Just two years ago, little Hayden Heaberlin was facing the fight of his life, one that no 4-year-old should have to face – a battle with cancer.
But family and friends affirm those days of darkness were pierced by the light of God’s mercy and provision.
Six-year-old Hayden Heaberlin, who has battled cancer for much of his young life, is all smiles as he listens intently to Calvary Baptist Pastor John Lary moments before being baptized Oct. 23.
There was the time when 50 people from his church surrounded his home in a prayer circle while his family was with him in Memphis, Tenn., where he was receiving treatments; and there were countless times when his family relayed to him text messages, phone calls and letters of encouragement.
But not even the news that his cancer was in remission caused him to celebrate like he did Oct. 23 when he was baptized at Calvary Baptist Church in Shreveport.
The worship center was packed with family, friends and church members, and Hayden was all smiles as pastor John Lary baptized him.
“You are a new person,” Hayden said about his conversion. “You don’t look different on the outside but on the inside.”
Hayden said his battle with cancer “was tough, but I got through it because God helped me.
“He can do anything,” Hayden added. “God healed me.”
His mom April describes the day Hayden gave his heart and life to Christ as the day the Lord restored her son physically and spiritually, and she discusses it in stark contrasting terms compared to the day she learned about her son’s cancer.
“When I found out his diagnosis, it’s like we were stripped of all that control and truly had nothing to depend on but the Lord,” she said. “At some points we didn’t know what to pray, but we trusted God’s will.
“Seeing people rally around us and pray for us was such great testimony to us,” she noted. “Going through that extreme low to now, two years later, is truly overwhelming.
“It’s hard to see what God has planned for you in the storm,” she said, “but I know He went before us and had it all planned out. We are beyond blessed, and we are thankful and appreciative of everything He has done for us.”
Pastor John Lary, left, stands with 6-year-old Hayden Heaberlin and his parents, April and Dusty, the day of his baptism. He is one of 28 people baptized in 2016 at Calvary Baptist Church in Shreveport, La.
Hayden was diagnosed in 2014 with a rare malignant brain tumor – discovered after a playground injury sent him to a Shreveport hospital.
Eight months of surgeries and treatments followed at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Then, just prior to his last treatment at St. Jude’s, the neurosurgeon prepared the family for the worst. However, Hayden woke up with his abilities to speak and see intact.
“Like others in the hospital, the neurosurgeon was amazed. He said ‘it’s not me,’ pointing to the sky toward heaven,” April said. “The whole journey up to this point has been amazing and to this day we can see how God has answered our prayers.”
She especially is thankful for how God has used the situation to give Hayden a testimony he already is using to share the gospel with his friends and others he encounters.
One day, he hopes to become a missionary, April told the Baptist Message.
“He used to want to be a racecar driver but last year during Awana we got to research different missionaries,” April said. “He just lit up and said, ‘That’s what I want to do; I want to tell them about Jesus.’
“He gets so excited when he tells people about Jesus,” she said. “He has a passion for the Lord and a passion to share it. I never would have chosen this path [cancer] for Hayden. But I know the Lord is using this for His glory. I know the Lord has something even greater planned and in store for him.”
Pastor Lary calls the baptism one of the most impactful of which he has been a part. Even at 6 years old, Hayden has the maturity of someone much older, Lary noted.
“The Lord has grown him up so quickly, even in his faith,” Lary said. “When we were talking a few weeks ago, Hayden said he knows what it means to trust the Lord through his two-year journey.
“The Lord has a special calling on his life,” he said. “It was like a day of celebration that Sunday in October but it also was a day of completion for where the Lord brought him to a neat stage in his life.”
Hayden is one of 28 people baptized in 2016 at Calvary Baptist Church.
Baptisms reflect the mission statement of the church – loving God, loving others and making disciples.
To that end, each baptized new believer is enrolled in a discipleship class tailored to the appropriate age level. Children participate in a study of the book, I’m A Christian Now. Teenagers and adults take part in a spiritual growth small group class.
The church utilizes small groups for growth because they have found this method is the most effective, Lary said.
“We feel true growth comes through small groups, when you are doing life together,” he noted.
Calvary Baptist also engages its members in missions locally, nationally and globally.
Its sports outreach program draws between 2,000 and 3,000 students annually, providing a “hook” to share the gospel.
The church’s private school, Calvary Baptist Academy, also provides an inroad to present Christ. Lary said each year, a number of students attending the school accept Christ and follow up in believer’s baptism.
The church also has taken mission trips to New Orleans and Philadelphia. A trip to Ethiopia in 2017 is being organized.
“Calvary at its very core has always been an evangelistically-minded church,” Lary said. “So, from Hayden’s baptism to all the ministries Calvary extends to the community, one thing is constant: Calvary will always strive to keep Jesus the center of it all by loving God, loving others and making disciples. It’s all about Him and His glory.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message, baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)