SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (BP)–Ron Bays is proof of the need for the Southern Baptist Convention’s “‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom Challenge” for evangelism. Because the people of Heritage Hills Baptist Church in Santa Claus, Ind., took the mandate to witness, win and baptize 1 million people seriously, Bays is now a cancer survivor at peace with God.
Bays, 61, told Baptist Press he accepted Christ at a young age but then fell away from a close walk with God when his best friend died of appendicitis during college.
“I questioned why that happened and stopped going to church,” Bays said. “I still believed in God and would pray, but I stopped going to church.”
In April 2005, Bays was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his bladder that was the size of a softball and was told he had less than six months to live.
“I didn’t have any idea that I was ill or anything, but I was taken to the emergency room and they decided that I had to have an emergency operation,” Bays recounted. “They opened me up and they closed me up — there was nothing that they could do.”
Numerous people in the community started praying for him and people invited him to church. While enduring six intense chemotherapy treatments, Bays decided to go with one of his friends to Heritage Hills just to “see what it was like.”
“That was in October of last year, and I’ve been going since,” he said.
Bays has been able to keep going to church because his tumor eventually disappeared and he apparently is cancer-free now.
“Since this past year, I have a peace of mind that I’ve never had in my life before,” Bays said. “What happens, happens. I’m comfortable with myself and my status with God.”
Bays taught social studies at Heritage Hills High School for 34 years, so many of the church members were familiar to him from day one because they were former students.
“So that makes it even better. When I went in, I wasn’t really a stranger,” he said.
Bays particularly enjoys Sunday School, where he’s part of a class of men 55 and over who enjoy studying the Word of God.
“I like to get different perspectives because for the most part I’m sort of a novice when it comes to what’s in the Bible and the interpretations of things,” he said. “I really get some good information from the other guys in that class.”
Heritage Hills certainly has an emphasis on evangelism, Bays said, and during the brief time he has attended the small church, more than a dozen people have joined and most have been baptized — including himself.
“The church is starting to grow, and I would say the church definitely is out there evangelizing,” he said.
It’s a good thing the church members care about others, Bays said, because they helped him get back on track with God at a time when he was in great need.
“After my operation last year, I was laying in the hospital bed and I was in horrible shape,” he said. “I had a friend of mine — we had taught together at Heritage Hills High School — and then one of my former students make the trip over to Louisville to visit me. They both prayed for me and asked if I believed in God. I said yes, I did.
“When they prayed for me, we held hands and it felt as if I had been hooked up to 220 volts worth of electricity,” Bays said. “I had a power surge go through me, and as bad as I felt physically, mentally I thought, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’”
At that point, Bays said he felt like he was going to get through the battle with cancer, and so far he has.
“Nobody knows how long they’re going to live. I consider every day a blessing,” he said. “From October of last year to the present, I figure it’s like icing on a cake. Every day I get up and look out the window, and if it’s raining, I say it’s a nice day. And if the sun is shining, it’s a nice day. It just doesn’t matter. Every day is a blessing, and I try to keep active physically. I’m getting my strength back.”
Bays works in his yard and garden and he rides horses to keep busy. He and his wife Janet have three daughters.
“I try to get the most out of everything,” he continued. “I know I’m here because of the grace of God and I go out of my way to tell people that I’m here because of Him. I know that.”
Now, instead of avoiding church, Bays looks forward to each time he can fellowship with other believers and delve deeper into the Christian life.
“It’s probably the highlight of my week now,” he said.
Bobby Welch, immediate past president of the SBC, challenged Southern Baptists starting last Oct. 1 to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people before the end of the church year, which is Sept. 30. Welch wanted to raise the bar for baptisms because they represent people who are being reached with the Gospel and saved from eternal separation from God.
“I guess it takes something catastrophic sometimes to wake someone up,” Bays said. “I told the pastor one time, it takes a puppy two weeks to open its eyes but it has taken me 60 years.
“But I’ve finally got my eyes open and am awful thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to do that. Sometimes people don’t have the chance to get right with God, but I have and I feel great about it.”