Roots Grow in Darkness

Roots grow in darkness.

When my father texted that he had cancer on December 13, 2017, I had no idea that it would culminate in the conclusion of a painful story that began when I was only 4 years old. 

My father’s text message telling me he had cancer.

We have a fundamental fear of suffering. When we see suffering coming, we run the other way. This is understandable. But is it possible to simultaneously dislike suffering and also appreciate the fruit that it produces? We know that it is impossible to travel through suffering unchanged: Either scars of bitterness will weaken the tree, or pruning that results in joy will strengthen it. One way or the other, cutting occurs. 

One way or the other, when pruned, cutting occurs: deep gashes that cause pain, tears, and grief. All the while, roots sink deeper and deeper, drinking in the nutrients the dark soil has to offer.

Joni Erickson Tada, who was paralyzed after a diving accident, asked this question: “Are we stewarding our suffering well?” 

Read that line again. Is it provocative? Rather than simply getting through it, have you ever thought of stewarding your suffering?  Is it possible that when God allows suffering in our lives, it may actually be a form of investment? We know that there are things we learn through suffering, aspects of ourselves that change in suffering, that we probably could not learn any other way. I know this and you know this, though we don’t like to admit it.

The External Story

For the Karch family, there is an external story that is true and good:

  • 2003-14: we had the privilege of overseeing 19 new churches in Quebec. 
  • 2015-17: personal cancer, recovery, Seminary, deputation, etc., in Colorado 
  • 2017: church planting vision in Quebec and to the French nations, went to France.
  • 2018: re-launch in Quebec, 19 more French-speaking church planters preparing to launch. We are training them and preparing them with a team in Quebec.
  • Teams & Partnerships we have built or are a part of:
    • The Quest (French Discipleship Strategy)
    • La Cité (A collective of Quebec churches coming together on Mission),
    • Multiply Network (church planter assessment, training, coaching, in French),
    • Redeemer City to City with Tim Keller (2-year incubator training in French),
    • Soma Network with Jeff Vanderstelt (Missional Community training in French),
    • Mission Quebec (Mobilizing North Americans for mission to the French-speaking world). 
Vision: From Québec to the 220 Million+ French-Speakers

Is it good to be in Quebec? Yes. Are we doing better? Yes. Are there more doors open for the cause of the Gospel from Quebec to the French-speaking world than ever before? Yes. 

The Internal Story

But there is another story. There is an internal story, just as true, and just as good:

My son was in a small group in his youth group in Colorado a couple years ago. The leader asked the group: “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever experienced?” Most kids mentioned the death of a pet or a broken bone. Caleb said, “What I’m going through right now. The fact that my dad has cancer.” The internal story of how my children experienced my cancer is yet to be told. And I believe it was more emotionally difficult for my family than it was for me. My cancer journey also coincided with another journey.

Caleb’s baptism during my chemotherapy

It was Father’s day, 2013. I picked up the phone to call my father. Suddenly, I was filled with a powerful rage that I didn’t understand. I couldn’t stomach the idea of hearing my father’s voice on the other end of the line. Instead, I called a friend and spoke with him for hours. My friend is in his 60s and works with broken missionaries around the globe. His response? “It’s about time.” This began in me a five-year intensive exploration into anger and forgiveness.

My father had been a pastor when I was young and led me to Christ when I was 4. Then, he left us. I only saw him a handful of times growing up. 

I was in the midst of this journey toward forgiveness and healing regarding my father when I found out I had cancer. Those were dark days, especially for my family. I eventually received a full bill of health in April of 2017. Two months later, we left again for the mission field. Six months later I received the text message from my father saying he had cancer. When I flew across nine time zones to see him in January, I saw that he not only had cancer, but also severe memory loss. I had been preparing for this moment for five years. A friend and I prayed together for five hours, then I sat across from my father, looked him in the eyes, and said “Father, I forgive you.” (Read chapter 10 on Forgiveness in Mending the Soul, by P. Tracy).

Rob and his father in Seattle

When I saw him again in April, he was close to death. The surgeon estimated that he had four months to live. I flew to Seattle nine times and fought for his life. But that was not all. With each added month, multiple crises built up: our children’s struggles, finances (well over $100k of crises), and other things. After such a successful public launch into the French-speaking world only months before, I felt alone, remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt and even ashamed. One day I got off the plane in Montpellier and stumbled into our house. I smiled and hugged my children, then walked into our bedroom, closed the door, lay down, and the tears flowed. I had spent my own energy. I was at the end of my rope. I did not know what to do. It felt like France was vomiting us out. 

Martine quietly walked in, placed her hands on my shoulders, and began to pray over me. We felt like we were in a place where another layer of transformation was occurring. We felt drawn to surrender. We felt like we were dying to self and waiting to be reborn. 

Rob, Constance, Caleb, Martine in Québec

We do not simply bring the truth of the Gospel with us into suffering, but through suffering, we actually discover aspects of the Gospel that we never would have imagined, that would have been inaccessible outside of suffering. How significant are our scars. We begin to understand Gethsemane. We will never forget the pain, but in the tears, God is good. Those months and years become a blessing. My friend asked, “Was God enough?” Absolutely, 100 percent. And it still hurts.  Pain is not a deterrent anymore. God is enough. We experience the sufferings of Jesus. And He is enough. 

Now, after this time in the desert, we are in Quebec and it is almost as if we had never left, though we are not the same people we once were. We have new scars.  All of us do. And God’s work here is not the same work that it once was. God is raising up a new generation of French-speakers for His glory, so that the French-speaking world might know God, because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son – His Son who weeps with us in our suffering. Can you see the tears falling from his scarred brow? 

We are convinced that the work of the Gospel uses scarred people; people with roots that grew in the darkness of hidden sorrow. His sorrow. Our sorrow. His scars. Our scars. His joy. Our joy. We never get over it. These are tough years. But praise God! May God use us to raise up a generation of scarred people for His glory in the French-speaking world. 

“You are in the right place in Quebec, and you were in the right place in France in spite of all the challenges.  God has equipped you for the present work.” – Doug Hazen, my friend & mentor

Caleb and Constance are loving French school, reuniting with friends and sharing the Gospel. They speak both French and English with no accent (imagine!). Our dog Cookie loves playing with this cold white powdery stuff on the ground. Martine is rested. I am still in that liminal space between France, Quebec and Seattle, continuing a team-based church-planting strategy for the French-speaking world. It is a long road. God is faithful.

Now we follow His example, He who endured so much for our sake, so that we do not grow weary and lose heart.

For the joy set before him (saving us!) He endured the cross…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Betty J. Jones says:

    I cried all the way through. I am in the process of keeping my husband (who has Parkinson’s & Dementia). He is my sweetheart and wants to come home. I am 77 and can’t take care of him anymore. Your story was close to my story. Love you guys, BJ, Lycoming Valley Baptist, Montoursville, PA USA


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