this year. If local churches desire to be obedient to God, remain relevant in their communities, and experience the joy that comes with serving those in need, then now is the time to establish a ministry that serves people living with cancer.
How did we get here? Studies confirm that obesity, smoking, and longer lifespans have contributed to the increase of cancer cases. Beyond the science, it is important to know that God created the world without cancer. Biopsies and malignancies were not His plan; radiation therapy and chemotherapy were not His design. Sin, however, corrupted creation, and made the human body susceptible to diseases like cancer.
Yet there is hope. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ put sin itself into eternal remission, enabling the restoration of all it ruined. While God sometimes chooses to heal people from disease in this life (Jas. 5:15-16), He guarantees healing for believers in the next (Psa. 103:2-4). By ministering to people with cancer, churches herald the glorious restoration of all that sin corrupted, including the human body (Isa. 65:17).
Some churches have ministries that serve cancer patients. Although their efforts are not always directly evangelistic, they are tangible agents of God’s presence and care to those with cancer (Matt. 25:31-46). Here are six examples of effective cancer-related ministries that other churches could imitate:
Fundraisers. At one church, members sold items like tacos and jewelry to raise money for cancer patients. Many churches have experience hosting fundraisers for mission trips and youth groups. This opportunity would utilize the same ministry model to aid a new beneficiary.
Support groups. Another church has a ministry called “Cancer Companions,” which serves people undergoing cancer treatment. Participants meet to fellowship, watch devotional videos, and study the Bible. The church also offers one-on-one counseling to cancer patients and their families. If a church has an available room, an open evening, and a few willing servants, it is already prepared to reproduce this worthwhile ministry.
Making clothes. Some women in an urban church sew hats, pillows, and blankets for cancer patients in area hospitals. A few local businesses, that find these women inspiring, donate fabric. Utilizing the talents in the congregation is a great way to serve cancer patients.
Youth programs. Another urban church collaborates with nearby children’s hospitals, which connect them to families who have a child with cancer. Besides providing discipleship opportunities and counseling support, the church hosts a camp where children and their siblings participate in activities like horseback riding and ropes courses. Most churches have silent members who are waiting for an opportunity to use their talents and hobbies. If a church does not have the resources to start such a ministry, they can assist one that does.
Cooperative efforts. A group of churches in one city jointly launched “Worship in Pink” to raise breast cancer awareness. They also help uninsured women obtain mammograms. In addition, they demonstrate Christian unity to their communities.
Specialized training. National ministries like Stephen Ministries (stephenministries.org) and Our Journey of Hope (ourjourneyofhope.com) equip laypeople to minister to cancer patients, who apply what they learn in their church and community. The cost of the training will bear fruit in families, congregations, and communities for years.
It is time for churches to take seriously Jesus’ instructions to minister to those with cancer, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is their only ultimate hope. If cancer patients are looking for rainbows and stars, then local churches must bear the rain and brave the dark, to reveal to them the light of the world (John 8:12).