When I published this blog post about the passing of Billy Graham this year, I remembered an interesting medical connection.
Billy Graham once preached in China, a country well known to his wife because she grew up there. Ruth Bell lived there with her parents who were missionaries. And not just any missionaries.
Her father, L. Nelson Bell was a surgeon at a mission hospital in Tsingkiang, China where for 25 years he operated on thousands of patients.
When the Bells were forced to return to America by the outbreak of World War II he not only resumed a busy medical practice but became editor of two influential Christian magazines and an active leader in his denomination.
In his book The Journey, Graham wrote about his father-in-law,
After Ruth and I were married he became one of my closest friends and advisers, someone whose wise counsel I always respected . I never met anyone who was more disciplined or more determined to make every minute count.
The story doesn’t end there. In 1977 two surgeons wanted to volunteer to work in mission hospitals during their vacation. Their efforts developed into World Medical Mission, a branch of the humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse.
Today, hundreds of volunteer Christian healthcare professionals serve in overseas mission hospitals and clinics. The organization also provides critically needed medical equipment and supplies, along with biomedical technicians to install, repair, and maintain the equipment at these facilities.
Leading Samaritan’s Purse as President and CEO- Dr. Bell’s grandson, Franklin Graham, son of Ruth and Billy.
And in the Bolivian Amazon basin, the Ruth Bell riverboat delivers medical and dental care to remote communities, just like her father did in China many years ago.
I ran into Sara Stophel, author of TRUMPED BY SOVEREIGNTY and asked her what’s happened new in her life since I reviewed her book. Here’s what she said.
“I finished my Bachelor of Science, Liberal Studies degree this August (2018). Basically, a general degree with minors in Education and Music and a bunch of courses in social work and psychology! I am job hunting…the areas that really draw me in have been in the organ donation area, writing area…and pretty much all the non-profits! Passions lie there. :-)”
Her personal life is going well also. Her son Nik (whose photos appear in this post) works for Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is one of the organizations I feature on my Share the HEART of health page. He is engaged to a young woman who will soon graduate as a nurse. Another son is dating a young woman who is a medical resident. So of course I’m happy to see the Stophel family supporting the health care professions.
Here’s my review of Sara’s moving and inspirational memoir.
TRUMPED BY SOVEREIGNTY:
Juggling Faith, Healing, And Submission to God’s Perfect Plans
BY SARA STOPHEL
“Damen Ballard, twenty-five, left his apartment on April 19, 1995, to grab a pack of cigarettes at the convenience store. On his way back he took the shortcut…crossing I-44 on foot at rush hour. He was hit and became a John Doe while doctors tried to save his life. Even as we were watching the terrible news of the Oklahoma City bombing down the road…and fighting against all of those feelings of desperation when we discovered no hearts would be coming…Chuck’s new heart was just two floors above us in the very same hospital.”
Sovereignty is a word you may not use or even hear often; I know I don’t. Probably the most common usage is in a political sense, like the sovereignty (authority) of a nation. Maybe that’s why Sara Stophel offers this definition on the back cover of her book;
“‘Sovereignty’ means that God, as the ruler of the universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. Further, he is in complete control over everything that happens.
In a game of cards, a trump card overrules any card previously played … But what happens when that “game” is actually life? And what happens when you realize that God’s sovereignty is the final trump card?”
Trumped by Sovereignty is two stories in one book. One story relates the multiple medical challenges faced by Sara, her husband Chuck, their children and extended family. The other story describes how Sara coped with these challenges, especially in relationship to her Christian faith.
I have known Sara and her family for several years and already knew much of their story although not all. I know Sara to be direct, truthful and frank. She does not mince words.
(I did not consult Sara prior to writing this review. I paid for my copy of her book.)
This is not one of those “how we went through a horrible experience and survived by our unshakable faith” stories; rather it is “how we went through extraordinary stress which tested our faith which survived and grew anyway”.
Sara doesn’t tell you how she solved her problems; she admits that her problems caused her to change the way she looks at life, faith and God.
Sara’s book describes multiple medical conditions that afflicted her family (yes, afflicted is exactly the right word). The list reads like a medical textbook, so much so that you may need to look up some of the terms to understand what they are; she does not describe them in detailed scientific terms. (I’ve included some links for you to use.)
Between Sara, her husband Chuck, their children and extended family they endured –
Sara and Chuck met in college, a Christian university that is known for its belief in divine healing. However, Sara’s home church did not teach miraculous healing. So it was a new concept for her, and one she found difficult to reconcile as her family’s serious health issues continued to worsen and not respond to medical treatment much less prayer.
She does not expect you to believe that she endured these challenges and tragedies due to strong and unwavering faith; rather she freely admits otherwise. As she puts it, her “truster” frequently breaks and needs repair.
“I could not commune with a God who did not honor my bigger-than-mustard-seed faith. I was more than certain God loved people…but I was also nearly certain He just needed me as a tool of transparency. My truster was broken. Having loved God my whole life, I couldn’t think of anything better…anywhere else to turn…so I just kept on serving and assuming the love and peace of God were for everyone but me.”
Sara sense of humor never wavers, both in her writing, and in life; she probably could not have made it through some of the days she has lived without it.
You will laugh, cry, or both at some of her stories like-
Her annual physical (which was a year late) with her doctor, Dr. LionKing (an offbeat humorous pronunciation of his real name)
Her first CPR class after a family death
And you may get angry as she describes her shabby treatment by the IRS, the cell phone company and the local fire department first responders who refused to take her critically ill husband to the hospital.
I encourage you to buy and read Trumped by Sovereignty. I know Sara and her sons which means I also know that their challenges are not over; in fact, they may be bigger than ever. I believe she will continue to face them with the same courage and humor that she has so far; and maybe in a few years she will write volume 2 of her story.
Sara’s son Nikolai Stophelis a professional writer/photographer for Samaritan’s Purse. Prior to that position, he covered the turbulent weather we have here in Oklahoma. His photos of Oklahoma storms illustrate this post. You can find more of his work on Instagram.
On the 6th anniversary of Chuck’s release from illness and pain, his wife Sara reflected on her Facebook page-
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