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Illness creates bond for two pastors
Wednesday 22 August 2012
Illness creates bond for Fairbanks pastor, Barbados colleague
FAIRBANKS — Two Independent Baptist pastors, one in Fairbanks, the other in the West Indies, have been ministering to each other, across a continent via telephone, for the past five and a half years.
Bruce Hamilton, of Hamilton Acres Baptist Church, and Carl Naitram, of Grace Bible Church in Barbados, a small, sovereign island country north of Venezuela, share an illness that tests even the strongest of character.
Both spiritual leaders suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a debilitating illness that can require years of recovery.
In late July, Naitram traveled to Fairbanks and met Hamilton for the first time.
“It’s strange how God works to bring people together,” Hamilton said, alluding to their shared illness.
And like their initial connection more than five years earlier, the recent meeting came about through friends who helped to bring them together.
Both pastors call those instances “The providence of God.”
When the two preachers began their friendship in early 2007, talking by phone about once a week, Hamilton had just been diagnosed with CFS by a local internist. Naitram was one and a half years into his slow journey toward recovery.
An energetic, active pastor and outdoorsman, Hamilton’s health failed after two bouts of flu followed by pneumonia.
He vividly recalls the frustration and fatigue of those first three months when he was totally bedridden and was so weak he didn’t have the energy to brush his teeth, relying on mouthwash instead.
Hamilton’s family and congregation rallied around, building him a waist-high box garden in his backyard so he wouldn’t have to bend over to tend plants and could rest and enjoy the sun outdoors.
Naitram’s first symptoms came about suddenly at a time when he was traveling a lot and actively planting churches in Africa with members of his congregation.
He remembers it as a stressful time, especially when a congregant’s life was in jeopardy at an African border crossing. Naitram managed to organize the young man’s safe return, but the CFS symptoms kicked in shortly afterward.
Weakness, insomnia, flu-like feelings, panic attacks, crying for no cause, depression, joint soreness, and burning sensations are some of the symptoms experienced by both.
The men’s weekly conversations were a lifeline early on for Hamilton.
“Most valuable to me was when a new symptom would begin to develop, and I’d think, ‘Oh no, what is happening now,’” Hamilton said. “And Carl would say, ‘Oh yes brother, I know what you are feeling.’
“I felt like we were hiking through a valley and he was calling back to me that this is what there is to expect.”
As their telephone conversations continued over the years, the supportive nature of their relationship began balancing out and the ministering was shared.
Hamilton attributes the eventual cross-counseling to the length of the illness.
“It’s discouraging,” he said. “It can take 5 to 10 years to recover, and some people never fully recover.”
Hamilton, 53, estimates he is 70 percent healed.
“And that goes up and down,” he added, “but it’s been a long time since I cried.”
Naitram, 66, feels he’s about 80 percent recovered.
“But it’s hard to say because I’m getting older,” he said.
Both men pace themselves and rest regularly to avoid relapses.
Naitram and his wife, Merlene, were the Hamiltons’ house guests during their nine-day stay in Fairbanks. In addition to taking in the sights, Naitram preached one Sunday at Hamilton Acres Baptist Church and told about his congregation’s church planting activities in Africa for a Wednesday service.
The Hamilton Acres congregation is now supporting the Barbados church’s missionary activities.
During this interview, the two men of God sat next to each other under a shade tree in Hamilton’s backyard, chatting amiably about their long-term illness and how it has affected their lives, sometimes filling in thoughts for each other or calling up a Scripture verse to emphasize a point.
“It has shown me I am not in control of my own life and I don’t have all the answers, and how dependent I am on God and his grace everyday,” Hamilton said.
“God’s hand is as big as the sky, and I can’t see it until he’s done, and sometimes it seems so slow.”
Both pastors say their attitudes and ministries have changed as a result of suffering from CFS.
“We thank the Lord for allowing us to have this experience. In my life it has taught me much,” Naitram said.
“Previous to this condition I did not understand what depression is. I took a very casual approach to it, and gave verses to people and told them to trust in the Lord,” he said.
“I thought they were worrying unduly, and that depression was not a condition, but because they were not trusting in the Lord.
“Before I might sympathize with them, and now I can empathize with them,” he said. “I have become more sensitive to people.”
The lengthy illness also has brought the pastors closer to their congregations.
“When God allows us to go through this experience, he comforts us to comfort others,” Naitram said.
“When I hear someone is ill, I go right there,” he said. “I want to be by their side.”
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.
The above, with comments, originally appeared here.
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