Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Man With No Legs



I thought it only appropriate to begin this new journey with my personal testimony. It only covers a brief part of my life from 1996 until the present. I have hopes that someday soon I will be able to write a more in-depth book about my life, that you might better understand how God can and does shape our lives from the very beginning.

  The fog of anesthesia was slowly lifting. Reality began to hit me—hard. No longer would I roll out of bed in the morning to greet the day. No longer would I walk in the cool of the evening and hear the quail calling as they went to roost. No longer would I be able to climb mountains or trudge through the fields of my beloved outdoors.

Yet, as I looked back, God had been preparing me for this very day.

Life is a journey, sometimes longer and harder than you could ever imagine. Back in 1996, I submitted my life to God, totally and completely. Whatever He wanted, and wherever He took me. I didn’t know at the time what it meant, but I have a much better idea now.

Alice and I took Proverbs 3:5, 6 as our life verse. It says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

It’s true. It’s real. And we are living it today.

Let’s go back to 1996 for a moment. As I said, I didn’t know what a commitment to God really meant. Most of us don’t. If we give ourselves completely to Him, life changes completely. Not our will, but His gets done and I can tell you, it’s an incredible adventure.

By mid-1996, I was in Christian radio, no previous experience, but loving it. By early 1997, I was enrolled at Toccoa Falls Bible College, prepared to study Christian radio, yet shortly thereafter, God made it clear I was to switch my major to Pastoral Ministries. By mid-1998, we were in Alaska during the summer, working at a tiny Christian radio station that ministered to a vast wilderness with few , if any, churches or missionaries.

In 1999, I had skin cancer just before going back to Alaska, and had to have a heart stent after I got back. Scary—almost died due to blood loss—but God kept our paths straight and we kept going.

Then in early 2000, I entered Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. They had the Nehemiah Project, a Church Planting program under a maverick professor named Carroll Fowler. He took us under his wing, taught us to think and work "outside the box" of accepted church tradition, and sent us to Alaska in the summer of 2000 with ten weeks of financial support through NAMB and the Alaska Baptist Convention.

We had seen the need in tiny Nenana, Alaska for a vibrant church involved in community life, and we were supposed to do the demographics to see if a new church could be started. The naysayers predicted that it would take 5 difficult years to get anywhere in this hardened area. Even the local Baptists asked what we were doing there—if they thought Nenana needed a church, they would have started one.

Well, needless to say God had other plans, as you shall see, and a church was started within 4 weeks. It is still going today. His purposes are always fulfilled, and He makes the paths straight for those who are willing to go with their whole heart. Things were going great. God was working in amazing ways. We had a fantastic Youth Group, an evangelistic Basketball Camp that brought in kids from all over Alaska, a July 4th Outreach event, and so much more. We loved living in Nenana, and they saw us as part of village life.

In 2002, just as we paid off my heart stent bill, I was diagnosed with throat cancer. Had radiation for 5 weeks, and couldn’t talk or preach for months. In the middle of this, my father fell sick and died; and as I was returning from his funeral, my mother died. Later that fall, my grandmother passed away at 101+ years. That whole year was harsh and difficult. But as God promised, if we trusted in Him with our whole heart, our path would open straight before us. So, we kept going.

While we were still ministering in Alaska, we connected with Pastor Johnpaul. He found my little website and emailed me in 2001. Alice was skeptical, but I started an internet dialogue with him. We finally took our first trip to India in the fall of 2003, and became partners with God's purpose for India until my present retirement on disability. No matter where the pathways of life took us, we continued to support his ministry to the most crowded nation on earth—with the most idol gods on earth—and the most unreached people groups on earth.

“Straight” paths sometimes take many unexpected twists and turns, even though they lead straight to God’s goals. We went from Alaska to Idaho, to re-organize two dying churches. Both are still going today. Then, exhausted from all the hard work, we came to Oklahoma in 2007, hoping to retire.

God must have laughed. He led us by “accident” to Hillcrest—a church with a missionary heart. Here we healed from the wounds of spiritual warfare, and turned our thoughts back to India. It was reborn as our central passion. Respected Christian friends suggested that we start a charitable organization to enlist other people in what had been a personal ministry for many years. So Asia International Mission was born in late 2008, and we began going back to Andhra Pradesh to work with what became our five different partners in four different states.

When Jesus began His ministry, His scripture verses were Isaiah 61:1, 2, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…”

In India, you reach the truly poor. Little children—especially girls—and shriveled old widows thrown out into the streets. People slaving in the rice fields from sunup to sundown for a handful of food. Slums and garbage dumps where people live their lives without hope. We knew without a doubt, that God had called us to preach His Hope to them.

Then trials and troubles arose. Our verse says “He will make your paths straight…” So true, but sometimes Satan ambushes you along that path, trying to stop the Gospel from reaching those who are firmly in his evil grasp. By late 2010 it was obvious that my feet were dying. Doctors never correctly diagnosed the pain in my feet for over 15 years.  Then in 2009, an Indian doctor in Hyderabad found I had strings of aneurysms behind both knees. They had been filling my leg arteries with clots all those years, and now it was too late.

In December 2010 my left leg and foot were amputated. It is hard to lose a leg, your means of movement for over 60 years. I had walked across this nation many times back in the 70’s; climbed mountains; hiked miles of the Appalachian Trail; trudged through the forests and across streams on many continents, most of the time with my beloved Alice. Adventure was my lifeblood. Risk was part of me, and it helped me to dare things for God where others wouldn’t go.

And then it became worse. In May of 2011, my second leg was amputated. I couldn’t walk away from the hospital bed or wheelchair. I was stuck, helpless, frustrated and grieving.  Many long months were spent changing bandages on wounds that were slow to heal. I was in surgery almost every week for debridement. Those first months were spent in a fog of morphine.  Pain had become my mistress, and demanded all my attention.  Thank God, we finally left morphine behind after many long nights of sweats and shakes. The phantom and physical pain is still here, sharp, real, and permanent. Sleep eludes me much of the time. But the Lord is good, and no matter how much “bad” happens, the pathway before us still leads to His purpose.

All through this journey, Alice stayed by my side, God Himself walked with me, and Hillcrest Baptist Church
Children of the Leper Colony in Bangalore, India
became my family. I have never before known a church that was so generous and helpful and loving. We had meals, visits, and financial help we never dreamed possible. My legs are paid for! Medical bills, which almost drowned us, are disappearing. I began to have hope for returning to my beloved India and its millions of lost souls.

I graduated from the hospital bed to a wheelchair, and finally to my new titanium legs. As awkward and slow and frustrating as they are, I can walk! I can walk up stairs. I can stand and look people in the eye. Praise God! The things I took for granted for 6 decades are reality again. I get embarrassed when people applaud my progress, but it also brings tears to my eyes to know all of them were behind me as I progressed forward in God’s calling.

The new journey has just begun, I admit. I had many months of learning ahead. But I was determined that I would serve God where He has called me—in the subcontinent of India, or anywhere else He might choose. I may look old and slow, but God has made me a new creature, and will accomplish His purpose in me. I asked God for miraculous healing, but in 2 Corinthians 12:9 He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

God is with me. He has a purpose for my life, as broken as it may be. And I thank Him every day for my wife, my church family, and for everyone's ongoing prayers and support as I prepare to go forth on a new kind of Mission Field once again, “Advancing the Gospel” for His glory.


3 comments:

  1. Even skimming the surface of these incredible, terrible yet wonderful years--is wonderful to read. The memories keep flooding back. Love you, Russ Sharrock! You are my hero for God.

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  2. Russ, I wish you can be better! Moreover, I hope you can finish your book early. I'm so touched by your story and attitude. God bless you!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Even through my physical struggles, God has been so good to me. God bless you!

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