How to care for those who suffer: An interview with Gloria Furman

April 6, 2015

Gloria Furman is a wife, mom, cross-cultural worker and author. Her husband of 12 years, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the Middle East. About five years ago, Dave developed a rare nerve disorder that causes shooting pain in his arms and hands, leaving them unusable. In this interview, Gloria shares about her life and ministry and encourages those who serve and love others suffering from a disability.

When did Dave go into pastoral ministry?

Here’s the long story abbreviated: The Lord saved Dave in college. When we got married, Dave was leading a residence hall ministry on a university campus. While we were both in seminary, we organized and led overseas mission trips for college students for five years. After we graduated, we did a year-long church planting residency with Fellowship Associates in Little Rock. Then we completed some more cross-cultural ministry trainings, fundraising, and moved to the Middle East to study Arabic. Five years ago this month, Redeemer Church of Dubai was planted.

When did you discover Dave’s physical disability? Is there a name for it? Tell us what it is?

Around the same time that we made a commitment to move out to the Middle East, Dave came back from a seminary class and told me that his pinky finger on his right hand was buzzing. Weird, right? We thought so, too. The doctors he saw thought it was a carpal tunnel issue that could be solved by better posture, ergonomic keyboards, etc. Then, within a few months, the buzzing spread up his arm and turned into burning pain. I remember how desperate those days felt, especially because I was pregnant with our first child. Then, rather quickly, the same thing happened to his left arm.

I guess in layman’s terms, you could say that the nerves in his arms are really messed up. Over the years, he’s had more medical procedures than I can count and two large-scale surgeries on both arms to attempt to release the ulnar nerve from being entrapped (it’s the nerve that people call their “funny bone”). Physicians have described his condition as resembling Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (AKA Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and ulnar neuropathy.

How does his disability affect everyday tasks at home?

It’s hard to think of everyday tasks that aren’t affected. We need our elbows and wrists for so many things! Turning on a faucet, shaking someone’s hand, holding a pen, cutting food on your dinner plate, putting on your seatbelt, opening a door, driving a car, pushing the lever down on the toaster, buttoning your shirt, cradling your baby…

But with thankfulness in our hearts, we humbly testify that God has given our family more than what we need. These gifts of undeserved favor come in various shapes and sizes. Our daughters have buttoned Daddy’s shirts since they learned to button their own. Our older son likes to run ahead to get doors and push elevator buttons. God gave us friends here who are sensitive to the needs of our family and help us in many ways—from the men who ask me if there is anything around our flat that needs fixing, to the teenagers who come find me at church events to take our four kids to and from the parking lot and help buckle everyone in, to the women who brought us meals when I’ve had a newborn. We now live in a flat downtown with plenty of public transportation options, and we’re walking distance to just about everything we need for daily life stuff (except the children’s school). God provides!

You are essentially a wife, mom of four and caregiver. How are you able to serve with joy?

Short answer: by grace through faith.

Sentence answer: According to Christ’s pattern, by his power, and holding onto God’s promises of future grace.

Chapter answer: “Mothers Are Weak, But He Is Strong” – chapter 10 of Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full

Interview answer: Family Life Today interview on Glimpses of Grace and God’s faithfulness in disability.

Are there certain verses that help remind you of God's faithfulness as you work for the good of others and to his glory?

1 Peter 4:10-11 means a lot to me:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

If you could sit down with someone who feels like they are suffering with those who suffer, what would you say to them?

People who care for the suffering also experience genuine loss and grief. In the midst of true loss, there is a need for true grieving, which means there is true hope in Christ available to you. If you’re suffering with the suffering, don’t pretend you’re not in pain; cling to Jesus and grieve with hope. I’d also give them a copy of the book Dave is writing to encourage those who help the hurting (forthcoming from Crossway in 2016).

Dave is a pastor and helps lead a pastoral training school. I imagine that his ministry often keeps him away from the home. How do you balance work, life and ministry?

(I wonder how our close friends might answer that question for us?) The balancing act is dynamic—more like art than science. Our responsibilities require different things from us at different times (at varying levels of intensity!). The one thing that is constant is God’s faithfulness to give us more than what we need to do what he has called us to do.

When we bought our first iPod in 2003, we renamed it “ourPod.” That stopped the tug-of-war over who got to use it. In the same way, we also share ministry as “ours” as we play different roles. He would say that he is not able to do the ministry he does without my help, and I certainly couldn’t serve the way I do apart from his equipping and encouraging leadership and direction. We love how God designed the beautiful perichoretic (mutual indwelling) quality of complementarian marriage. (That ourPod still works, by the way. It sits on an ourPod dock in the kitchen.)

Practically-speaking, when Dave is traveling outside the country or is in a busy season of working long days/nights, then I find lots of occasions to be thankful that he is the head of our family. I can see his godly influence over the kids and me as his thoughtful leadership steers us even when he’s not physically at home. We also revisit our ongoing time commitments regularly, communicate about spontaneous plans often, and plan in advance about a year out at a time.

What is one of the best ways a caregiver can truly care for someone in need of assistance?

One of the best ways to truly care for someone is to understand their spiritual needs. Fellow believers need their faith strengthened, and our non-believing friends need Jesus to save them. Our physical abilities and resources are all different, but spiritually-speaking, we are the same.

What I mean by that is a hurting person’s deepest problem is the same as your deepest problem. We were made for unbroken fellowship with God, but our sin separates us from him. Our deepest need is to be reconciled with God and our only hope is Jesus and his cross. Holding the truth of the gospel in your mind, respond to God’s call on your life to serve others in word and in deed with the strength that God supplies so that Christ gets the glory.

You asked for “one” of the best ways, but can I give two? I like to encourage people to use their imaginations. Often people look at others and say, “Wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like.” I think the love of Christ enables us to use our imagination and say instead, “I don’t pretend to understand everything about what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand what you need and how I can help you.”

What freedom that we don’t have to know all the right things to say or even the best ways to serve, but that we can seek out those we love and simply ask how we might help. May we all seek to love our neighbors as ourselves through spiritual and practical service.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24