By Stan Friedman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 23, 2010) – Carol Chin, a mother of two young children, entered the hospital for a mastectomy in January. While being prepped for surgery, the hospital took a routine blood test. Then they told her and husband, Peter, the news. She was pregnant.
Today she is cancer free, and her family is celebrating their first Christmas with their miracle baby, Jonathan. Being able to celebrate the holiday together was far from certain in January.
The Chins, who are planting a church in Washington D.C. had been married six years and had two daughters Sophia and Katie, ages four and two respectively. Life was good.
The cancer diagnosis left Carol and Peter in “utter shock and disbelief,” he recalls. There had been no history of breast cancer in her family, and she lived a healthy lifestyle.
The couple had no idea how to respond when they learned Carol was pregnant. But in the coming days, the Chins had to choose among three options that each carried great risk.
The Chins consulted physicians from around the country who offered differing opinions on how to proceed. Although treating pregnant women with chemotherapy is not uncommon, Carol’s situation was more difficult because her cancer was particularly aggressive, says Peter.
One option was to immediately terminate the pregnancy and begin chemotherapy, which a doctor said was necessary due to the type of cancer, and the treatment had not be tested on babies in utero.
The second option was to delay treatment until the second trimester and then give a suboptimal dose of chemotherapy. The third option called for waiting until the second trimester, but giving the full does of medication.
They chose the third option. “With this, we had to trust that God would protect the child through the rigors of treatment,” Peter says.
Carol completed her chemotherapy in August and gave birth to Jonathan three weeks later on September 9. “Despite the fact that doctors had told us that he would be premature and have low birth weight, he was bigger and taller than either of his sisters when he was born, and only four days short of being full term,” Peter says. He has had no apparent complications.
Over the months, the Chins also had to make difficult choices about their decision to start a congregation. After Carol’s illness was diagnosed, they consulted with two Evangelical Covenant Church pastors whose wives also had experienced breast cancer, asking if it would be possible to plant a church given the situation.
“Their response was ‘maybe,’” says Peter, who is a first-time church planter. “It would depend on the type of people we had in our church and my own willingness and ability to carry on.”
“Fortunately for us and our church, it never came to a point where I seriously considered giving up on the church plant,” he says. “Our church supported my family wonderfully.” That included providing meals for months.
The church is located in Columbia Heights, a partially gentrifying community that is diverse ethnically and economically. Attendees come from throughout the metro area, however.
He is unsure whether the church’s growth has been slowed over the last year, “but at the same time, the illness also has strengthened our plant in many important ways,” Peter says. The church drew closer together, engaged in prayer more fervently, and leaders began to take more ownership of the ministries.
“Even as a minister, I became acutely aware of the suffering of others and was far more equipped to truly minister to those who were broken,” he says. “They knew I understood them.”
Peter says he and others are learning that the success of the church is not entirely in their control. “I think if church planting depended purely on the ability and energy of the church planter, we would have been in serious trouble,” he explains.
“Fortunately, without sounding overly spiritual about it, the plant depends on God and the power of the Holy Spirit,” Peter adds. “I think the fact that our church survived, and even thrived in some ways, during this difficult season was proof that the real planter is no less than God himself.”
Peter points to another event on the day of Jonathan’s birth that highlights the work of God. “Strangely enough, I had been asked last year to speak at Georgetown University that very same day, at 7:30 p.m.,” he recalls. “So after spending a few hours with my wife and son, I left the hospital and walked down the street to the main campus, where I shared what had happened with a campus fellowship and was privileged to see a young woman come to know Christ that night!”
It was the second miraculous birth Peter saw that day.