Pastor Peter Chin and his wife, Carol, talk about the struggles they experienced while planting an inner-city church, including a miscarriage, cancer diagnosis and home break-in. They discuss their fears, disappointment with God, and the miracles that happened along the way as they worked through their faith. (Part 1 of 2)
Peter Chin: I began to go through Scriptures - and I knew Scriptures, I had gone through seminary at that point, I’d been pastoring for a few years, so I knew the Scriptures - but what I realized is, that the Word had tried to prepare me for this moment, over and over and over again. It had never called God an insurance policy against anything bad happening in my life. And it was so frank. It was so, I mean, Jesus himself is called the suffering servant.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Pastor Peter Chin, reflecting on some of the suffering that we can all experience in this life, hardships that no one is immune to. And we’re going to talk about suffering on this Focus on the Family broadcast with Peter and his wife, Carol Chin - and the hope that’s found in Christ, no matter what your circumstances. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I think maybe 50 percent of the listeners just tuned out. When you talk about suffering, that’s not a positive thing. And I hope you won’t tune out today, because I think it’s important for the Christian community to understand theologically, what suffering can do for us. And so often in Western culture, we move away from it. But, uh, you know what? What I have learned as an orphan child myself is that it’s in the valleys where the Lord can really teach you who you are and who He is. And, uh, today we want to equip you in that way.
If you’re struggling right now, or you know someone who is struggling, I believe this program is going to provide those tools, emotionally and spiritually, to really connect. First Peter 4:12 says this – “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” What an interesting verse. I mean, just spend all day thinking about that one. And, we, again, uh, we care about you. We want to, have you listen to testimonies like the one we’re about to hear in order to strengthen your faith and to give you the encouragement that, uh, you need to, be content in all things. Wow. That’s a big statement right there.
John: Yeah. And for 40 years, Focus on the Family has, kind of metaphorically had a sign out there on the front door saying, “Help found here.” So if we can be of any assistance to you, if you’re struggling with something difficult, give us a call. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. Or we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Peter Chin wrote about their own experiences with suffering in a book called,It’s a memoir about Carol’s cancer and some other challenges they faced. Peter is a pastor, writer and speaker. And together, he and Carol have five children.
Jim: Peter and Carol, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Carol Chin: Thank you.
Peter: Thanks for having us.
Carol: We’re thankful to be here.
Jim: Let’s start with five kids. I mean, what are their ages? This is a test.
Peter: I’ll let Carol answer this one.
Jim: Yeah, I was just - nice duck, Peter. Way to go.
Carol: Well, I’ll start with Xavier, who is about to turn 3. Lucy is our spunky 5-year-old.
Carol: And Jonathan is our very special 7-year-old. Well, he is - he will be 7. And then we’ve got Katie, who is about to turn 10, and Sophia, our oldest, who’s about to turn 12.
Peter: That’s right. I just want to confirm that.
Jim: Yeah, yeah, that was all right, right? You got an A, Carol.
Jim: Hey, way to go, Dad. But that’s a busy household, isn’t it?
Carol: We are busy.
Carol: And it’s a bit crazy sometimes but a lot of fun, too.
Jim: Yeah. Um, Peter and Carol, I want to get right into your story, to give that encouragement to the folks who are listening that may be going through something like what you’ve gone through, maybe something that’s worse, maybe something that, uh, is not as bad. But let’s get into it. Um, you had an extremely discouraging and fearful time in your lives.
And that should grab everybody’s attention right there. This was just a few years back. You had two children at that time. And you were planting a church in Washington, D.C. What happened to you and Carol that began to challenge your theology, your faith in the Lord?
Peter: Yeah, you know, I think the - the beginning of that story is really important, because we felt we were doing God’s will. We really strongly felt that God had called us to plant this church. And we, uh, were just convicted and excited about this opportunity to, you know, plant a new community. And so that - that, I think, is part of the story that’s really important, that you - it’s the height from which you fall - I think sometimes that, um, that we have to be aware of the full story.
Jim: Did you move to Washington, D.C. to start this church?
Peter: We did. Yeah, we, um...
Jim: And you moved from...
Peter: Left a church - we were in Virginia. So it wasn’t too far away. But culturally, it was a big shift from where we were in - in, uh - in the suburbs of Virginia, moving to D.C. But we were real excited about the move and, um, again, just really felt this was a calling. The first thing that happened kind of in that process of - of being trained as a church planter was my wife was actually pregnant at that time, and then experienced a miscarriage. And that was the first miscarriage that we had experienced. And, um, just that by itself, uh, just kinda threw us off a little bit. You know, we knew that it - it happens often. Um, but at the same time, I don’t think I was aware of the impact it would have on Carol.
Peter: And that was one thing that I would - I had to wrestle with was, it was clearly affecting her a lot. And I felt a little distant from it. So that was - even that by itself, which is a common occurrence, I think, was something that - that was the first, you know, moment that kind of, uh...
Jim: Let me - let me ask you, Carol, because, uh, many moms listening may have gone through something like that. And I don’t want to just run through that part of the story. Tell me how you felt at that time. Um, and think of those moms who are listening that may have gone through that as well. What was happening in your heart, in your spirit, when you lost that child?
Carol: Oh, boy. Well, you know, I have to be honest. I think I - I questioned a lot, of myself. What did I do wrong? You know, was there something I could have done differently? Was there something that I did to cause my body to let go of this pregnancy. And so I think I wrestled with a little bit of guilt. And I, you know, I did question God, but I think from - More than feeling a sense of distance from God, I think I got reassurance from Him that it wasn’t anything that I did wrong, or anything that I could have done differently.
And God is there, no matter how you feel. Even if you feel resentful, He’s going to uphold his part of the bargain, which is, He’s God. And He’s a loving Father, and He loves you, and He’s made promises to all of us in His Scripture. And that’s what we need to trust. No matter what we happen to feel at the moment.
Jim: So you you’ve faced this major trauma, you’re getting through it as a couple in a matter of weeks and months, trying to cope with this. Then what happens?
Peter: That was kind of the initial blow. And it felt really serious to us. And it was. A couple of months after that, we were actually moving into our new home. We had purchased a home in D.C. to be really close to our community. We wanted to live in our community, so we could share a kind of life fully, you know, on as many levels as possible. So we purchased a new home, got the keys, went to open the front door. And when we opened the door, we discovered that everything had been stolen. So, someone had broken in during the time period we had last seen it, which was two weeks before then.
Jim: So the movers came, put everything in?
Peter: No. It was pretty much like...
Jim: ...Oh, it was furnished already.
Peter: Toilets-- toilets were gone.
Jim: Oh my goodness.
Peter: They had-- they’d taken the garbage disposal, sinks...
Jim: All the fixtures, that kind of thing?
Peter: Fans, everything that had any kind of remote value. Someone had broken in and taken everything away-- had stolen an empty house, like pretty much before we could even move in.
Jim: Beyond empty. Non-functional.
Peter: Yeah. Now, pretty much we had to replace everything, you know, doorframes, and all kind of things.
Jim: And how long after the miscarriage is this? Two months?
Peter: This is probably a few months afterwards. And so, you know, during that time period we’re struggling with the miscarriage, but also kind of beginning - the wheels are turning for the church plant. We were really excited, or trying to get real excited about what was happening. And then, you know, our welcome to the neighborhood, you know, our first day of actually moving in, or after purchasing this house was that it was completely ransacked.
And so again, it was this kind of a questioning moment. You know, here we are. We had anticipated, you know, favor, you know, that sense of, oh, we’re doing God’s work so, you know, everything’s going to go really smoothly, and right from the very start, it was a very different story. So that was kind of the second thing that had kind of thrown us off a little bit. And even that kind of was just really the beginning. It was the beginning of what would actually take place.
Jim: Now let me ask you this, because in that moment, these are kind of the two strikes are occurring, right? You had the miscarriage, and then you have your house ransacked before you even move in. Did you say to yourselves - OK - this is spiritual battle. This is right where God has called us. And it’s obvious the enemy is working against us. Or did you say - OK, God. Why aren’t You here for us? Why is there no protection for us? Those are kind of the two ends of the continuum. Did you question either end of that?
Peter: I think we are more in the former. We were more of this - we still felt strong enough, I think, and still felt able to face these well, and had enough support from our church and from family and friends to be able to say, you know, God wants us to press through. Like this is… this is part of the calling of suffering, you know, we - and even our church planters training, they had told us, you know, you have to prepare for suffering. And so we were - we had kind of told ourselves, this - this is it. We’re - we’re - this is - we’re really, you know, living this life. And so, I think at that moment, we were still in a place of being able to face this with some sense of calm, some sense of - of - of trust in the Lord. Um, so yeah, we were - we were still in a place where we were able to proactively kind of face...
Jim: Think of that statement, though. That’s a bold statement. I mean, what resume, or what job description says, prepare for suffering? I mean, it’s not when you go to be a CPA, or a physician or, you know... Prepare for suffering - that it is a pastor’s family’s job description.
Peter: And I - I think that’s - you know, over the course of years of ministry, I think that’s what I’ve discovered, is that it is part of the calling of ministry. And in - and I think the imitation of Christ does include that. And I think that’s part of what our story revealed, is that suffering, is the place in which we grow. And I think that’s something that I had to learn, that I think I understood what that person - that trainer was saying in the moment, but not fully.
Peter: And it is only after going through our - our story, that I actually kind of fully accepted that this was true, that this was part of God’s plan.
Jim: Well, the next big blow was a major blow. What happened?
Peter: Yeah, um, well, Carol had been going to the doctor, um, uh, with a suspicious scan. You know, uh, you know, she was - had suspected there was something--she had felt something - I think when you were breast-feeding, right?
Carol: I felt a twinge of pain in my breast. And I reached over, and I noticed a lump. And, you know, I tried to think positively about it. Um, I...
Jim: ...Might be related to the breast-feeding issues and...
Carol: Maybe it was breast-feeding - um, who knows? And I - and I tried to go back to sleep. But we talked about it in the morning. And I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. And so, you know, we - we went through the regular checkups and everything, um, physical exams. And then my doctor assured me that, given my age - I was 33 at the time, very healthy - you know, it’s probably something very benign, nothing to worry about.
And, there’s no history of breast cancer in my family. So, yeah - I wasn’t worried. I - I felt like, OK, this is something that, you know, a lot of women probably deal with. And it ends up being nothing. Um, and the same time, we were excited about what was happening in ministry. And taking care of my physical health kind of took a back burner.
Jim: Mmm hmm.
Carol: I eventually scheduled a mammogram. And again, they said, oh, there’s something unusual there. But I kept going back to what my doctor had originally said, you know, you’re healthy, you’re young. It’s probably nothing. But we have to do these tests anyway.
Carol: So I went in for a biopsy. And, it took a while for us to finally get the results. It was - it was a transitional time when we had just moved into D.C., and my doctor’s office had somehow misplaced my new contact information.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Carol: And they weren’t getting in touch with me. And I finally said, OK, maybe I should call and find out if they have the results. And when I called, the nurse sounded relieved that I had called. And she said, we’ve been trying to reach you. And we need to schedule you to come in and see the doctor. And I said, OK. Um, it didn’t really register in my head that they don’t usually bring you in for test results, unless it’s something negative, until I got there to the appointment. And the doctor looked at me and said, “You’re here alone?” And that’s when it clicked. And I said, “Is it something bad?” And he - he explained that there was - it was cancer. And that was the only thing ringing through my head after that point - cancer. I have cancer. And I...
Jim: 33, feeling healthy...
Carol: I’m - I’m young. Yes, young and healthy...
Jim: And it was not just a normal cancer, if I could say it that way. It was a real aggressive form of breast cancer, correct?
Carol: Right. It’s what’s called triple-negative cancer, um - doesn’t have the - the hormonal markers that is typical of many breast cancers. And as such, it is considered, um, highly aggressive. And it was just stunning. We were in shock.
Jim: Yeah. And that’s blow No. 3 in a short period of time. I mean, you were not aware of the severity of it, when you first went in North - in Virginia. And now you get this news. Peter, what are you thinking now, in your position as pastor and theologian? And another, uh, wave is coming at you and your family through your wife.
Peter: Yeah. I think, in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about anything. It - like Carol was saying, it was - the dominant emotion of that time was just pure shock. We didn’t - I mean, Carol describes kind of the distance from that moment. She wasn’t - even to the point where she was at the office, she wasn’t aware of what was going to happen. And I was a step behind her in terms of preparedness. And I think both of us were in a place where we heard that news, I think we were just stunned. I don’t think they were - I can’t even remember the negative emotions.
It was just kind of this - this kind of confusion, more than anything, that we had never really, uh - I had - I had, personally, had never really even thought about the idea of Carol having cancer. It just wasn’t - it wasn’t anything I’d entertained before. And so that - the first initial moments, I think, we’re just trying to grasp at reality and trying to land myself in - in some kind of - it - that this is real. And I had to just - a hard time doing even that, to be honest. And then when we heard that the cancer was not just cancer, I mean, we - you know, as soon as I heard that, I went on to Google, like we all do.
Peter: ...Like, you know breast cancer and, um, you know - for the most part, uh, much of the news was encouraging. It was that there’s a lot of new treatments - these hormone treatments - and they are extending women’s lives and, you know, uh, doing a great job, and I was encouraged. So some encouragement I took - you know, the first moments was from that, from - from the Internet. And then, um, and then we went to the doctor and find out that it was triple-negative, that it wouldn’t, uh - all of those treatments that have been developed recently wouldn’t - wouldn’t apply to Carol, then, that she couldn’t have those kind of treatments. Um, she would just have to go through the most powerful forms of chemotherapy, radiation - and ultimately, that it was a rapidly-spreading, uh, cancer. It had already spread, actually, to the nodes of her, uh, her arm. And so in the short time that she had had it, already spread from - from one place to another.
And so it was just this - from that point, emotionally, for me, it just felt like a very slippery slope, like there was, you know, I was grasping - trying to grasp for some sense of - of my bearings in this moment - couldn’t find it. And then, it just felt like it was - it was, uh, the ground was continuing to slide under our feet. And that continued to happen, actually, for the next, uh - even after that, it - it - that story continued to kind of go in that direction. It was the - that wasn’t even the bottom of it at that point, which is hard.
Jim: Right. Well, that - and - and it’s amazing. Uh, you’re listening to Focus on the Family. Today we’re talking about when it feels like God has somehow forgotten you. And all of a sudden, you’re hit with one, two, three, four, five very negative things in your life. Our guests are Peter and Carol Chin. And they have talked about this in their book,Um, I think it’s important, John, if you, the listener, are struggling with something and you’re feeling like God has left you, that He’s no longer in your corner, call us here at Focus on the Family.
We have counselors. We have tools and resources to help you. And we want to be there for you because we don’t believe that is the God we serve. Um, you may not feel like you’re getting the answer that you need or that you deserve. But we will walk you through that and hopefully be able to, put that sense in your spirit and in your heart that God is there, and it’s a matter of relying upon him.
John: Yeah, and our number is 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. You can also find the book,and other helps, some great resources online at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Carol, at this point, I mean, how are you feeling, emotionally? You - you’ve had all this devastation - the, the miscarriage, now being diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer. Are you saying, God, where are you? Has it happened yet or is there more to come?
Carol: I don’t think I said, God, where are you? Frankly, I knew He was with me.
Jim: That’s good. That’s encouraging. I appreciate that response.
Carol: I had faith, like, complete faith that He was with me, um, on this journey. And I, um, I was steeling myself for the treatment that was to come. And I was ready to, um, fight the cancer and win. Peter did a lot more Googling than I did. Um, and he really urged me not to. And so...
Jim: ...Because that news was so negative about this - the type of cancer.
Carol: ...The type of cancer.
Jim: Peter, let me ask you. I mean, where’s your faith at this moment? Is it still solid? Are you beginning to wobble a little? You’re the pastor. You’re the man.
Peter: That’s right. Well, this is where our stories diverge a little bit, in terms of kind of perspective and personality - that my wife and I are, uh, different, in terms of how we process things. And I think that - that is part of the story, that we are all different in terms of how we process. And so, how Carol processes something is OK. And how I process something is also OK. And that’s what we learned, is that, um, that we sometimes need different moments, different things, to help us, um, see what God is doing. Um, I think in that moment, I was doing - again, I think I was still, more than anything, just shocked and so just trying to process things.
I think the moment at which it really began to affect my faith was, um - you know, we were preparing for kind of the - the reality of treatment. Uh, Carol’s surgery was just around the corner, in - in about a month. They wanted to do surgery as soon as possible to remove the cancer and have a mastectomy. And then chemo would follow right afterward. And so we were preparing for all of that. And there was some sense of confidence that we had, that we had great doctors and great physicians, great hospitals in the area. And so we were really confident in that. Um, but we received a letter from our insurance company, uh, right in that season that informed us that they weren’t going to cover any of Carol’s, treatments, that they had determined that, uh, her cancer was pre-existing. And because of that, they weren’t responsible for it. And so we would have to pay for any treatments by ourselves.
And that - that was the devastating blow, ‘cause that was the remain - that was the one last physical form of comfort that I had, in terms of, well, at least she’ll get good care. And that is - that’s great. You know, at least we have that. Um, and that was being taken away. And now we had basically, a two-front battle - that we had to fight cancer, which is terrible enough, but then we also to think about what - what kind of treatments could we afford. Um, what would it do to our financial health? Uh, would they compromise Carol’s health in some way? And so those are not - those are not secondary questions. Those are just as important as anything else. And so it just added this gigantic low, this emotional burden, on our shoulders. And, you know, uh, fortunately, we had the wherewithal and kind of the - Carol had the presence of mind to question, you know, how could this be a pre-existing condition?
We had always worked really hard to make sure our health insurance was complete and was always continuous. And, uh, we - we fought them on it. We - we told them no. These are - this is the evidence - the paper trail that we have always had coverage. This is not a pre-existing condition. And, um, after haggling with them back and forth, we got them to admit that it was a clerical error, an administrative error on their part that they had, uh, somehow informed us that our care was terminated, even though it - it wasn’t.
Peter: And, um...
Jim: So it was restored. But during that period of time, it was un - very unnerving, unsettling.
Peter: Yeah, it was.
Jim: ...And yet another challenge.
Peter: Another challenge - and I think, you know, in that moment where you’re already fairly fragile, to have this additional kind of thing hit you at another angle just felt - I think at this - that was at the point where I began to really question. I think, because there was this similarity to me about the insurance company and the - the responsibility of insurance company and responsibility of God. That the insurance company, from all the commercials you watch, they are there for you when you need them. And they - they will, you know, they’ll give you, uh, exactly what you need to get through a situation.
And they said, no, we’re not going to do that. We’re not responsible for that. And in some way, that felt parallel to me, uh, to the perception I had about God. That God, are - you know, isn’t that clearly what you’re supposed to do for us, that when we need you, you’re supposed to be there. We’re planting this church for You. How could we be going through all this now? And so I think that juxtaposition, that - that collision, really began to, uh - began to affect me deeply, in terms of my perceptions of God.
Jim: You know, and I appreciate that honesty. When you think about that, so many of us relate to God as our insurance company.
Jim: I mean, that is an incredible insight that we - even, you know, within the Christian community, we talk about fire insurance, right? But that was really hitting home for you, because you’re saying God, you say you’re going to be there for us.
And, Peter, right now people are listening, and they didn’t get their insurance restored. It was a gap in the coverage, whatever the rationale, or something different from that, but they’re not feeling like God is there. How did you work through the theological components of that? And what if, going back in your story, you never felt God’s presence, or His delivery to get you out of that spot, where some people are still at today?
Peter: Yeah. That - that’s where I think the Word - the Word became so important to how we - how I began to make sense of this moment. And, you know, I began to go through Scriptures - and I knew Scriptures, I had gone through seminary at that point, I’d been pastoring for a few years, so I knew these Scriptures - but what I realized is, that the Word had tried to prepare me for this moment, over and over and over again. It had never called God an insurance policy against anything bad happening in my life. And it was so frank. It was so, I mean, Jesus himself is called the suffering servant, and you look at the life of Israel, you look at the life of the early church and the disciples, how all them except for one is martyred, and I’d realized that the Word had tried to prepare me for this moment over and over, and so many moments in eras of church history and I just had never really realized it.
I had kind of bought into, I think, a parallel - actually, not parallel - a very different and skewed understanding of God as an insurance company, as kind of a bullet proof that - a some power that would make me impervious to pain, when that’s not what God had ever said. It was some kind of form of theology I inherited from this world, I think, and from - from different sources that was not consistent with Scripture. And that moment, I realized that I had - that’s what I had done. And when I think about that moment, I think about, like, a centrifuge, that it was the forces of that moment were so powerful, that that - that very skewed theology just - it vanished. It vanished in that moment. And I realized that that’s what I’d actually put my faith in.
Jim: Well, you know, I think it’s important for people to hear, you know, you want to rely on God, you want to pray for healing and you want to be able to expect that, whether it’s going to come through the form of medical attention, or something miraculous. And we’ve had those testimonies through the Focus listeners where something spectacular and miraculous has occurred in their lives. You want to believe, and you want to be there in that respect. But at the same time, there is a reality that suffering occurs. And the Bible, as you said, is full of that description.
Jim: And turning to you, the listener, I want you to contact us if you need help. If you need to just talk to somebody, we’re here for you. And I think that’s one of the great purposes of what the Lord has in mind with the Chins’ testimony. Hopefully, touching your heart and saying, that’s me. That’s how I feel about God. I don’t feel Him in my life at this moment. Let us encourage you, let us help you, let us get you a copy of the Chins’ bookso you can read it together, pray together and seek God together. That would be an honor for us to do for you. And if you can help us financially to reach out to these hurting folks, please do it. It only happens because of you. This fuel in the engine comes from you. The Lord will use you to bless others through the ministry here. So if you can support us, we will send you a copy of this book to say thank you.
John: And Jim, we should note that there’s a really special opportunity right now for folks to essentially double the ministry impact of their giving.
Jim: Yeah. It’s true, John, when you give to Focus today, thanks to some wonderful, generous friends offering a matching gift, your gift will be doubled! So if you give $25, they match that with another $25 so it becomes $50 and so on and those resources go for counseling and resources, encouragement and to produce and air radio programs like this one.
John: So contact us today, donate generously, knowing your gift will be doubled. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY or you can go online and donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And of course, when you get in touch, we do have counseling help available and terrific helps like the book, the CD or download of our conversation today with the Chins.
Jim: All right. Peter and Carol, um, man, we’re in the middle of your story. We’ve got to come back next time and pick it up. I know you are touching, literally thousands of people right now, because of your story. Let’s come back next time and keep going-- can we do that?
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Peter and Carol ChinView Bio
Peter Chin is the lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church in Seattle and a former columnist for Christianity Today. A graduate of Yale University and Fuller Seminary, his advocacy work for racial reconciliation has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, and The Washington Post. Peter and his wife, Carol, have five children. His book, Blindsided by God, focuses on Carol's courageous fight against breast cancer while pregnant with their third child.