by Laurie-Ann Copple
L-A encouraging young artists in Worcester Primary School under Legacy Relay
Tony and I have been walking through a glorious mission convergence season. And when after we returned from our mid-point home visit (otherwise called furlough), we discovered inflammatory cancer in my left breast. All of 2019 has been a time of testing – from the boils, carbuncles and rashes of hidradenitis superativa, to this. However, I’m not the first missionary to get really sick on the mission field. Our own Heidi Baker came down with MRSA, or flesh-eating disease back in 2005, which was first attended to in a South African hospital, but later was completely and supernaturally healed at a Toronto conference in 2005. Then two years later, her husband Rolland contracted cerebral malaria and it did not look good. But in time, after Rolland was taken to Germany, he was completely healed as well. They didn’t just pack up their bags and go back to the US. They stuck out their calling where they were. Even during our Harvest School training in 2016, Heidi taught us while she was in dental pain. That’s courage. That’s persistence. She has both.
I have learned that true courage is a gift from God. But it is also developed as we choose to focus on our source: God. This is what David did when he confronted Goliath in a mighty way to defend God’s honour to the Israelite army. Courage, strength and joy are connected, as the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). But so too, is courage. Courage goes beyond the ability to stand and not back down. It’s also strength in the face of pain and grief; especially in the example of fighting an extended illness with great courage. The illness could be cancer, or many invisible disabilities that bring daily pain and discouragement. This is why courage to face the day is needed. I used to work for Canadian prophet Darren Canning as his assistant. I learned a lot from him about faith and walking into the unknown. He is a man of courage – while he may encounter fear, he does not act on it. He recently was on a ministry trip with his family in the southern US. He bought a recreational vehicle so that he could bring his wife and family with him more easily than he did in the past. All was going well, until one of the tires blew out while he was on a high speed section of the I-95. He just managed to pull the vehicle over, with great difficulty. I’m sure there were angels protecting them from what could have been a tragedy. While he had a CAA membership, this wasn’t honoured by AAA assistance. I’m not sure what happened there – but Darren and his family were frightened. They prayed, they trusted God, but they humanly felt fear. Darren was concerned for his family. This was a normal response for a loving husband and father. Eventually, a friend called up a local towing company, who helped them, and managed to get them to safety. They spent the night in a hotel, recovering from their ordeal of spending hours on the roadside, with cars driving at 70 miles an hour whizzing past. Darren’s response to get the vehicle to safety was one of courage. Not too long before this incident, Darren shared another great example of courage. He said, “One person in a war may seem like one piece of sand upon the seashore but one person filled with courage can speak to the wildest waves and they will have to obey.” Courage ties in with authority. If you are given the authority as a child of God, in the midst of your God-given assignment, you have authority.
I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in August, although I’m sure it was under the horizon while I was in Canada on home visit. It came up so quickly that when I did have symptoms of strange pain, but no lump, I was in shock. I even asked Holy Spirit what that weird sensation was. I was told, “it’s cancer.” It was like I didn’t hear that word. I didn’t move forward in courage, but was in shock, or almost denial. I had hoped for confirmation. And then… I actually forgot, until my surgeon told me two weeks later that we needed to rule out a rare cancer. Intuitively I knew. So when the diagnosis came, I was no longer in shock, but ready to just let Jesus carry me through whatever was to come. I sometimes wonder if there would have been a difference had I just asked my family doctor to have me checked for cancer. I don’t think so, since this doesn’t show up on xrays or ultrasounds. It does show up on the mammogram, but just barely.
I am thankful that I was put in the care of a compassionate surgeon, a man of deep faith. I also have the best oncologist in the province, although we don’t see her as much as we would like. But we have excellent, loving care. I also have not forgotten the promise that Holy Spirit gave me TWICE while sitting in translation row in our very Afrikaans church. This whisper to my heart was given to me very clearly. It was that South Africa is to be the place of my healing. This was before the boils and before the cancer. I thought this was referring to the ailment that I’ve sought God on many times – my osteo-arthritic knees. However, until that healing, I have been given grace upon grace for getting out there with children. And if I can’t come to them, Tony brings them to me. My heart has become huge like Mama Heidi’s when it comes to children. And I bring them something different as I love them – my colouring sheets. This has been allowed in public schools, our little home school, Kinderkerk at Worcester Christian church, our kids clubs, and so many other ministries. Even Hillsong in Somerset West is interested in them, as are our local YWAM base.
To do this all requires courage. I didn’t think I had courage, instead I had an innate stubbornness and faith that if I am assigned something I will continue until it is done. I’ve already had experiences of giving up, as I did with my art for a while. My art became my identity, and while I put it on the altar to give it back to God, I never took it back, until we went to Harvest School. Oh, there were exceptions, but the heart of me left my art for years. Instead, my creativity went into audio production and writing. But every time I saw an artist painting during worship, I wanted to do the same – although I prefer drawing to painting.
When I was at Harvest School, I was determined to do as much as I could during the crazy schedule. Tony did some of my chores so that it could be a little easier for me, but I did all that I could do, from outreach with Mozambican mamas, our time in the bush-bush, sharing my conversion testimony and more. I constantly remembered a prophetic lesson that one of my pastors gave me. His wife learned in the very first Harvest School. He knew that the schedule was tough, although sometimes amazing. Since the school was like a crucible, people either quit or they pushed through in triumph. Heidi often told us, “if you don’t quit, you WIN.” And this is true. But it was Pastor Shawn’s words that rang through my head: “keep your focus forward for what the Father has for you this season.” Courage looks forward. Fear shrinks back. I chose to go forward, even if it was slowly.
This meant going up and down that steep hill on the base. It meant being committed to the classes and ministry as much as possible. There were younger Harvest Schoolers who kept telling me how brave I was. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I was just trying to keep up. And Tony thrived. There were times that I was frustrated at Tony’s slow progress, and then all of a sudden, he bloomed. It was amazing to see the transformation. I had to step back and just let him receive from others, and then see him bloom when we arrived in Western Cape. And then I bloomed in art – first at Harvest School, and even more so when we were in the beautiful kloof where Pomegranite homestead lies. This will always be a special place for me. It was a place of growth, strengthening and letting me act on the courage I had already been given. I was allowed to just draw and draw. With every drawing, I bloomed, so that when it was time to go into the townships, I had energy to spare.
Here in Western Cape, I have been allowed to grow in my assignment with Tony. He has different in skills, but we have the same vision to love kids, and be mentor, uncle, aunt, mom and papa. We know there is more to come, but Holy Spirit has given us both to be comfortable in uncomfortable places. We are white internationals working in a brown township that is full of drugs, drinking and gangs. We are welcome because they know us and know we love their children. We are also internationals in a loving but very Afrikaans church. We are Canadian soujourners in a land not our own, but one that we’ve come to love very deeply. If not for the cancer, we could retire here. That’s despite the violence. However, we will never forget our assignment here. We aren’t afraid to do what God calls us to do… and we’re thankful that we’ve been allowed to hug children, where it would not be allowed in Canada. We’re thankful that we can speak the name of Jesus openly. In Canada we’ll have to find a strategy and opportunities. There will be God moments, there always are. Don’t be afraid to stop for those moments, and battle the fear of man that rises up. That’s something that South Africa has taught us.
Do it now. Time may be more fluid here, but if you’re given the moment to tell someone about Jesus, that’s the time. The way of sharing is uniquely you. For me it’s my art, and then the questions come. Think about how you’re called forward. That takes courage and grit. That’s a gift just to step forward. And then you trust God with the rest… to be uniquely you, but filled with Him. It’s a journey of trust, a journey of faith, of joy and courage.
Don’t shrink back, but push forward. And when the battle is fierce as it is with us right now, just stand and let God fight the battle for you.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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