Things that look really bad can actually be really good. Perspective makes the difference.
A Matter of Perspective
by Mirial Gainer
Late in 2004, I began experiencing back pain. Thinking it was kidney related, I went to the doctor who diagnosed kidney stones. God used the treatment I received to remove them. However, the pain worsened. I began falling due to numbness in my right leg. Additionally, a burning sensation began in both feet and gradually moved up my legs. The back and related nerve pain increased until I had difficulty walking. Getting in and out of bed became problematic. Eventually, I couldn’t walk and experienced continual, excruciating pain.
In 2005, I made preparations to return to the north island of Hokkaido from the Tokyo area. Instead, I was hospitalized in an orthopedic specialty hospital. No longer able to get in or out of bed by myself, I was confined to a wheelchair. My diagnosis? Spinal stenosis. Abnormal bone growth in my spinal canal pressed against my spinal cord. I began to receive several spinal root block injections weekly.
I found myself in the hospital with no idea how long I would stay and no idea if I’d walk again. I felt totally removed from my ministry. I prayed that God would use me. I prayed for His power to be able to rejoice in all things, to look for the good, no matter what. God sent constant encouragement through my Bible study and quiet time readings. One verse—Jeremiah 29:11—came to my attention over and over. God had a plan for me. It was for my good. Through His plan I had hope and a future. Nothing took God by surprise. He knew. He was in control. He had a purpose. He was ever faithful.
One of the books I read during this time was Robert J. Morgan’s Red Sea Rules. What a blessing! The book reinforced the truths God was teaching me. I was reminded that the same God who led me into the hospital would lead me out—in His own time and in His own way.
So, there I lay, flat on my back in a Japanese hospital—the only foreigner in the place. Ministry over? Hardly! The dust hadn’t even settled before God’s plan for me unfolded—a unique hospital ministry.
The only bed available when I was admitted was in a semi-private room near the end of the hall, the one farthest from the nurses’ station. The room was adjacent to the small lounge for patients and their visitors. The lounge was also used as an extra waiting room for rehabilitation outpatients. Many people entered my room; initially, they mistook the doorway as the entrance to the lounge. But little by little, they came to talk with me.
As patients saw me taken to therapy or testing, they realized I was their neighbor—the persistent foreigner who tried to talk to them at the supermarket, the bank, the post office, the train station. Most had been unwilling to talk to me then. But now, realizing I really did speak Japanese, they began to ask me questions. Why was I in the hospital? Why was I in Japan? Did I eat—and like—Japanese food? As they learned more about my illness and became more comfortable with me, they asked why I always had a cheerful smile. Little by little, relationships with other patients (and some family members) were formed.
The developing relationships weren’t limited to patients, though. Dr. Yamane came to my room every day. His family owned and operated the hospital. He always brought all the nurses with him. I taught a one-point English lesson to his nursing staff each time. The nurses became very comfortable around me and soon began to share their concerns on a one-to-one basis. I had opportunity to share individually with Dr. Yamane and with Dr. Tsuji, the spinal injury specialist called in for my case. They both seemed touched that I prayed for them daily.
The head dietician began to visit me. Soon she started bringing her students to talk with me. I was taken to the rehabilitation unit almost daily. Therapists worked to try to keep my muscles from deteriorating further, especially my leg muscles. I came to know them all by name. Sometimes I helped them in their studies, but mainly I listened. When they asked questions, I was happy to share my faith. As time passed, they were impressed with my attitude. Although they often hurt me, I always thanked them—even through tears—for their help.
Word spread throughout the hospital about the patient who was different. Personnel from the business office to the custodial staff, from doctors and nurses to dieticians and therapists, from the operating room team to the MRI/X-ray staff came to meet and talk with me. Even the hospital bus drivers knew me by name. As I became mobile—in a wheelchair and later a cage walker—patients asked me to meet with non-mobile patients in their rooms. I thought of Jabez who prayed that his borders be expanded. How God had expanded my borders!
One patient, Ms. Tanaka, asked me why I smiled all the time and seemed so happy in the midst of my painful experience. I explained that God was in control and gave me hope; my joy was found in Him and was not bound by circumstances. “That’s it!” she exclaimed. “You have hope. You have it every day, no matter what.”
She went on to tell me she was without hope. I shared the One who is Hope with her and gave her a small book to read. She stayed up all night reading it. The next day she told me she finished the book and asked her mother send the postcard for the Bible studies so she could learn more. The local pastor came to visit us and led her to Christ. He continues to disciple her.
As patients were discharged, God made it clear that my new relationships would continue. When former patients returned for therapy, they would visit my room or seek me out in the therapy room. Mr. Hoshino often brought his wife and little girl. Later, I visited in their home.
My relationship continues with Sayuri Saito—my roommate for several months. Not only have I shared Christ with her on many occasions, but also with her husband, mother-in-law, parents and brother. They haven’t become believers, but Sayuri and her husband are seriously seeking after the true and living God. We continue to email and call each other frequently, and meet whenever possible.
Relationships with my doctors continue as well, especially Dr. Yamane. Recently he emailed me to tell me he enrolled his son in a Christian school. He said, “My son prays all the time—just like you!” I assured the doctor again that I continue to pray for him.
At length I became an outpatient. My rehab sessions were lengthened and increased, in three different locations. God continued to send new people my way in each of the locations.
After a hard year of therapy, I was walking again, but faced another surgery. In early 2007, the second surgery was completed in the States. By late July I was back in Japan and in September moved to Hokkaido—several years later than planned. Our plans and God’s timeline are not always the same. But His is right every time!
Through all of this, I have seen God’s faithfulness. Although I still need therapy and exercises, I am walking again. I even finished my first marathon! I look forward with great excitement and anticipation to what God has for me in this new season of life. Choosing to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and giving thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18) has given me a different perspective. Truly, “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), and I know I can trust His plans for me.
About the Writer: Mirial Gainer is a missionary to Hokkaido, Japan. Learn more about Free Will Baptist International Missions efforts in Japan at www.fwbgo.com.