By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
KINGSPORT — When Gerry Frazier saw a report on Susie Edwards of the Baptist and Reflector staff last year and her struggle with cancer, she made a note.
Soon Edwards was receiving cards and gifts from Anne’s Sisters of Indian Springs Baptist Church here explaining the group’s cancer support ministry.
Frazier, a cofounder of Anne’s Sisters, explained that she is a regular reader of the B&R, which has been in her home and the home of her parents “ever since I can remember.”
Even though Edwards, who is financial/circulation coordinator of the B&R, lives in Brentwood near Nashville, Frazier did not hesitate to add her to their ministry list.
Anne’s Sisters have ministered to folks in cities and towns across Tennessee and in several states for years though they never meet, said Frazier. They minister primarily to women and children.
Edwards, who has worked for the B&R for 29 years, said the cards and gifts she received were a great encouragement partly because they are from people she doesn’t know. She especially enjoyed the Anne’s Sisters Directory which included short stories about some of the members. Of course, the prayers of the group mean even more, she added.
“It’s a wonderful ministry and so encouraging. It’s easy to help the ones we know when they are struggling, but going outside the walls and encompassing strangers really defines ministry. I am thankful for my new ‘sisters,’ ” wrote Edwards.
Frazier added that she has been impressed by Edwards. The group has regularly received thank you cards from her.
Anne’s Sisters began as three friends at Indian Springs Baptist tried to support each other as they dealt with cancer — Frazier, Ann Collins, and Anne Milam.
After Milam died, Frazier and Collins talked several times about starting Anne’s Sisters in Milam’s memory and did several years later. That was 10 years ago.
What the group does is very simple, explained Frazier.
“We pray and encourage,” she added. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Collins, who had helped start a support group with other Baptists in Mississippi after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, said she is surprised that more churches don’t have cancer support groups.
Anne’s Sisters meet once a month, currently at a pizza parlor, hear reports on their current list of cancer patients, pray for them, sign a card for each, and then they eat and “have a happy time. We really do. We laugh,” said Frazier.
The group is currently made up of about 25 people who have cancer, have “come out on the other side,” as Frazier put it, and/or who know someone who has or had cancer. Anne’s Sisters are currently ministering to 17 cancer victims.
They learn about cancer patients by word of mouth, by referrals from church leaders and members, and as “God’s Spirit puts us in touch with people we can help,” explained Frazier.
Being a part of the group “builds up confidence to be able to speak to someone who has it (cancer),” said Collins.
“I say, ‘I see you’re doing the battle. Have you got God on your side?’ ”
The group also gives cancer patients an Anne’s Sisters Cancer Support Bag, delivering it in person if they can as soon as they learn about the woman or child. The bag includes gifts such as their directory of members; a devotional book, Praying Through Cancer: Set Your Heart Free From Fear by Susan Sorensen; a book to use as a prayer journal; lemon drops; tips relating to the Internet; and a recipe for Cancer Soup. Thankfully several years ago Indian Springs Baptist started funding their ministry through its budget.
Leading such a ministry
A retired teacher, Frazier explained that the ministry “is a calling.
“I hate it (cancer). … We’re the only group in the church that we do not want to grow.”
Both Frazier and Collins said they had lost a lot of friends they met through Anne’s Sisters.
Frazier learned at the age of 61 she had breast cancer. Her aunt died of it.
She remembers the advice given to her at that time by her doctor — In everything give thanks. “I had to think about that one for a year or two,” she admitted. Today she is cancer free.
Collins at age 31 was given three months to live after her diagnosis. She underwent intensive treatment including experimental treatment for about four years and today, 32 years later, is still cancer free. But now her mother has cancer and her father-in-law and grandmother died of it.
“When you deal with death you deal with denial … no matter how much you love the Lord,” observed Collins.
In those circumstances, at a person’s “darkest time” most people, even Christians, question their faith in God and Jesus, said Collins.
The members of Anne’s Sisters show them God’s love during this time and provide friends outside of their families who will listen to them.
The group gives cancer victims a chance to “open up … to someone you don’t feel like you’re going to hurt,” said Collins.
Through Anne’s Sisters people are planting the seeds of the faith, said Collins. “We are sowing and the time is short for some people, very short.”
“There are stories, tears, and smiles. … The people are in and out of our lives. … They minister to us more than we do them,” said Frazier.
Anne’s Sisters have ministered to a young pregnant woman who died shortly after giving birth to twin boys and ministered to her family. They are currently serving a woman whose doctor is in prison for treating her and others with bad chemotherapy. The woman, a devout Christian, is suffering from his bad decisions.
Anne’s Sisters formerly ministered to a two-year-old boy of a strong Christian family who recovered from leukemia only after two bone marrow transplants. Shockingly, then while in Kindergarten he broke his back in an accident. Today he is 10 years old and is well, reported Frazier.
Finally, she will never forget the funeral of a long-time member which many of Anne’s Sisters attended. Each member placed a rose in a vase as she passed the casket.
“Some of the stories make you feel really good and some of them will make you feel really awful,” observed Frazier.
The group hasn’t seen a lot of people become Christians or join their church, said Frazier, but they have seen some do so and many become closer to God.
For many individuals cancer is part of “God’s path for us and He’s there with us,” said Collins.
For more information, contact Indian Springs Baptist at 423-323-2187.