He's facing death, but this former pastor has a lot to live for
From personal conversations to speaking at Hillsong conference, Phil Camden has turned disease into something positive
Life was full and enjoyable for Australian Christian Churches pastor Phil Camden when he was diagnosed with terminal Motor Neurone Disease and given 27 months to live.
“I was the senior pastor of a church in Newcastle called Church180, and the church had recently bought the Royal Theatre in Hunter Street, so the church was growing, thriving, had a good young team,” he says.
“I was looking after two regions for the Australian Christian Churches here in NSW and I was on the state executive for our movement heading up church planting in NSW. I had a lot of involvement in the community, working alongside the mayor, so we were having quite an impact in the area.”
I won’t be so obsessed with my own personal healing but look for opportunities to minister to those around me.
It was four days before Christmas in 2013 that Camden’s GP told him he thought he had MND. Neurologists confirmed the diagnosis in January 2014.
“I was told there was nothing they could do about it. There was no known cause or cure for Motor Neurone Disease and the process of that death would be the loss of all the muscles in your body, so that was life-changing forever. The doctor advised that I give up work and try and focus on staying as well as I can.”
So Camden resigned from all his positions including pastoring the church he loved. His first few months were pretty dark but, through the process of getting an insurance payout, he decided to turn his disease into an opportunity to carry the gospel to other patients with the condition.
“When I picked up the letter from the GP (for the insurance claim), I threw it on the front seat of the car and God just spoke into my heart. He said ‘I want you to not see this letter as a death sentence but see it as a visa that I want you to use to go into the world of Motor Neurone Disease and bring light where there’s darkness, and hope where there’s hopelessness, and where there’s fear bring faith,’” he says.
“We’ve all got a calling and that calling is wherever we are to bring light and hope and faith and peace into that environment.”
“So I said ‘well, God, I’ll do that and I’ll leave the expiry date to you. I won’t be so obsessed with my own personal healing but look for opportunities to minister to those around me.’ So I basically left the healing side to God … but in the meantime, I’ve been able to go into the lounge rooms and the bedrooms of people who are dying with this disease and bring them the message of hope and eternity.”
Camden says the biggest issue for someone with a terminal illness is facing the reality that not everyone gets healed and anyone facing death has to confront the worst-case scenario, not the best-case scenario.
“Once we face the worst-case scenario then we’ve dealt with it and we can live in peace and hope.”
“God has been able to minister through me into other people’s lives and encourage them.
Camden has also started a blog, fridayswithphil.com, in which he challenges MND patients to face their eternal destiny.
Among those who have welcomed Jesus into their lives are Lloyd, two weeks before he died, and Neil, a few months before he died.
“God has been able to minister through me into other people’s lives and encourage them. People who are Christians who have been diagnosed after me have been in contact with me and we’ve been able to encourage each other in the journey.”
Camden now believes that what was meant to imprison him has freed him and his inability has been turned into God’s ability.
He says he took inspiration from the way Paul faced dark times in prison, as described in the New Testament letter to the Philippians. During those dark times, Paul thought he might not get out of them. But what was intended to stop him has the opposite effect.
“So Paul, while he was in chains, and while he was in prison, ministered Jesus. Even though that’s not the place he wants to be, because he’s a missionary and he wants to be out in the world and pioneering churches … but in prison he writes most of the letters that encourage us. So he turned that time which could have been a mean time, into a meaningful time.
“And he also ministered to the jailors and the Christians were strengthened in their faith and their love for God.”