Very weak threads

God's Bulgarian tapestry (Part 13)

A teenage Philip Rodebush came home from the 1989 Nazarene General Assembly in Indianapolis saying: "I've found the girl I'm going to marry."

That girl -- three years younger than he -- was Amy Porter. Amy was an MK, a missionary kid. She was quite young when her parents, Jerry and Toni Porter, went as missionaries to the Dominican Republic. Then, she spent most of her growing-up years in Costa Rica and Guatemala. At that Nazarene General Assembly, Amy was attracted to Philip as much as he was to her.

Four years went by. Then one cool, crisp spring evening they were walking down Sofia's busy Hristo Botev street. Trolleys going both directions rumbled by, but they preferred to ,walk. They walked along arm in arm, looking in shop windows on the first floors of the apartment buildings lining the street.

A lot had happened since Philip and Amy had met at the Nazarene General Assembly. Not long after that General Assembly, tragedy struck. Amy hurt her wrist in a volleyball game in Guatemala. At first, she thought it was only a sprain, but the pain didn't go away. Finally, she went to a doctor. Everyone thought it might be carpal tunnel syndrome. Then, the worst possible scenario (in human terms) began unfolding. Amy's wrist problem wasn't a carpal tunnel irritation that routine surgery could remedy. The pain came from a cancerous growth in her wrist and arm.

Surgeons amputated 16-year-old Amy Porter's arm just below her elbow. By removing Amy's hand and part of an arm, the doctors knew they were disabling her. Still, they hoped to leave her cancer-free and give her a healthy and long life.

In the midst of that, Amy adopted something Nell Collin had written as her life's motto: "God has every right -- and my permission -- to rearrange my life at any time, in any way, in order to fulfill His plan for its influence, to His glory." As her story and choice of motto spread, people were profoundly moved.

Amy enrolled in Southern Nazarene University. Her bright smile and ready Christian witness affected lots of students. And, of course, there was always Philip hovering around! Then, in May of her first year at SNU, Amy began having chest pains. Medical test results came back with disheartening news. The cancer had reappeared in Amy's lungs. She headed back into treatment.

When Amy headed to Baltimore to undergo experimental medical treatment, Philip wondered what he should do about his commitment to Bulgaria. Should he go ahead as planned? If Amy's condition worsened, would he have to come back early to the U.S.? He thought about withdrawing from the team.

As he prayed, Philip also considered delaying his departure for Bulgaria for six months. His three close friends on the team departed in early July without him. Then, Amy's condition improved and so in early August, Philip left for Bulgaria. He arrived in Sofia just two weeks after language school started for the others.

In early 1995, Philip sent an email message to us at SNU: "Amy is planning on coming here [to Bulgaria during her Spring break. . . . Please keep praying. I guess you know that her tumors have grown."

Philip loves children. His interest in them and in cancer victims led him to the children's leukemia ward of a Sofia hospital. At first, the hospital was leery of these American evangelicals. Finally, however, they allowed them to come and play with the children and tell them a story. They severely warned them, however, not to promote their religion! The group went at Christmas. To the delight of everyone, Don Moore showed up in a Santa Claus suit -- but that's another whole story! In the spring, with Amy coming for Easter, Philip got permission for the group to visit again. That visit would be one of the days Amy was in Sofia.

Before she went to Bulgaria, Amy's hair had fallen out from her chemotherapy treatments. To keep from being stared at (and to stay warmer), she wore a long wig. At the hospital, most of the children were also bald from their chemotherapy treatments. So, when she arrived in that ward, Amy took off her wig. When the children and nurses saw Amy's missing arm and her bald head, their standoffish attitude disappeared. They knew that she was one of them.

Amy had made up a story that she told the children. It was about an Easter bunny who went looking for an egg. Along the way, Amy said, this bunny ran into problem after problem. But, he never gave up. Amy talked about him going over huge rocks, through a river, and up a mountain. As she told the story through an interpreter, Todd Brant acted out the bunny's part. Other Mission Corps volunteers played like they were rocks, then a river, and finally the mountain. The children giggled as they listened to the story and watched the Americans' antics. With the help of the American volunteers, a few of the more energetic, children followed the bunny as he searched for the egg. When Amy finished her story, Philip stood up.

"You know," he said to the mothers holding their little bald-headed children, "Christians also celebrate Easter for a very special reason."

He talked very briefly about how Easter was connected to Christ's death and resurrection and what that means for all humanity. After storytime was over, the team played with the children for a while. They had brought along scissors, crayons, and colored construction paper. As the children drifted back to their rooms, the volunteers began visiting them there. Peeking in a small window in the door of one room, I could see Philip, Amy, and a Bulgarian believer praying with a mother.

What happened that Easter weekend was a miracle in more than one way. There is only one Bulgarian religious group allowed to work in either an orphanage or a hospital. The Nazarene volunteers have permission to work in both. Mark Ogden reported: "After talking with the Evangelical Alliance I feel we are very lucky to be allowed in there as they are not allowed to work in hospitals. Only the Orthodox Church is allowed in, and they don't go."

Amy's visit made an ongoing ministry in that children's ward possible. Would it be happening without her? Probably not. In the spring of 1995, Amy was a very fragile thread. Still, her presence for a brief time in Bulgaria helped open doors for ministry and complete a crucial part of the tapestry's design.

Amy had another momentous event during her Sofia weekend. Philip asked her to marry him. Medically, the prognosis was not good. But, even facing an uncertain future, Amy said "yes" to Philip's proposal. They set December 22 as their wedding date. That would be six months after Philip returned to the U.S.

Three weeks before her wedding date, Amy Porter died. Seven months had gone by since her visit to the Sofia hospital ward. The family asked that relatives and friends contribute to a memorial fund in her honor. That fund aids Nazarene outreach in that children's cancer ward. The contribution of Amy's fragile thread lives on! . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   ←Prev  |    1: Weaving the Tapestry  |    2: A Presidential Thread  |    3: Thread from Empty Spools    |    4: Directors' Threads    |    5: A German thread    |   6: A   Colored Thread   |    7: Broken Threads    |    8: A Youthful Thread  |    9: Of Shuttles or Spinning Wheels   |    10: Faded Red and Gold Threads   |    11: Discarded Threads  |    12: Some West Coast Threads  |   13: A Very Weak Thread  |    14: Some Mexican Thread  |    15: Threads of Greenbacks and Tears   |    16: The Compassionate Ministry Thread    |    17: Some Parental Threads   |    18: The Emerging Pattern    |    Next→ 

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Mexican threads

arrow pointing rightIn 1991 a young Mexican, Rudy Reyes, crossed the U.S./Mexican border and headed for Oklahoma. He was going to Southern Nazarene University to study on a soccer scholarship. As the second group of volunteers for Bulgaria began forming, Rudy was in his senior year. . . . [ more ]

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