Abigail Walker calls ministering to the families on the pediatric cancer floor a “strange privilege.”
The news that Walker’s 11-month-old daughter Esther had leukemia redirected not only her everyday life, but also her ministry calling.
Walker, whose parents were International Mission Board missionaries, said she felt God’s call on her life from a young age. After marrying her husband Robert, the couple moved to Xenia, Ohio, to begin work in children’s ministry at Dayton Avenue Baptist Church.
But when Esther was diagnosed in the fall of 2017, life and ministry began to look different. Walker said she never expected to be a part of the hospital “mission field,” but as she spent day after day with her daughter in the multiple phases of treatment, which will continue through 2021, she felt the peace of God, and His calling for her to pray over the patients and families whose lives were upended by pediatric cancer.
“It’s been a really strange privilege to be able to be in this mission field, to be with people who might not necessarily know God, who might not be prayed for the way that I know Esther is,” Walker said. “Knowing the names of the kids and knowing their faces, and being able to go through and pray for them and feel that peace. … I don’t know if there’s Christians actively praying for them or not, but I know I can [pray for them]. So even if that’s all that I do, it’s one of those things that makes it bearable.”
Walker explained that Esther’s diagnosis completely changed her and Robert’s mindset in how they operate their church’s children’s ministry. Particularly in light of COVID-19, she and Robert are extra cautious, aware of the medical needs families may have.
Although it is difficult to physically step back from ministry engagement because of Esther’s high-risk status and the time demands of her treatment, Walker said there has not been any point where she felt God take His sovereign hand away.
“I can’t think of a single moment that I felt like God had left us,” Walker said. “I remember that first day before I went to the hospital, and I’m sitting there and [Esther’s] sleeping, and I’m waiting for Robert to come home, and I’m just crying. And I felt God talk to me at that point, because all I was thinking was ‘God I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.’ But I just felt Him and His peace at the moment, and He spoke so clearly to my thoughts. He said ‘You’re not strong enough, but I am.’ And that was just a really sweet moment of clarity and peace for me.”
Walker said as she walks the hallways of the hospital, praying for the children, God gives her the words to encourage and get to know the families. Her goal is for people to see Christ in her and to feel the love of God through her.
For now, God has chosen an unexpected environment for that to take place, but Walker said she’s confident that the pediatric cancer floor is her mission field.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Walker emphasized that although this is an emotional time, with the two-year anniversary of Esther’s diagnosis coming up, she finds comfort in how the church can bear one another’s burdens and shine a light on an issue many may not think about.
“This is our sports team right now,” Walker said. “Knowing that God has called me to a different ministry right now is comforting even though it doesn’t look like what I thought it would.”
Walker chronicles her experience through her recently released book Suffering, Endurance, Character & Hope: A Story of Pediatric Cancer and a Mother’s Love available through Innovo Publishing.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Schoonhoven is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)