Shortly before he died on March 1, 1987, John told me that if he could have chosen not to have had cancer — at the cost of missing out on all the things he had learned about God during his illness — he wouldn’t have, he would have chosen terminal cancer.
This is John’s testimony, published in the bulletin at his memorial service.
“The first of March 1980, I went into the hospital for routine tests. After two weeks, my doctor came in and sat on the side of my bed: I knew something was wrong by what he was not saying. Finally he told me I had cancer, and had about three to five years to live.
“In the hours that followed, my whole world seemed to crumble around me — who would take care of my family and my other responsibilities. I was just plain scared. I was afraid of the treatment, the pain that would follow, and I was afraid to die.”
“A few nights later, I lay awake reviewing the situation. I am one of those people who has had an opportunity to hear more of God’s Word than most, one of those who has grown fat on the Word; but now that it was time to apply the Word, I was faltering.”
“As I lay there, I searched through my memory for scripture that I could lean on. Finally, I thought of I Thessalonians 5:18: ‘In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.‘ I couldn’t exactly lean on it, but it did bring me to pray that night one of the most difficult prayers I have ever undertaken. I thanked the Lord for the situation I was in and told Him I wanted to learn all the things He had in mind for me to learn as a result of this thing that had happened.”
“Then a miracle occurred — all of the concern and fear went away instantly, just like that, and it has never returned.”
My brother, John F. Stith Jr., drove to East Gadsden Baptist Church to talk to the preacher, Dr. W. Albert Smith, but Smith wasn’t in at the moment.
“I went into the auditorium and sat on the first pew,” John wrote, waiting on the preacher to arrive. “The summer sun shone through the ten-foot high windows, the soft colors of the glass muting its harsh brightness. As I sat there, I found myself more and more embarrassed. What in the world was I going to say to this man whom I hardly knew, and who didn’t know me at all?”
“Then I thought, if you want to talk to someone, you could talk to God. And I answered myself: ‘What do you mean, talk to God? That’s praying and you don’t know nothing about praying; you never prayed in your life.’ After considering the truth of this for a few minutes, I countered with: ‘It’s true you don’t know anything about praying, but you do know how to talk!'”
“So right there in the quiet, sunshine filled space of the first pew, I got on my knees: ‘God, I don’t know nothing from nothing about all this; but if there is anything to this salvation business, I want it. I want to turn my life over to you; to be and do whatever you want from now on.'”
“No lightening flashed no thunder rolled. Everything was as still and peaceful as it had been before. But in retrospect, I know that from that minute, God turned my life around. I began to see beauty in people who had not even been in the range of my vision before. The scriptures came alive with meaning as I approached the Bible from the stance of my new relationship with God. ‘Old things passed way; all things became new.'”