When You Can’t Fulfill A Member’s Request To Give A Testimony From The Stage

by Bobby Gilles

in Church Communications,Interviews

Pastors, what do you do when a church member wants to share a testimony and ask people to support a charitable organization during your worship service, though you don’t have the time?

  • Just say no?
  • Say yes, and hope they keep it short?
  • Ignore the request and hope they go away?
One of many baptisms at Sojourn J-Town, a campus that might not exist save for God's work in the life of one member.

One of many baptisms at Sojourn J-Town, a campus that might not exist save for God's work in the life of one member.

Here’s what we did at the Sojourn J-Town Campus:

It was December, 2010 — “Missions Month” at Sojourn Community Church. We dedicate announcements and extra time to our International Missions ministry. We ask people to become involved in missions, and encourage them to give extra offerings by pledging that 20% of all giving in December goes to international missions.
However, a member named Mary Jo asked if she could give a talk about organ donation on behalf of KODA (Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates). Mary Jo is a valued member of Sojourn J-Town, which was our newest campus at the time, having just launched three months previous.
Pastor Brian Howard asked me if I’d contact Mary Jo about doing a blog post for KODA, because we couldn’t take Sunday service focus off planned missions activities and announcements. But as I learned more about why Mary Jo wanted to help KODA, I became convinced that our people needed to hear her story in an audible way:
  • Mary Jo is alive today because of two organ transplants. The miraculous story of those particular organ donations deserved a hearing.
  • Mary Jo is the person who first contacted Sojourn about taking over the church that pre-existed us at our current J-Town Campus. They were a small congregation with a building they couldn’t fill. We merged them into Sojourn, and in a few months this J-Town campus had gone from about 30 people in Sunday attendance to nearly 200.
  • You do the math — if Mary Jo hadn’t benefitted from organ donation, there might not be a Sojourn J-Town.
I asked Mary Jo if she would let me interview her for our audio podcast. I’m a former radio DJ so I enjoy podcasting and one-on-one interviews. I felt that the story of her two operations would grip people if they could hear the passion in her voice. She agreed to the interview, so we met 30 minutes before the Sunday service.
I recorded into an Edirol R-09HR portable recorder, and ten minutes later we had a great interview. Back at my office, I added the “Inside Sojourn” podcast bumper music in Mac Garage Band, uploaded it to Audio Acrobat, and voila! We ended up with many more listeners than would have heard an announcement at Sojourn J-Town, and were able to give this heart-gripping story more time than if we’d tried to squeeze it into an after-sermon announcement.
Pastors and church communications professionals, remember you have many more options for testimonies than the Sunday service: blogs, podcasts, video, printed newsletters and more are all valid ways — depending on your context — for sharing the story of how God is moving in the lives of your people.
To hear my interview with Mary Jo, just click the Audio Acrobat button:

If you’d prefer to read the interview transcript, here you go:

Inside Sojourn- The Organ Donation that Led to Sojourn J-Town

BG: This is Bobby Gilles with Inside Sojourn and I’m here actually on location at the J-Town campus today. Ninety percent of Americans say they support organ donation but only 30% know the essential steps taken to be a donor. I’m talking to one of our members, Mary Jo Nay (sp?). Mary Jo, you’ve had a couple of organ donations in the past. Can you tell us about that?

MJN: Sure. I had my first kidney transplant in 1993 and then that one lasted me about 9 years. I had a little trouble with it right off the bat and it didn’t last as long as they had hoped that it would. But then I was blessed with a second miracle in 2002. And both were actually miracles.

KODA's logo

KODA's logo

The first transplant I was put on the list. You have to understand, in different areas there are different times that they estimate that it’s going to take to try to find a match for you. And in Louisville for an O+, which is what I am, it’s about a two-and-a-half year wait. So I hadn’t done dialysis but probably needed to (I was a little stubborn) and I got a call in 17 days from being put on the list. And it was not only a match, but a perfect match. There are six characteristics that they looked for to match you up with an organ and this person matched me six. Six is the best match you can get. Like I said, a little trouble getting along with it right off the bat but with some medications, some heavy medications, we got that under control and I was blessed with 9 years of great health.

And then as that kidney started to go out we were matched up again, put on the list, and again I knew that you only get one miracle and so I thought, “I’ll have to do dialysis this time.” I had never done it. On the 47th day I got a perfect match again.

BG: Wow, so that’s still quite a bit faster than a lot of people.

MJN: Yes. I was very blessed with both miracles that happened. And because of that blessing I’ve been able to do so many things and be involved in city government and community service and involved with church. So many blessings have come from it.

BG: One of the things that really struck me when we first started talking about this was that… Just to go into some back story that most of Sojourn members don’t know, you are the member of Lakeside Baptist in J-Town that originally approached the Sojourn pastors about doing a merger and that’s what led to the J-Town campus. So if not for these donations there would be no Sojourn J-Town, and all the people who are coming here would not be.

MJN: Well I would hope that in some way, even if I wasn’t around it would have happened but I was trying to get behind it and say, “Yes, God.”

BG: But you were the one God used.

MJN: He has used me so much as a tool in so many different ways that it’s just amazing the things he’s done. A long time ago my son was little (he’s 30 now). That’s another blessing that I’ve been here to see him grow and become a young man and a responsible person in the community. At one time I didn’t think that was going to be possible because the first kidney transplant I needed he was 12. And my worry was that I wouldn’t be here, (I’m trying to get through this without crying), that I wouldn’t be here for him. Not so much for myself, but to see him raised. And I would say, “If I could only just have enough time to get him raised up enough.” But you know with a parent is it ever enough? Even if they’re 18, there’s no magic number where they’re already grown. But still, just to get him into manhood, if I could just do that. And then the second that transplant came along I was able to do that.

And then when I needed the second transplant my mom was 84, and she died a few years ago, but she was sick and she had cancer. And even though I’m the baby of eight, I’m the one that was the person that was responsible. I was the one that was here in town with her and so I felt that responsibility of “what’s going to happen to the family if something happens to me?”, “Who’s going to take care of my husband?” who wasn’t in great health and “who’s going to take care of my mom?”, she depends on me. Again, it wasn’t really about me; it was about my family.

And I think a lot of people think of that that need a transplant. It’s not about them; it’s about their families. It’s not so much that they want one so that they can be healthy just for themselves. It’s not something that they want that’s greedy. It’s something generally all transplant people want to be healthy so that they can do for their family, their friends, their community, whatever it is that they’re doing.

BG: And you’ve become a real advocate for organ donation through these experiences. Some of the facts that you sent me were pretty amazing. Even when you break it down locally, just at Jewish Hospital here in Louisville, 305 people typically are waiting for some kind of organ transplant.

MJN: Right. And more are added each and every day. Every 12 minutes someone is added to a list somewhere for an organ or tissue donation. So that means when you watch your half-an-hour program on T.V. or you watch that half-an-hour news broadcast when you get done, two people have been added in. And if you think about what you did yesterday. If you think about it too, if you think about what you did yesterday, if you spent time with your family or with your friends, whatever you did yesterday, maybe you golfed or swam or whatever it was, that 17 people died yesterday while you were doing that.

And another fact that people should be aware of is that you’re never too old. People think, maybe they’re diabetic or something like that, and they say, “Well, I can’t donate.” That’s not so. They still need to register and at the time of their death the physicians will make the decision on what they can donate. My mom, gone through cancer and all that and 84 years old, we were able to donate her eyes. Now they won’t use those for an actual transplant but they’ll do research, which will help them eventually with some transplants. So even in her case, they were still able to help in some way.

BG: I wonder if you could read to me an excerpt from the letter that you got from the mother of the second transplant.

MJN: Yeah. The lady sent this from my second transplant. And it says, “We thought you might also want to know a little about your donor. First off, today our loved one would have been 21 years old.” The ironic thing is when I received this I’m the same age as the mom and my son was the same age as the donor. It says, “We spoke last year about organ donation.” And this is her talking about talking to her son. “I had a friend that was killed. His family donated his organs. When we discussed this, never dreaming that we’d be facing the same decision he told me, ‘Mom, if I can help just one person who has a chance at life, I want to do that.’ So that when we were asked if this was something we thought about, he had already made his decision clear.”

And that’s what people need to do also. We talk about signing the back of your driver’s license or a donor card or even going to donatelifekentucky.org or what have you, and that’s a very important thing to do but the next step is to tell your loved ones or your friends because those are the people that will be left behind. And they’re the ones that are going to be faced with the decisions and they need to know that this is what you want to do. It makes it so easy on them because they don’t have to make the decision. So that’s very important to tell folks that that is your wish so they can do it. And one person typically, say someone just fell down the stairs and hit on their head, there was a movie star I think that did that, just a freak accident, but one person can typically with organ and tissue donation help over 50 people. That’s someone that’s never seen their family and never seen their child now has sight. Never seen the sky or what have you. It means someone who needs a liver or a pancreas or a heart, those people don’t have a choice but to get transplanted or to die. I always say jokingly to my friends, “If you want to be sick and dying, take kidney disease. It doesn’t hurt and it kills you slowly. But there’s a machine that will keep you alive.” But with hearts and pancreases and all those things, when they go that’s it. Their life is over. So it’s very important for those folks. I just ran into, just a few days ago, a gentleman at a gathering and he had a mask on. So I went up and said, “Hey, what’s going on?” because typically if you’re a new transplant you wear a mask quite often to watch out for germs and disease and things like that because you can pick up things so easily. And he told me he was a liver transplant and he was telling me his story. And he was so close to death that the doctors didn’t even tell him that he was that close, and at the last very second a liver became available.

BG: That’s great.

MJN: And so now this Christmas, he’s spending his Christmas with his family and his grandchildren that he would not be able to spend. So he’s blessed.

BG: That’s wonderful. If you would like to be a donor you can, as Mary Jo just said, you can go to donatelifeky.org and fill out the registry there if you’re from Kentucky. Indiana Sojourners, you can go to indianalastwishregistry.org. Once again, those websites are donatelifeky.org if you’re in Kentucky and if you’re an Indiana resident it’s indianalastwishregistry.org. And then just as Mary Jo said, you also need to make sure you tell your husband, wife, whoever is going to be in charge of making that decision that that’s what you wish to do. Mary Jo, thanks for telling your story.

MJN: Thank you for having me.

BG: It’s very dramatic and again I just think that everyone that’s a part of Sojourn, and especially if you go to the J-Town campus, it’s just really something to think about how God works in these different ways and how he worked through you just to get the Sojourn J-Town campus established after having these organs donated.

MJN: And I ask everybody today just to pray for everybody that needs a transplant and everybody that’s had a transplant and especially for the donor families. Without them there would not be this extra life that we get.

BG: Thank you.

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