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Persevering through cancer, seminarian receives M.Div.

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A semester that included both Hebrew and Greek wouldn’t be very easy, but Donald Moore had no idea that his biggest challenge three years ago wouldn’t come from any of his classes.

Symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma surfaced near the end of Moore’s first semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2002, and he was officially diagnosed with the disease in January 2003. But the diagnosis didn’t change the direction God had set for Moore.

“I just know that God called me to seminary and this is where I’m supposed to be,” he said.

Moore received his master of divinity degree in December despite struggling through each semester with cancer. A loud round of applause went up during the commencement service at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where Moore and his family are members, when he accepted his degree — along with a hug instead of the customary handshake — from seminary President Paige Patterson.

“It’s exciting,” Moore said of the graduation. “But it will be more exciting to know exactly where God is going to take me and use me. That’s the important part. I’m just excited to put myself to use someplace.”

Moore moved his family to Fort Worth in August 2002 so he could enroll in Southwestern Seminary. He said he began his seminary education because of a “very strong calling” to learn and grow as a Christian and share his faith with others.

“I don’t even try to look at any difficulties we have. The blessings have been just so much greater,” Moore said. “It certainly has well-rounded my seminary experience.”

Moore said he originally had reservations about seminary, especially when it came to finances. A significant amount of debt was just one of the “excuses” he said he used for a while with God.

“In a year and a half that [debt] was completely paid off,” Moore said. “I had a few more excuses, but God started making my life very uncomfortable until I became obedient.”

While at Midwestern, the Moore family had their share of struggles. The savings they had quickly slipped away with sicknesses among their children, necessary dental work for Moore’s wife, Julia, and an accident that totaled their car. At the same time, Moore was reading a book in seminary on the life of George Mueller.

“I hated that book,” Moore recalled with a smile. “Here was a man who just sat and prayed and all his needs were met. It was hard to believe — but then we started having this George Mueller experience.”

God had provided for all the needs of the family, and when they came to Southwestern they thought the toughest of their troubles were behind them. But a month after arriving in Texas, Moore started experiencing what he thought were symptoms of seasonal allergies. A month later, Moore thought the allergies had caused a deep chest cold.

By the first weekend in November, he noticed that the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen to the size of marbles. He went to the doctor and was put on a course of antibiotics.

By mid-November and into December, more symptoms emerged. His feet and back were itchy; he had night sweats and pain in his shoulders. The doctors did more extensive tests. The news came during the second week in January 2003 that Moore had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“From there, Donald stayed in class,” despite the outpatient chemotherapy he was undergoing, Julia said. “The calling had not changed. He was still called to be at seminary.”

“I was taking second-year Greek with Dr. [Robert] Williams and first-year Hebrew with Dr. [Sheri] Klouda at the same time I was going through my first round of chemo,” Moore said. “I thank God for their grace and good teaching and patience.”

Julia said her husband worked part-time on the heating and air conditioning crew at the seminary physical plant, attended and studied for classes and, at the same time, underwent chemotherapy every other week.

But Moore also was a very busy father. He and Julia had four children at the time. Today, the couple has five: Rebecca, 10; Truman, 8; Victoria, 7; Lauren, 3; and Lincoln, 1.

Doctors started Moore on radiation treatments in the summer of 2003, Amazingly, by the first part of October, doctors declared him cancer-free. “It took us a good six weeks for that to begin to soak in,” Julia said of that early declaration.

On Valentine’s Day 2004, however, Moore received terrible news. He was not, in fact, cancer-free. The cancer had been there all along and Moore was never really in remission. The doctors had been wrong.

“For me personally, I had a lot of anger issues at that point,” Julia said. Not only was the cancer still there, but it apparently more advanced than when they first found it a year earlier. The cancer also had gone five months without treatment. Moore was placed back in a Fort Worth hospital the same day to begin chemotherapy again.

In March, Moore went to Houston to begin treatments at the world-renowned cancer program at M.D. Anderson Hospital. Members from Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston stepped in to host the Moores’ stay in the city.

“I had three different rounds of three different types of chemo down in Houston,” Moore recounted. “Each time they checked it, the tumor had doubled in size.”

Though doctors contemplated giving Moore a bone marrow transplant, the tumor had already grown too large. Radiation also became too dangerous because the tumor was too big and too close to Moore’s heart. Moore said the only other option was more chemotherapy.

“That’s what she [the doctor] had been telling me for a number of months was not working and not worth doing,” he said. “But that was all they were down to.”

In July, Moore made the decision to drop the treatments in Houston and return to Fort Worth where he began some alternative treatments such as the Hallelujah Diet and Gerson therapy, both of which are designed to encourage the body’s self-healing mechanisms primarily through diet and supplements.

But the family said they know that any improvements to Moore’s condition will be the direct result of God’s provision and the prayers of His people. A prayer meeting was held at their home this past October, organized and attended by Southwestern students, faculty and staff. In the time leading up to that prayer meeting, Moore noticed that the tumor on his neck had grown significantly. Moore and his wife decided to stop the special diet he had been on while continuing to eat in a generally healthy fashion.

“[Don’s condition] was a pretty steady decline until that prayer meeting,” Julia said. “Now we’re seeing him slowly and, I think, gradually regain his strength and health.” He still suffers from many ailments such as weakness, muscle atrophy and fatigue. But he is also excited about what God is doing, and what God has in store for him.

“Donald’s statement to me was, ‘If God is going to heal me, He’ll heal me in spite of us and not because of us,'” Julia said. “I think … we finally finished giving everything up to God.”

Moore faces the future with quiet, simple and confident faith in God.

“I am firmly convinced that I had a word from God that I am healed,” he said. “It has not been manifested, but I am firmly convinced of that.”

Moore also knows that any healing that comes to his body will be to the glory of God.

“It’s going to be clearly evident that it was God’s doing,” he said.

Both Moore and his wife realize they have been given many opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise through this time in their lives.

“I would never have gone … looking for troubles and picked out cancer as one of the things,” Julia said. “But I am glad we have gone through this, too. It has been a good thing. I wouldn’t trade it now that we have been through it.”

The Moores both acknowledge times of uncertainty and even grief. But they are more interested in talking about how God has used them and ministered to them.

“We’ve just seen so many great things, so many blessings, met so many fabulous people through this whole process,” Moore said. “The cancer is nothing. What we have received because of it has been so much greater.”

Moore is especially grateful to numerous Southwestern students and professors who have poured themselves into his family. He noted associate professor of pastoral ministry Mike Wilson and Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, in particular.

“It’s not necessarily the class material that spoke to me as much as the professors and the other students in the classes,” he said.

Over the Christmas season, Moore was ordained to the ministry at First Baptist Church of Allerton, Iowa, where he was baptized and ordained as a deacon. “I know Southwestern has equipped me to do ministry,” he said. “I’m ready to do it.”

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  • Lauri Arnold