GREENVILLE, S.C. (BP)–One would think that going blind after surgery might leave a person bitter. Not so with Ralph Hefner. He has learned that God is always up to something good.
Hefner is now walking by faith, not by sight.
Hefner, who had served as associate pastor of Lee Road Baptist Church, Greenville, S.C., for 21 years, underwent surgery in March 1997. Since then, the active and enthusiastic minister has been blind. Though his lifestyle changed, his zest for ministry endures.
The operation to repair two ruptured disks and prevent others from deteriorating was successful. But something went wrong.
“My back is fine,” Hefner rejoices, “but now I can’t see.”
During the 13-hour surgery, Hefner’s optic nerves were deprived of blood and oxygen. While doctors are yet to discover a way to regenerate optic tissues, he remains hopeful.
In the meantime, he has found a new ministry, encouraging those who are suffering.
“Before I went to the hospital for surgery, my wife and I prayed, ‘Lord, when we leave the hospital, give us an opportunity to be better witnesses. Let us have the potential to lead more people to Christ than we ever have before,'” he recounts.
“Though I’d have had it differently,” Hefner says, referring to his blindness, “God honored that prayer.”
His calendar is filled with speaking engagements, Bible studies and revivals. He visits hospitals, shut-ins and nursing homes, sharing the lessons he has learned through suffering. And he grows closer to God by listening to taped messages of great preachers, praying and memorizing Scriptures.
“This is one of the unexpected blessings,” he notes. “Without all the distractions, I’m able to focus more on God’s Word and keep it fresh and clear in my mind.”
His wife Anita, who was a dean at Greenville Tech for 13 years, has since returned to the classroom. She teaches five management courses via the Internet, giving her the freedom to travel with her husband. A laptop computer enables her to communicate with her students from almost anywhere.
Now, wherever he is asked to share about the sufficiency of God’s grace, Hefner will go.
“Nothing happens to us that is not filtered through the hands of God. God is too loving to have ever made a mistake,” he affirms.
“I have opportunities that I never had before. And I have come to understand God’s grace in a way I never would have,” he says.
“God’s grace is sufficient, he stresses. “Grace is God’s provision for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”
He points out, “You never realize that God is all you need until you wake up one morning and realize he’s all you have.”
(BP) low res photo posted in the BP photo library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RALPH AND ANITA HEFNER.