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Interview: Christy Wimber, pastor, author

05 July 2019

‘I’ve had to answer the question: If God heals, why am I still sick?’

I think of myself as an empowered Quaker. The Vineyard began from a group of us in the Quakers. They’re lovely people, and I still attend a small group with Quaker leaders. The Quakers in the United States are much different from here. In the UK they’ve become more liberal, but in the US it’s not that way.

They are the most Christlike people I know. They love the poor, care for people in need; they’re faithful in worship, in prayer, and faithful to God and to each other.

I led worship training for Vineyard Music, led a group for 11 years, and I’ve spoken around the world encouraging and equipping Quakers for many years. I’ve written several books, including for my father-in-law, John Wimber, and gave oversight to preserving and setting up a library of his work.

Life’s changing all the time as my two kids are now adults: Camie Rose, who is a schoolteacher and married, and John Richard, who is 19 and finishing school. I miss having them with me all the time, but I’m still based in California. I’ve taken the past two years off leading a church, and I’m praying about what to do next. I’ve been going to Saddleback Church, led by Rick Warren, and it’s been stretching me and growing me up in ways I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I wrote Wholeness: Changing how we think about healing because I felt that the Lord began to show me some of the ways our ministry seemed to be more hurtful than helpful, leaving out so many people who are living with chronic pain, mental illness, and other long-term illnesses. I recognised my own prejudices when it came to struggle, and what people live with, and how most things aren’t quick fixes.

Every person has hard things. I shared about my son’s illness in my book. We’ve had a lot of grace, and John’s OK now. I shared about my own anxiety, but I’ve also had quite a bit of skin cancer removed, and chemo, and that’s something we have to keep watching.

I think praying to get well is just being human. We’re all terminal, but I actually think God loves it when we ask him to heal us and change us in different ways. He’s told us to ask.

It was very difficult when my father-in-law, John, died; but it wasn’t about “Why wasn’t he healed?”, more that he was so young — that’s what was hard for us as a family. But God is the one who numbers our days, and we have to hold on to that peace. And we will see him again, and others who have passed. Healing’s coming now, next week, then. I just don’t know when.

I want the Church to understand it’s not our job to fix people. Our job is to love people, and create spaces where they can become whole.

If people aren’t safe, they don’t tend to open up about their struggles. We need to move more into walking alongside people instead of feeling the need to make them get well. No one wants people to look at them as a project to fix, but as a person to love.

The Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches tend to lean into the miracles. We want the instant quick fix, and that’s definitely part of its culture today. The Evangelical or conservative Churches have a theology of suffering, and tend to lean into the suffering. I think walking alongside people is part of the healing, too — not expecting people to come to church and become like us, which you find in every denomination.

I believe in the healing power of Christ. He is Rapha, our healer. Society, the Government, the health-care system can help; but it’s only Jesus that can bring healing to the soul. This is what the Church can be a catalyst for, especially in the area of mental health.

I know that people like Agnes Sanford have done some very helpful work throughout the years to help more with inner healing. I also admire psychiatry, and how God is using the medical field to bring healing, therapy, and counselling, as well as medications when needed. These are part of healing for many people, and we must learn that, as we are body, soul, and spirit, some of this is needed in order to walk in wholeness.

Of course, it’s helpful that a growing number of churches in Britain are offering prayer for healing in their regular worship and prayer. Healing was an important aspect of the ministry of Jesus. We find it throughout the Gospels. It’s a command to pray for the sick. We pray, and God heals.

Katharine Welby-Roberts and I are friends, working together for events entitled “Wholeness”, which is why I asked her to contribute a chapter to my book. Her story gives us insight from someone who lives with mental ill-health, and what her journey’s been like within the Church. Our relationship led to the desire to write down what already seemed to help so many.

I think some poor theology, as well as poor praying models for healing, have added to Christians’ health problems.

I shared in the book how I was first prayed for. It was for healing, and God healed me; but, at the same time, I thought it was a bit scary. I grew up in a church, and I was surrounded by prayer in various ways, and it of course moulded me.

It’s been a journey since then. Our faith is what gets tested throughout our life. I feel various seasons strengthened my faith in ways I’d never have picked, but they’ve formed me into who I am today. Hard as it is, it’s been the more painful circumstances that have developed not only my faith, but my world-view about healing. I’ve had to answer the question: If God heals, why am I still sick?

God tends to deal with the Church first before he sends us out. We need to rethink how we’re doing things so that we can be places of health in the world. I don’t think any of us can really become whole unless we’re in a healthy community. Scripturally, God says if we cry out to him, he will heal the land; but we don’t tend to realise that our land needs us to cry out if we’re not in a healthy community ourselves.

Because I’m in Britain so much, I almost feel I’m half-British. I’ve really learned to understand the culture throughout the years. The dry sense of humour the Brits have — I really relate to that. Serving the UK has been the priority for me. I love it. I want it to succeed. The denominations here work together really well. You don’t find that in the States, and I tend to work with many different denominations; so I really appreciate that.

At the same time, I wish Britain would use some of its own leaders in building the Church, and not feel it has to get them from America. The Americans probably say things that the Brits wish they could say. It’s an over-glamorisation of American confidence, the idea that God’s really only moving in California. That’s nonsense.

Worship is my favourite sound. Worship brings healing far beyond anything else. Liturgy’s also something I find quite helpful, as well as meditation.

I’m happiest when my kids are thriving.

Jesus gives me hope for the future. Always Jesus. And Revelation 21: the promise that, one day, God will make right all the pain, tears, suffering, injustice.

I pray most for peace; for God’s spirit to lead me, and to serve God’s purpose for my life.

If I was locked in a place of worship for a few hours, I’d choose to be with some of the women who were part of the Reformation with Luther. They were present, supportive, but overlooked. Or some of the old saints: Lord Shaftesbury, Mary Magdalene, Fénelon . . . who gave up their social status or comfort to follow the call of Christ. They have a depth we don’t often find in today’s world.

Christy Wimber was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Wholeness is published by Lion at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9).

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