Ministry in the Face of Tragedy

By Lonnie Melashenko
In my 49 years of ministry my greatest challenge has been to pastor in the face of tragedy – death, accidents, trauma, disease, times of profound loss. Although difficult, these times of crisis provide our greatest opportunities to reach out and touch the lives of our family and friends with calls, notes, texts, emails, and visits with a direct-to-the heart kind of empathy and presence.

Just today my cousin Al passed away in Canada. He slipped on the kitchen floor and sustained a concussion so severe the bleeding never stopped. His family has had to deal with the immense pressure of friends whose comfort lines run along familiar tracks – “This is Gods will. This is part of the sovereignty of God. Jesus wants to take Alvin home now, not later.” What do you say in the face of such claims? Here is the letter I sent to his family. From it you can gather helpful talking points where those times when you must minister in the face of tragedy.

Dear Linda, Mark and Family,
Oh my! We received the news from Mark about our cousin Alvin's terrible fall as Mark was getting ready to fly to Vancouver – just as we are traveling on the western slope of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Alas! Such a shock. We are so sad to learn about this. Mark stated that he fell and hit his head and is in ICU, and "the situation is grave." And Jeannie and I both blurted out tearfully, "Oh my! And we were right there having lunch in Abbottsford about two weeks ago at the little Ukrainian restaurant – so close as we were on our way home from Alaska, passing through Hope, B.C.! But it didn't work out. And we missed seeing Alvin!" We both so much wanted to stop by and "connect." And now we can't imagine the incredible load of concern and care this places on Linda – who already is overburdened with care-giving of loved her ones.
Truthfully, I'm up early in our little motel lobby this morning in Colorado because it was difficult for both Jeannie and me to get to sleep last night. I was up at 3:45 thinking and praying for you wonderful cousins. How sad. May the promised Comforter be especially close just now as you cope with major decisions and as Mark arrives to be with family and loved ones. Claim the promises for a double portion of WISDOM in James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
The most grief surrounding this tragedy is sustained by Alvin's angels and Jesus and Heaven itself. That's biblical. Christ "is touched with the feelings of our infirmities." All heaven is saddened and deeply grieves. Because God is not the author of sin, sickness, suffering and death. This is NOT God's doing; never part of His plan. No! There is an enemy force diligently at work in this earth, the theater of the universe. As Shakespeare put it, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. We have our entrances and our exits...and each man in his lifetime plays many parts." As Christians we also know from Scripture that on this stage called life "...the devil goes around as a roaring line, seeking who he may to devour [destroy], the very elect..." That means he is zeroing in on God's saints. He is angry. He wants to bring his hellish forces onto center-stage in our lives. To harass. To annoy. To brutalize. To make hell of our lives. The subtle, but very truthful Scriptural reality is that Alvin must be one of those special "saints" who is already safely couched in the arms of Jesus. He became a target in the cross-hairs of Satan's hellish treachery. Because Satan gives little concern for the billions he already has in his possession. No, he wants to get at the "saints." So Alvin must be in that special category. Which reminds us there really is a "Star Wars."
Life isn't a game. This is for real. We're not on TV. This is the sad reality of the human dilemma. Alas! What to do? But there is comfort and hope in the tragedies of life. For Christians we know for certain that this is not God's design. "An enemy hath done this." And as Paul the apostle says, "Without the blessed hope we would be of all men most MISERABLE." But that's where I'm praying for special divine insight to surround you as you gather at Alvin's bedside." Praying for a double portion of divine and heavenly strength for you dear cousins --for you to reach UP and cling tenaciously to "that blessed hope." Hold on tight to the promises of Psalm 23, "I will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death." That promise has YOUR name on it right now. Today. Jesus is in that promise. Keep looking up. And know for certain that in the larger picture you are NOT alone. All heaven is astir. You also have loved ones and friends who are lifting you up in their prayers and storming the gates of heaven in your behalf.
You feel so helpless. So powerless. So shocked and alone. Human feelings. So deep and gut-wrenching you can't describe them. That's normal. Jesus designed those emotions of compassion and care and loving concern. Remember the most amazing words ever written in ALL of literature are just 5 words in length -- and they are found in Deuteronomy 27:3: "Underneath are the Everlasting Arms." In all your exigencies. In all your trials. All your trauma and concerns...Jesus is there with His Everlasting Arms. Lean on those Arms. Put your whole weight on those Arms. Trust those Arms. You can rely on them. They will never leave you. Never forsake you. Never. Never ever.
You are in my prayers. If you have a moment to update me I will be glad to share with family and loved ones. Or Mark, don't hesitate to call and give me a "heads up" when you arrive in Abbottsford. My cell phone ----. Know we are here. We're family. We care. We love you.
Prayerfully and With Tears,
Lonnie and Jeannie
Lonnie Melashenko serves as a revivalist for the Columbia Union Conference while being semi-retired