Madeline Ray and her family were supposed to take a trip to Australia in 2011. That’s when the Make-A-Wish Foundation initially granted her wish, more than three years after Ray first suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in the fifth grade.
Another stroke just months before the vacation postponed it for the next year. Still, four more strokes caused by an arteriovenous malformation, a tangled mass of blood vessels and arteries in her brain, put off granting Ray’s wish until her health became stable.
Last December, Ray finally received her wish – but instead of a check for Australia, Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina mailed a $5,000 check on her behalf to the International Mission Board (IMB) in Richmond, Va.
Madeline Ray, left, strides away from a visit to the International Mission Board in March. She and her parents met with International Mission Board representatives after her wish was granted.
Ray, now a 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lost complete use of her left arm and hand after the second stroke in 2011. The stroke caused permanent side effects of fatigue and neuropathic, or synthetic, pain.
It also led her to clearly grasp the gospel.
“I had to rely on everybody to do everything for me,” she said. “God made the analogy of how my sin has paralyzed my life and separated me from Him, and no matter how hard I try to cover it up or make it better, I can’t.”
Ray recalled being so weak she couldn’t take baths by herself and needed her mother to bathe her.
“Once I really saw how holy God was and how unrighteous I was, and my need for that holy God, I started to see my need for Jesus and that I needed to have a relationship with Him,” Ray said, “like I had to have a relationship with my mom in order to allow her to bathe me.
“Another aspect of it was having to be vulnerable and to allow my mom to see me. I was a teenager and didn’t want my mom bathing me. But in the same way, I had to be vulnerable in front of God to tell Him these areas I was weak in.”
In the summer of 2014, Ray developed a passion for taking the gospel to unreached people groups after attending a Student Life camp, where IMB president David Platt spoke. It was around the same time she had the opportunity to reassess her wish after having it on hold for a few years.
She knew then God had changed her desire for her wish and wanted to use it to make an eternal impact. Ray first heard about the IMB through her home church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Youngsville, N.C., and became familiar with the organization when her brother went on a mission trip to Africa through the IMB. She hoped to go on her own mission trip, but Make-A-Wish’s restrictions and her health conditions did not allow for it.
Over the next year, Ray brainstormed creative ways to use her wish for missions, like holding a concert to raise awareness about unreached people groups. She wanted to see the result of whatever her wish would accomplish. However, she didn’t hear back from one artist, and another’s schedule didn’t work out.
Ray’s 21st birthday neared, and her wish would soon expire.
During the school year, Ray attends the Chapel Hill campus of The Summit Church.
She remembered hearing J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, say something one Sunday about “how we won’t always see the outcome of what we plant here.”
“Immediately I thought, ‘I need to make a donation to IMB,’” she said. “I may not see whatever happens, what they do with the money, or the people that are reached with it, but in heaven I will.”
A wish granted
The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent Ray’s donation and a letter she wrote to Platt in December 2016. This March, Ray and her parents met Platt and other IMB employees during a visit to the offices in Virginia.
After sharing Ray’s letter during a chapel service, Platt prayed for “a Madeline-like perspective, even in the midst of challenges in front of us, help us to keep our eyes fixed on that which matters most eternally.”
During the visit, Ray was asked if she wanted to direct her gift to any particular area. She had Asia on her heart.
“They started telling me about this one particular unreached people group [in East Asia]. … Some of the funds had just recently run out for that group around the same time my donation came in.”
God also granted Ray’s old desire to see the outcome of her wish.
“They also got me in contact with the two missionaries that are living over there, so I’ve actually FaceTimed with them,” she said. “That was really cool to hear about how they’re working over there. … I never really thought I would talk to the missionaries that are doing the work.”
Ray currently studies human development and family studies and is working toward a minor in Spanish for the Health Professions, with the goal of becoming a child life specialist. She hopes to work with children and their families in hospital settings, normalizing the environment as much as possible. Ray volunteers at a hospital on weekends, on the same floors where she learned how to walk again.
Ray continues to live with side effects from the strokes. Sometimes she struggles with determining whether a headache is just another headache requiring rest, or if it could turn into a stroke. She had to give up playing the violin when her left arm failed to fully recover, but she said God has revealed to her new passions.
“It was a process of learning that I will be fully restored one day. It may not be on earth, but it will be in heaven. Having that hope for the future is what doesn’t drag me down.”