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

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.

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