By Barbara Shoun
VERSAILLES – The note on the office door said, “We just found out my daughter, Hope George, has cancer. We do not know what to do. Please call.”
Todd Forman has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Versailles, for 14 years. He knew the baby’s mother, Crystal George, when she attended First Baptist as a youth about 10 years ago. He went by to see how he could help her and her daughter.
The following Sunday, Crystal and her mother, Debra, attended the morning worship service. During the invitation, they took seven-month-old Hope to the altar, and the church prayed for her.
Crystal, who lives with her mother and stepfather, Greg Linhart, had become concerned about her daughter’s health about six weeks earlier when Hope was 5½ months old.
“She was gaining two pounds a month up to the fourth month,” Crystal said. “The next month, she only gained two ounces. I kept taking her to the doctor for the next month and a half. I knew something was wrong.”
One day, she was playing with Hope and felt a lump in her stomach. As she prodded, it seemed to be the size of a soda can. She took the baby back to the doctor, who ordered an ultrasound. It showed a liver mass.
Hope was diagnosed with liver cancer June 10. Crystal reported the tumor turned out to be the size of a cantaloupe. The doctor said Hope would need to go to Kansas City or St. Louis as there was no one closer to handle her condition. With family in Kansas City, Crystal opted to take her there.
Hope underwent four cycles of chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor by half in preparation for the surgery.
In the meantime, things were happening at First Baptist.
The afternoon of Hope’s first appearance at church, Pastor Forman received a phone call from Eva McDorman, a newlywed who had just moved to Versailles from Kansas City. She and her husband, Dave, had sensed there was something special about this baby and wanted to help.
With the pastor’s encouragement, Eva contacted one of her Kansas City friends who was a professional photographer and operates a studio named, coincidentally, Acres of Hope Photography.
Eva and her friend went to Children’s Mercy Hospital while Hope was there for treatment and photographed the baby. Acres of Hope donated the pictures; BW Graphics of Versailles donated 1,000 printed postcards.
The cards were sold to church members and others who mailed them to friends and family. The project was titled “Miles of Hope.” It sought to raise “voices, prayers, hands, hearts, and funds to support [Hope] and her family through this trial.” Responses came from as far away as Georgia.
A fund was set up to help with related medical expenses. Within a week or two, the church began having prayer meetings for Hope’s healing.
Healing was coming to the family in more ways than one. In a short time, Hope’s grandmother made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. “I had been listening to Todd. I felt the need to do this,” Debra said.
The family was going back and forth to Kansas City, making it hard to schedule her baptism. They settled on Nov. 1, Hope’s first birthday.
By this time, Crystal, too, was feeling God’s call on her life. On Oct. 11, she, too, made a profession of faith in Christ.
“I promised God that if He would let my daughter live, I would give her to Him,” she said. “The only way to do it right is to give myself.”
As surgery day approached, Crystal said, she was surprisingly calm. “Most people expected me to be scared and upset. I was not scared at all.
“We had to go through this because she’s meant for great things. She’s brought people to Christ. If I had to do it all over again, I would. I’m not lucky; I’m blessed.”
Crystal wasn’t given any promise that the surgery would stop the cancer. “This cancer is rare and it is common. It is rare to find it in a child under age one. It is more common in one-year-olds to five-year-olds.
“The fact that we found it at 5½ months gave her a good fighting chance. If we had waited another month, my daughter would not be here,” she said.
Surgery took place Sept. 14. Debra noted that the mass was on the right side, which would make the surgery more difficult. However, when they got inside, they found it had flipped to the left side, making it easier to perform the surgery and requiring a shorter recovery time.
Hope spent just three days in the hospital. Surgeons removed 7/8 of her liver, which has already started to grow back. Hope has been pronounced cancer free.
Sunday, Nov. 1, was a day of joyful celebration at First Baptist, beginning with the baptisms of Debra and Crystal at the start of the morning worship service. The pastor then called the McDormans to the front. Next, he assembled everyone who had taken part in the special prayer meetings.
“This has changed the way we do life in our church,” he said.
“It’s one thing to have prayer requests. It’s another to be able to celebrate.
“We prayed for God to move in Hope’s life. We asked God to move in our church. We had the opportunity to pray together and see Debbie and Crystal come to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior and be baptized today.
“It has changed the perspective of the church from being concerned about ‘us’ to being concerned about ‘them.’ The power in our church and in our life as Christians is when we place our hope in Jesus,” he told the congregation.
Prior to preaching his sermon on “Hope – God’s Gift to Us,” based on Psalm 65, Forman sang “Hope’s Song,” accompanied by David Williford at the piano. The two men wrote the song in the context of the church placing its hope in Jesus Christ in times of trial.
After the service, lunch was served in the fellowship hall, followed by a birthday party for the guest of honor, who was decked out in ribbons and a “Birthday Girl” badge.
Debra expressed her gratitude for the love and help the church has shown her grandchild.
“She’s not our baby. She’s the church’s baby. She’s everybody’s baby.”