Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Prayers for a prayer warrior

When I was 16-years old, I didn't have a lot of cares in the world. Thankfully I had the intuition to make what would be the most important decision of my life: accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior. But my spiritual mentor Steve, who was a 24-year old bible school student at the time, saw to it that I continued my growth as a young Christian. Certainly going to church regularly was a vital part of it. But Steve also encouraged association with men of God who had their own testimonies of faith.

It was November 16, 1985 when I met Frank Sanders for the first time. I had no idea who he was but Steve was adamant that I attend a breakfast banquet at the Holiday Inn just to hear Frank speak. Because I was a young man with some barriers built up around my heart, I was hesitant to attend. Ah, but Steve knew that I had a passion for sports. So when I was told that Frank was part of the 1972 US Olympic hockey team that won a Silver Medal, and later a professional with the Minnesota Fighting Saints, I had to hear the man speak!

After taking full advantage of the all-you-can-eat aspect of the breakfast cuisine, I settled in to listen to the musings a real life professional athlete. Frank talked about how hockey was a passion of his, recalling his days as a star player at North St Paul High School and then the University of Minnesota. Upon graduating from the U of M, Frank turned down an opportunity to join the likes of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr as a member of the Boston Bruins, instead opting to play for Team USA at the '72 Winter Olympics in Japan.

But Frank's life took a dramatic turn after completing his first (and as it turns out, only) season as a member of the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1972-73. He felt a yearning in his heart to leave what seemed like a dream life as a professional athlete and focus his attention on God's kingdom. Given his passionate testimony on that November morning back in 1985, Frank's calling was no accident. And even though Frank decided to fully devote his life to Christ, he conceded that life wasn't without its hardships. I'll fully admit that some of the proverbial stone around my heart began to crack as Frank spoke of how he and his wife Kathy endured the ultimate nightmare of burying a child. And while such a devastation may have served to derail the faith of some, Frank surged ahead in his ministry, continually preaching some of the more fiery and inspirational sermons I've heard still to this day.

Standing 6'3", weighing nearly 300 lbs. and possessing a booming voice, Frank is one of the more imposing figures you'll ever see, especially when he preaches. Whenever I shake his hand, my whole hand, wrist and part of my forearm disappear. But in spite of his seemingly intimidating stature, I personally came to know Frank as a "gentle giant." While in the throes of a broken engagement in 1992, I sought out Frank as someone who would provide me with a little guidance for what seemed like incurable anguish. The mere fact he was willing to listen meant more to me than he'll ever know.

About ten years ago, Frank was tabbed to be Pastor of Spirit of Life Bible Church, then a fledgling congregation in Woodbury. Even though he was working a full time job as well as staying active in coaching hockey, Frank took on this role with the same passionate intensity he displayed in all other aspects of his life.

I recall my wife and I visiting Spirit of Life about a year after the church got started. At one point during his sermon, Frank, whom I had not seen in a couple of years at the time, literally stopped in the middle of his message when he saw I was in the crowd. It was just a quick acknowledgment of how he was glad to see me. About four years later, my wife and I were leaving the Woodbury Chili's after having lunch with some friends. As it so happened, Frank and his family were dining there as well. As Jen and I were chatting with our friends in the parking lot, I heard this booming voice call out to me. Yes it was Frank, who took a couple of minutes away from his family to say hello and find out what was going on in our lives. All that may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but it meant a lot to me.

I share all that to give just a small insight into the man who is Frank Sanders: A kind, compassionate and faithful person who does so much without thinking (nor caring) about what's in it for him.

As such, I was saddened to learn from Frank's daughter Jennifer that this latest fight he's engaging in will be more formidable than any of the opposing hockey players he took out back in the day.

I first heard the sobering news last Sunday.

Last evening Dad and Mom told our church family the devastating news about Dad's cancer. We are so thankful for the support we have received from our church family, friends, and relatives - both local and across the nation - we sincerely appreciate your words of encouragement and supportive prayers.

Dad looks a little better today - he gets easily tired, but remains as stubborn as always. He insists we will fight this disease with all that we have in us. And he is adamant that he will continue to preach as long as he possibly can. We are believing for a miracle and remain optimistic - Dad keeps repeating the scripture in Philippians - 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me'.

At this point we don't have any updates as far as what route we are taking with his treatment. We will contact Mayo tomorrow and will most likely bring him in early this week for the game plan.

The church is starting 24 hour prayer and fasting so each hour there will be someone praying and fasting for Dad's healing.

Dad feels that we can use this health challenge as a catalyst to bring our family and the many, many friends we have from all walks of life and different backgrounds together in united prayer - the way the church body should be. And while I agree it is a definite catalyst to promote prayer, I just wish God had chosen something and someone else to be that catalyst.

So... here we go...

Our family has set up this site to allow updates to get to as many people as possible. We will do our best to keep you informed of Dad's progress.

Again, thank you for your prayers

I don't think it's a stretch to say that there are prayers for Frank Sanders going on worldwide. And if he takes on pancreatic cancer like he did opposing hockey players, I'm liking Frank's odds --- especially with our Heavenly Father by his side.


1 comment:

StarBittrune said...

Great story, Brad. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing more on this as it develops.