GodStory | God's Faithfulness Through Cancer
By: Vanderbloemen March 9, 2020
“For everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven...a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
In the Whiting house, this verse in Ecclesiastes is one of much comfort. It always is a comforting verse, but it especially was in remembering what God did in their lives. David Whiting recounted his journey that led him to become the Lead Pastor at New Heights Church in Vancouver, Washington, through a season that included challenges and unknowns as his daughter faced a cancer diagnosis. Each week of cancer treatment, David gave Emily a verse to memorize, usually on a wooden or decorative sign, as a tangible and visible reminder of things unseen, of faith, of trusting that the Lord would not leave them alone in any of the unknowns. Scripture like this consistently reminded David that God was present at the beginning, at the end, and at every stopping place in between.
In 2016, David, a long time Lead Pastor, found himself in Houston for a season of three years, moving to the city with a sense of God calling their family there.
“I knew God had me step aside from pastoring a church I’d helped grow and thrive in Rochester, New York,” David said. “I had a sense that it was the right time to uproot and move to a new opportunity, but it was still the most difficult decision. What was God doing here?”
David says that as a follower of Jesus, he knew it was a normal part of the life of faith to not always be operating fully in your spiritual gifts - and that God could and would still use any season of work - pastoral or not - for His glory and good. But the question still remained - why Houston?
And then, in December of 2017, David and his family received gut-wrenching news: their high school-age daughter Emily was diagnosed with bone cancer.
“This radically changed our lives,” David remembers. “While it provided a health crisis, it did not cause a faith crisis. We knew where our hope was anchored, not in technology, or medicine, or chemo. But at the same time, we also knew that God uses the things in our lives - like the medical community we lived in - to show us all the small ways of his faithfulness and goodness.”
David said he suddenly understood - a move to Houston, while it involved uprooting the family, new job opportunities, and a new city and all that comes with it was intentional and purposeful. God was present here.
“We were only 21 miles from arguably the best cancer hospital in the world,” David said. “So many details were God-ordained. We’re just so thankful for MD Anderson and all the doctors and nurses there, for people we met who had gone through similar things, even in seasons that seemed almost parallel to ours. There was no detail - big or small - that God did not have a hand in.”
Treatment and recovery from this type of cancer are both grueling and critical. As a pastor and a father, David found himself in a position where he was shepherding his daughter and family in faithfulness in believing and trusting God for all things, while also living out and being reminded of those things himself.
“Our time in Houston was really about learning how to suffer well,” David said. “We always repeated that we belong to the Lord either way.”
Emily completed chemo and is doing great today, with consistently clear scans a little over a year later. As her medical journey in Houston slowed down, they began to wonder - what’s next?
“God brought us through this, but we were eager to see what God had next for us,” David said. “What would God have us do or where would He have us go? God - in His sovereignty - still had a plan, of course. Vanderbloemen was retained for the New Heights Senior Pastor search, and as I learned about the DNA of the church - I felt God nudging me to explore the possibility there more. As the search continued, many conversations with our leadership team and the leadership of the church continued to affirm what God was doing. He brought very specifically and clearly into my awareness and life a church that needed a senior pastor. But the crazy thing about it was that it was the only other church I’d ever come across that had an identical mission as my previous church in Rochester, to ‘make more and better disciples.’ That grabbed my attention. It was almost unmistakable that this was where God was calling me.”
The timing was also God ordained - it happened that the New Heights Church was needing a Lead Pastor just a few weeks after Emily’s chemo ended. Had it been any other timing, David couldn’t have considered it.
“I remember thinking, God if this is you, you will have to move,” David said. “I asked him to make it clear and it abundantly was. In each of the small details - meeting the right people at the church and in the community, making specific connections in the medical field that brought Emily and the rest of our family peace about moving to Washington, aligning free time where there normally wouldn’t be extra time, and unplanned fortuitous circumstances such as having one showing and one great offer on their house in Houston - God was orchestrating it all. An overwhelming sense of peace and ‘rightness’ was over the entire process.”
David joined New Heights, a 60-year-old multisite church, just over a year ago and replaced a pastor who had been there for 27 years and is still very active in the ministry of the church. Over the last 14 months, David has experienced confirmation that this move was not just right for him, but also best for New Heights, even more reminders that God works all things for our good AND His glory. One long time staff member also remarked that he felt that “in this new season, New Heights is right on the cusp of something great.”
New Heights welcomes more 3400 members each week through their doors, where even their physical space is designed to be inclusive and welcoming, reflecting their heart for the unchurched. A free health clinic, and groups like Single Parents and Alcoholics Victorious seek to provide support. Community outreach events like Race for the Homeless (5k/10k race), Backpacks for Kids, and Thanksgiving Table share God’s generous love with the county, and dozens of life-stage and small groups provide encouragement and community along the discipleship path. All of this is made possible through staff and lay leaders who embrace their roles as ministers of the Good News.
“Each week, we meet as a Strategy Team for about two hours. Some of the team has grown up in the church or been there a long time, and consistently, it’s a joy to work with them,” David said. “There is an amazing synergy and commonality of passion. I can’t remember ever leaving one of those meetings where I haven’t thought, what an amazing group of people to work with. One of my biggest fears moving into this role was navigating leading an inherited staff. In my experience as a pastor and working with churches of all kinds, I know that getting the people element right is essential to success. But to immediately inherit a staff of leaders who have amazing chemistry reminds me that God has orchestrated every detail.- and still is at work every day here. This couldn’t be more right for me or for New Heights in terms of having a cohesive team that can work seamlessly together to move the mission of the church farther and faster.”
“Being the Lead Pastor of New Heights has been such a blessing,” David said.
Vanderbloemen was honored to play a small part in God’s plan to place David as Lead Pastor at New Heights Church, knowing it was an answered prayer for them and the Whiting Family.