Saturday, January 21, 2012

Suffering for God's glory - Cody and Maria Whittaker

After being in the mission field for a while and talking to a lot of missionaries, I can see a common thread that unites all missionaries. Missionaries suffer. This suffering is according to God's glory and their good. Phlippians 3:10 tells us: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” 
I would like to introduce to you some new friends of ours by the names of Cody and Maria Whittaker. After God saved Cody later in his life, he was radically sold out for Christ and was burdened to take the gospel to the nations with his wife and kids. They would end up going to Haiti with great hopes of seeing God work but they had no idea what the next few years would bring. Through so much suffering they are continually glorifying God in the way they respond to every trial. I wanted to tell this story because this amazing family has exalted our amazing God in incomprehensible ways.

On October 28th, 2009 Cody and his family pulled up their roots, left all behind and moved to Haiti to serve God. The first year in the mission field is always hard for every missionary because there are so many adjustments to make, so much culture shock, language learning and stress. But, the challenges that the Whittakers were about to face were well beyond the normal first year trials.

After a couple months they moved to Jacmel, the city that they would work in. They planned to spend the next 6 months learning the language and culture but what happened 12 days after they moved would change all their plans, like God tends to do. On January 12 the infamous earthquake hit Haiti. They immediately went from trying to adjust to a new language and culture to exhausting ministry work. The situation got volatile fast with no food, water, electricity and supplies running low. They sent their two girls home to stay with Cody's mom until things settled down. At the end of February Cody and Maria returned to states to get their girls and fly back to Haiti.

At the beginning of April Cody got malaria and they noticed that Susana was getting very sick as well. They thought she had malaria also but after getting her checked they knew she didn't have it and they knew something was very wrong.

On April 17, 2010, Maria and Susana flew back to states to the Miami children hospital to find out what was wrong.

The results proved to be Cody and Maria's worst nightmare. Their little four year old girl was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma cancer, which at best there was a 35% chance of survival. Despite the shock, they glorified God in the midst of their suffering that would prove to be a witness to world. As you read Cody's journal entry’s below, watch at how they reflect the glory of Christ amidst their suffering.

April 21, 2010
Susana has cancer. Those are the hardest words that I have ever heard in my life. The doctor just informed us that she has tumors everywhere. My heart aches like it has never ached before. Our tears won’t stop. Words cannot express what we are going through. They said that it is called Neuroblastoma and they said the news is not good. It is an aggressive cancer. They are getting ready to do a bone marrow test and a biopsy and that will determine what the course of action will be.
Our ONLY hope in all of this is Jesus. We cling to Him. We cry out to Him. We trust Him in everything. We cling to His Word and His promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called by His purposes. We trust Him for the grace that we need each second. We trust in His plan, whatever that might be. We remember that His ways are not our ways.

April 26, 2010
It is His word that gives us the strength, peace, comfort, hope, and grace that we need each and every day. How could we ever endure this without Christ and His words of promise. He truly is sufficient…even in such a time as this.

May 3, 2010
Today has been somewhat emotional as I (Cody) sit in the ICU beside my little girl who is going through so much discomfort and pain. Her fever has been up and down. She received several transfusions of blood products. I got her to eat about 12 pieces of pancake, but they also now have her hooked up to nutrients through the I V. She spent most of the day sleeping today. My heart just aches for my child and I want to do something to take away her pain…yet I cannot do anything except tell her how much I love her and tell her that Jesus is right here with her. It is amazing how praying over her calms her and brings her relief. I also pray that the doctors and nurses are being touched by God as they hear me praying over her every time they come in to do a procedure that might cause her pain.

May 27, 2010
Just a basic update post and another time to just give thanks and glory to God. Susana is doing really well on this second round of chemo. So far, she has not had any side effects whatsoever, except for one night where she vomited a few times because I tried to get her to take some liquid colase But aside from that, she has been doing great! She is extremely lively, she is talking and wanting to play non-stop, she has been going to the playroom every day, and she is just super happy!

Cody and Maria stayed in Miami for the first round of chemo and then moved to Asheville, NC to do 4 more treatments. The first round went pretty well so Cody was able to return to Haiti on short term trips 5 times. Even though the success rate of stage 4 cancer was 35%, Susana was doing good. After four rounds of chemo, Susana had surgery to remove the tumor and they removed 95% of it. Doctors thought it was a huge success. Susana now needed a bone marrow transplant. They would take out her own stem cells, freeze them, and then they would give her a very powerful round of chemo to kill all the bad stem cells and then inject her good stem cells back in. It was a long painful process for 35 days in Duke university medical center.

Two weeks later they had to start the 3 stage of treatment which was proton therapy. They lived in Jacksonville, Florida for a month during this process. Susana was doing great and her hair was going back. Christmas in Jacksonville was pretty good. They only had three more treatments left but then Susana got a fever. They return to Asheville, NC for tests before the fourth stage of treatment. Doctors were optimistic but Cody and Maria were worried because having a fever is what revealed the cancer to them in the first place. In January, Cody and Maria find out that Maria is pregnant.

You can see some pictures of the family at this time here.

Cody writes in Journal that he has a fear that God is giving them a child because He is going to take his little girl home. Cody's journal picks up when Susana got the fever.

January 14, 2011
Please pray for Susana and our family. We have had a rough couple of days. Susana has been doing absolutely fantastic up until about a week ago. She began losing her appetite and getting very fatigued. Then, in the last few days she has been complaining of specific leg pain. She also has had a fever in which we had to take her to the ER a few nights ago. They simply gave her an antibiotic through her line and sent us home to monitor it. Her blood counts are still great.

But, we are freaking out! Both Maria and I are emotional wrecks right now. This feels too much like deja vu. It just feels like this is exactly what was happening back in April when we first learned of her cancer. So, we need prayer BIG TIME!!!

The tests show that the tumors have come back and have spread violently through her body. Doctors said she has 2 months to live and there was nothing they could do.

January 20, 2011
Our hearts ache without limit right now. Words fail me. Her tumors are back. It’s very very bad. She has them everywhere, including one on her brain. We’re losing our little girl. Without any further treatment, she has about a few months to live. Her body will soon begin deteriorating and will cause a lot of pain.

They took Susana home to their apartment to spend the last few days with her. Make a Wish foundation bought them an all expense paid trip to Disneyland. Cody had to have the hardest conversation with Susana and God gave him the strength to tell his daughter that she was going to die soon and be with Jesus. The hospital filled her with blood so she would have the strength to do the trip.

Because of God's glorious providence, Susana knew God and loved him in almost an abnormal way for a 4 year old. Through all her pain and suffering she drew so near to God. She knew she was going to heaven and she told her big sister that when she got to heaven she was going to tell Jesus that she was the best big sister. In her few days at Disneyland, Susana had fun but was weak and couldn't do a lot.

The family returned to Asheville and Susana couldn't get out of bed. Hospice was there. They had a morphine pump to ease the most intense pains. She was surrounded by family every second in her last days.

February 7, 2011
My heart hurts so much at this very moment. Words do not even describe what I am feeling. This is just so hard. My daughter is dying right in front of my eyes. Like Jesus, I feel that my soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. It is only by His grace that I can get back off the floor and stand back up.

And this is what I am going through. I am being hard pressed, but I have not been crushed. I am perplexed, totally perplexed by what I see unfolding right before my eyes, but I am not in despair because I know that God is in control and this is part of His plan to bring Him glory. I feel persecuted by the sin and decay that this fallen world has brought upon my daughter, but I am not abandoned because I know that the Lord will one day soon bring complete redemption to Susana’s frail and broken body and she will no longer suffer from the effects of sin. And I know too that one day He will do the same with me…after I finish the race. And of course I feel completely struck down all throughout the day, but I have not been destroyed because God’s power and grace enables me to rise again.

Since Cody realized that he would never get the opportunity to walk Susana down the aisle and hand her to a husband that would love and cherish her, he prayed that God would give him the opportunity to walk her down the aisle (her last moment) and pass her to the hands of Jesus, her husband that would love and cherish her forever.  And then on February 11, 2011 Jesus came. Cody and Maria held Susana's hand as she gasped her last breath and they placed her in the hands of Jesus.

February 11, 2011
Susana Raquel Whittaker is now in the presence of our great and glorious God. She ran her race. She ran well. We held her hand and led her into the arms of Jesus. Our hearts groan like never before. But we rejoice in our God who loves us so much and has brought our little girl into heaven where she now sees Him face to face. Soon, my beloved Susana, and very soon, we too are going to see the King.

Here is the Memorial service for Susana

February 15, 2011
I shared yesterday at her homecoming celebration from 2 passages of scripture. One was in 1 Corinthians where Paul states that our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. This is a promise for the believer who has put his hope in Christ alone. This is a promise for me. God is using our loss and great suffering to achieve for us an eternal glory that will far outweigh our “light and momentary” pain.

Cody posted on his blog the video from John Piper below where Piper explains how God gets the most glory through suffering.

February 18, 2011
You see, our little girl has “gone through the windshield.” And only by the “more” faith that God has given us can we truly say, “God is enough. God is enough.” And that is what I believe brings great glory to God.

Our hearts hurt so bad right now. It has been one week since the Lord called Susana home. I have cried every single day. But, I have also worshiped the Lord every single day. I have sang of His greatness and glory. I have affirmed His goodness through the scriptures. We talk about our plans to return to Haiti and continue bringing the message of His love and goodness to those that are in great need. And we are truly excited to do that. We will love the orphaned child with a greater love. We will empathize with the grieving mother all the more. We will feed the starving children. We will make disciples. We will tell the world of His glory. And we will weep much. We will miss our little girl more than ever. We will talk about her with others. We will not pretend that she doesn’t exist anymore so as not to stir the pain in our heart. No, we will allow the Lord to stir the pain if He so chooses. We have been crushed for a purpose – to bring Him glory in the face of our suffering and anguish. And by His grace, we will do just that.

Now you'd think that all of this suffering would have this family's mind far from missions but these Christ-exalting missionaries could not keep out of the mission field. They had an overwhelming burden to take this glorious gospel, which they had just experienced, to every tribe, tongue and nation.

On October 9th, 2011, only a few months ago, Cody and Maria returned to Haiti with plans on spending a year there. In early November, their family faced another major testing. Cody's journal reads:

November 11, 2011
Most of you probably already know, but for those who do not, our family was robbed at gunpoint in our home 2 nights ago and many shots were fired in our home. We are very shaken up by this ordeal. We need you all to be praying for us and all the other missionaries here in Jacmel, Haiti as we were the 3rd missionary family this month to have this happen.
Pray for all the missionaries here who are scared and having a lot of difficulty sleeping at night. Pray for Isabela who has been through so much in these last few years along with all of us. It is overwhelming. First the earthquake, then Susana’s cancer, then Susana being taken to Heaven and the grief that we carry, and now this horrible violation. It is just a lot for any one of us to handle. Pray for us please.

You can read the detailed story of this event here . Cody and Maria return to the States and soon get a new direction.

December 8, 2011
A new direction
After much prayer, discussion, and seeking counsel from our mission board and some trusted others, we have decided that we will not be returning to Haiti for our missions work among the orphans and the poor. We have just been through so much regarding our time in Haiti. And this last string of events (ie. having our homes robbed at gun point with thieves storming into our house and shooting through our bedroom door with no thought of my family hiding behind inside, and having 3 guns put on me as I was forced to hand over our money. Yeah…you get the point) has just given us a very clear indication that Haiti is just not the best place for us to be as a family.

Though we believe that the Lord is leading us out of Haiti, we are convinced still that He has put a call on our lives to bring the Gospel to the nations, therefore we remain as missionaries fully committed to share the message of Christ with the world around us. As Maria and I would often talk about what the Lord may have in store for us after Haiti, we both agreed that we would love to serve the Lord in a Spanish speaking country. Being the fact that Maria is Spanish and already knows the language, and I myself have a fairly good base of the language and have done some missions work in a Spanish speaking country many years ago, it seemed like a good fit that at some point in our lives, after Haiti, that the Lord would bring us to a Spanish speaking country.

With that being said, it is with excitement, as well as with all the other emotions in my head, that we announce what we believe the Lord is leading us to do. We do believe that He is leading us to serve in a Spanish speaking country, therefore per the requirement of our mission board for those wanting to serve in a Spanish speaking country, we will be moving to Costa Rica for a year where I will attend language training school at the Spanish Language Institute.

And now we pray that you will stand with us as we strive to pour out our lives to make the name of Jesus known among the Spanish speaking world. Gloria a Dios!!!!

This brings us up to the day I met Cody and Maria at school. There was an instant connection, we had them over for dinner and heard them tell of their suffering over the last two years and we saw how they glorified God so powerfully through it all. Cody and Maria have encouraged us so much, so I thought I would encourage you with their story. Cody would tell you that the only way he could have glorified God through all the suffering the way he did was by God's grace being poured out on him every step of the way, so to God we give all the glory.

You can read more about Cody and Maria on their blog:  How can they hear?

1 comment:

Tim Killillay said...

This is a powerful testimony of God's grace shining in trials. Thanks for pasting this.