Twenty-six years ago, Charles Page faced a life or death crisis as a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary when doctors gave him and his wife little hope for the survival of their newborn son, Robbie.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, Page returned to Southeastern, amidst his own struggle against a rare form of bone cancer, to deliver the seminary's commencement address.
"For 57 years I had hair, but four months of chemotherapy and massive steroids pretty well took care of the hair," Page said.
But the pastor of First Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., was not somber as he spoke to the near-capacity crowd in Southeastern's Binkley Chapel in Wake Forest. This, in fact, was a time of joy for Page and his wife, Sandra, as they celebrated their son, Robbie's, graduation from Southeastern.
During his address, Page shared the lessons wrought from his fight against cancer which began in May.
"The main thing I've learned is that God is good and He never hurts us; He has a purpose in it all," Page said before the ceremony. "I've seen a lot of that purpose fulfilled already. My desire is to share with the graduates what I've learned through this experience that I possibly should have been learning all along in a more in-depth way."
Page's decision to not wear a hairpiece since losing his hair in the aggressive cancer treatment has been consistent with his handling of the disease. He has hidden nothing and has taken very little time away from ministry. He held back nothing Dec. 14 in a frank, bold, and touching 40-minute address that frequently left the audience dabbing their eyes.
Page called his address a "confessional message." Titled "Why Wait for Crisis," it stressed four points: God's Word is truly precious; the Bible's promises are meant for me; friends are vital; and God has a purpose in pain.
Page said since learning of his illness, the Word of God "is alive, as if on every page God has something special to say to me. … Don't wait for crisis to drive you to the depths of the Word of God!"
He reminded the audience the Bible's promises are personal. "Those promises will not become powerful in your life until they become personal in your life," Page said. "Don't let crisis come before these promises get personal."
In stressing the value of friends, Page recounted a phone call from former SBC President Jim Henry, of Orlando, Fla., who asked Page what worried him most about his ordeal. Page answered that it was concern about filling his pulpit. "He said, 'Hold it right there,' and hung up. He (Henry) called back a couple of weeks later," Page said. With voice breaking, Page continued, "He said, 'We've arranged for men to fly in from all over the world to fill your pulpit.'"
Page went Dec. 26 to Little Rock, Ark., home of one of the two hospitals in the United States specializing in his type of cancer. In the first week of February, he began the several month-long process of undergoing high dosages of chemotherapy, followed by two bone marrow transplants. "They feel that gives them a better chance of getting a long-term remission (of the cancer)," Page said. "At this point there is no cure, but of course we're trusting the Lord for that cure. They feel like if they can get a five- or six-year remission, then by that time they may have a cure."
Page said he gains his strength from God's faithfulness over the years. He returns often in his mind to his seminary days when he surrendered his sickly infant son, Robbie, to the Lord while pacing the floor in a hospital waiting room.
Robbie recounted, "If you really think about it, prayer is where my parents turned to ask for my life, and that's what we've come to now, asking for God to be in control of my father's life."
Page assured everyone God is in control as He uses this pain to make a longtime pastor even wiser and better equipped to serve.
"I don't want to live to keep from dying — I'm long past that," Page said. "I want to live because I think just now I probably can be what God wants me to be. Begin now learning the lessons He has for you; don't wait for a crisis to come."
Many of the graduates said they will not soon forget Page's commencement address. Terry Hinson, pastor of Sandy Creek Baptist Church, near Greensboro, said: "It all seems worth it now. I was close to quitting, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's a message I'll take with me forever."
Southeastern President Paige Patterson said the graduating class was "leaving here with after-burners ignited and determined to change the world for the better."