Monday, September 29, 2008

Rejoicing in Pain

I have been privileged to get to know Matt Thomas over this past year. Matt is one of the three bishops of the Free Methodist Church in North America. Last week, Matt's 28 year-old son, Mitch died from his battle with Leukemia. I wanted to share this email I received from Matt this morning:

Dear Friends and Leaders of the FM Church:

Praise be to our God and Father, the Giver of life, abundant and eternal!

I want to let you all know how grateful Marlene and I are, joined by our four children (Luke, Mitch, Sam and Charese) and their spouses, for your wonderful support, tireless prayer and encouraging letters over the past 16 months- most specifically the two months of our greatest toil as Mitch labored to stay here and care for his wife and continue his ministry on earth. He yielded to death on September 23, only as an open door to entering the tangible, eternal presence of God- Father, Son and Spirit. We are thankful to God for allowing us the privilege of parenting this wonderful son for 28 years, 4 days, 13 hours and 16 minutes. Truly each day was a joy.

I would like to simply convey in a few words what I have learned through the memorial service, letters, calls and emails over this past week. So far, I am aware of more than 50 people who were introduced to Jesus by Mitch. I have become aware of about a dozen whom he discipled into significant ministry. I learned today that about 700 attended his service yesterday in a wonderful tribute to his life. Today I learned that there were some who renewed their commitments to Christ at the memorial. His impact was broad reaching and deep. And, I stand grateful to God for the joy of having him with us through these years. Additionally, the emails and blogs of Mitch, Marlene, his wife Chelsea and me were visited and/or read by approximately 60,000 first time or repeat visitors. Their (Mitch and Chelsea were wed on August 2, 2008) wedding pictures alone were seen by more than 18,000 people.

Through these avenues, I am aware of dozens who have either committed their lives to Christ for the first time or made recommitments to Christ along the journey. Additionally, we had the privilege of praying with 4 people in the hospital to enter the family of God. All of this to say, “This has been a painful, yet blessed ministry through which one of Mitch’s prayers was answered.” He said, “I simply want God to be glorified through this and for his Kingdom to grow.” God has been glorified and His Kingdom has been expanded.

I realize that many of you receiving this have had similar tragedies. I do not want to compare grief with grief or try to direct attention away from the suffering or sorrow of any other brothers and sisters around the globe. I weep with you as well. I simply want to say thank-you for your part in helping us and blessing us through our journey. To the FMCNA Board of Administration, I thank-you for giving me the opportunity to remain by Mitch’s side for the last 7 weeks of his life. To the Board of Bishops of the FMCNA, I express my deep appreciation for the brotherhood and encouragement you have regularly offered. To the superintendent team in the western U.S.A. and Asia, I want to thank you for your deep love and support, giving me your friendship and keeping your pastoral teams informed and active in their support of us. To the rest of you, Marlene and I have had the privilege of drinking deeply from the well of comfort, counsel and encouragement you have offered through your emails, cards, letters and calls. I am thrilled to be a servant in the Free Methodist Church. The FM family has been just that to us- a family of intimate and great proportion.

Blessings in Christ,

Matthew A. Thomas

Free Methodist Church of North America

Matt, I know this is an extremely difficult time for you and your family and our prayers go out for you. Thank you for living out your faith and for your great example!

To read more about Matt's thoughts on this difficult situation, check out his blog.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:4-5

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