There are some assumptions we often carry in life without them ever being checked or challenged. They include those things which some would call ‘protocol’ or ‘social and cultural norms’. Put simply, things we often take for granted. This past weekend something I have taken for granted and considered a protocol was not only checked, but also challenged; both in a gentle and mild fashion.
I have always taken for granted that hospital visits were meant for the benefit, comfort and encouragement of the patient. I always assumed the visitor would bring the patient some form of comfort during a time of discomfort. How surprised and wrong I was when a brother and I visited Lilly Shwe this past Saturday afternoon (25th August). It would be one hospital visit I will never forget.
Lilly Shwe is the wife of church planter Pastor Daniel Shwe. Lilly was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. On Thursday (23rd August) morning, Lilly underwent an operation to remove the cancerous tissue. She would spend the next few days recovering and regaining strength at the St. Albans City Hospital.
As we prepared to make the visit, I contemplated what Scriptures would be helpful for Lilly. What could I say that may encourage her and give her assurance, comfort and joy? Little did I know that it would be us on the receiving end of the encouragement and joy. The most amazing thing took place in that hospital room where Lilly, Daniel, Sonny and I sat. She lit up that room with her smile, testimonies and words of encouragement in our church planting ministries.
As she lay in her bed, head shaven, with Pastor Daniel by her side, Lilly spent approximately ten minutes speaking about her cancer and the operation. But it seemed she was more eager to talk about other things. The remainder of her conversation was about Jesus, the Bible, church planting and all the people who mean so much to her and Pastor Daniel. I was humbled to hear how this brave and Godly woman tried to keep the news of her cancer quiet from her husband, so that it would not affect his church planting and evangelistic work. Lilly was more concerned about the ministry which the Lord had given to her husband. I was reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which he informs the church of Epaphroditus’ illness and his desire that none should be burdened by the news of it.
…for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. (Philippians 2:26)
Lilly continued to remind us younger church planters the importance of greeting new visitors in our church plant in Southall. She emphasised with great passion that no visitor should ever leave a service without being greeted. She went on to tell us that the joy of the Lord was her strength and how God had given her peace. Not once did she complain or speak about herself. Not once did we feel like we were visiting a patient who had just undergone cancer treatment. Instead she praised and thanked God for the NHS, the doctors and nurses who have helped her.
As we prepared to leave, we prayed a short prayer and asked for God’s continuing presence in Lilly’s life. I must confess, I was slightly at a loss for words, for I was left in awe of such faith and love for the Lord’s work. As we drove home, I was reminded how difficult church planting can be for the men involved in the work. But I was also reminded how difficult it can be for the wives. They are often the unsung heroes and unknown labourers who share the burden with their husbands. Lilly sets a wonderful precedent for us all.
Planting churches is not easy; helping plant churches whilst fighting cancer is definitely not easy. I learnt some lessons on Saturday afternoon which I think cannot be learnt from text books, but can only come from the experiences of men and women in active service.
May the Lord God grant the Grace Baptist Partnership many more church planters with wives who, despite their battles, long to see God’s name glorified through His church.
May Lilly’s testimony be an encouragement and challenge to us all.
May our assumptions be rocked to the core.
In His name,
Pastor Daniel Shwe and Lilly Shwe serve the Lord at Grace Baptist Church, North Watford. For more details click below: