Mark McSwain to draw on personal experience to help cancer patients
BEMIS — Over the past few years Mark McSwain experienced a lot of tough days as he battled cancer.
But Sunday, Oct. 2, may have been one of his toughest — in a different way.
McSwain had to announce to the congregation of First Baptist Church here, where he has served for the past 10 and a half years, that he was stepping down as pastor to begin a new ministry.
“This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my ministry,” McSwain observed.
“I love this church and they love me. They ministered to me through my cancer treatments.”
It was also difficult for McSwain because he firmly believes “pastoring a local church is the highest of all callings.”
And he is optimistic that one day he will return to the pastorate.
But beginning Nov. 1, “life as I have known it for 20 years will be vastly different, at least for a season,” McSwain said.
“I am not walking away from the ministry,” McSwain stressed.
“When I was called to preach 20 years ago, the only way I knew how to live that calling was to be a pastor,” he observed. “In the years since, I have learned there are other ways to live out that calling. I am still a pastor at heart.”
In November McSwain will officially launch his new ministry “Survivor2Survivor.”
The decision to begin a faith-based ministry geared toward newly diagnosed cancer patients did not just happen overnight.
It is a process that actually began in December of 2007 when he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (a rare form of cancer) at the age of 44. McSwain endured 16 chemotherapy treatments and 35 radiation treatments with nine different entry points on his neck.
As he underwent treatment, McSwain kept a detailed journal.
That journal would later form the basis for a recently published book, Through the Eyes of a Storm: Perspective Gained Through a Cancer Journey.
The driving force behind Survivor2Survivor is that “No one journeys alone,” McSwain said.
He learned that in a very personal way during his treatment and recovery. From his wife and family to his church family and a host of other people along the way, McSwain is the first to admit he did not travel alone during his battle with cancer.
In his book, McSwain related how one Fulton Mullis, a senior member of the church and a deacon, walked with his pastor during that time, even taking him to treatments when his wife could not go.
“He was there for me as a sign of hope,” McSwain said.
Hope is the message that McSwain wants to convey through his new ministry to newly diagnosed cancer patients.
He noted that the vision statement for Suvivor2Survivor provides that hope through people who have been through cancer.
“Providing a network of trained and compassionate survivors who will be ‘Journey Partners’ for newly diagnosed cancer patients offering support by one who has been there,” the statement says.
The primary purpose of the ministry, McSwain stressed, is “to insure no one goes through cancer diagnosis and treatment alone.”
Other purposes includes being a resource for patients, listeners, encouragers and advocates for cancer research and treatment.
McSwain is hopeful that his book will serve as a resource and an instrument of hope. He purposely kept the book short (only 55 pages). “I wanted people to go from despair to hope in only one sitting,” McSwain said.
He recalled that when he was undergoing treatment there was no way he could have read a lengthy book.
His ultimate goal for the book is to put a copy into hands of newly diagnosed patients at no cost. Several people have already purchased quantities of the book to be used for that purpose, he said, noting that 500 books were sold in the first four weeks since it was published.
His goal for the ministry is to build a network of cancer survivors (Journey Partners), not only in the Jackson area, but across the state and eventually the nation.
“No matter who calls, regardless of the form of cancer, I want to find someone who has had a similar diagnosis and treatment,” McSwain said.
“We want someone to work with newly diagnosed patients to give them an idea of what they can expect. I want these Journey Partners to be a source of hope for that patient,” he continued.
He noted that Journey Partners will be linked with newly diagnosed patients based on similar diagnoses, similar treatments, gender and geographical region.
Building the ministry and finding Journey Partners and providing funds for the ministry is what prompted McSwain to shift gears from the pastorate, at least “for a season.”
From personal experience, McSwain knows that Journey Partners may also have the opportunity to share the source of hope that can be found only through Jesus Christ. “This is a way we can share the gospel,” he said.
McSwain, who has shared his testimony and vision for the ministry in churches already, knew he could “not keep up the pace” of the ministry while continuing to serve as pastor of FBC, Bemis.
He hopes to have opportunities to preach and to spread the word about his new ministry.
Kenny Carr, pastor of Long Heights Baptist Church in Mc-Kenzie, noted that his church “was greatly encouraged and blessed recently through the ministry of Mark McSwain. His testimony of what God has and is doing in his life through the journey of cancer he has been on was powerfully relevant not only to those who are cancer survivors but to those in the midst of any kind of storm in life.”
Trent Bullock, pastor of First Baptist Church, Paris, noted that McSwain preached at his church recently on “Faith in the Storm.”
McSwain shared how God gave him peace in the midst of some difficult storms in his life, including his battle with cancer, Bullock said.
“I recommend pastors invite Mark to speak in their churches so that he can share his testimony to God’s grace and encourage those who are struggling with the storms of life.”
McSwain knows his decision to step down from the pastorate is totally a “step of faith” on his part.
“I am giving up a salary and benefits. I am trusting God to provide,” McSwain said. “It is both scary and exciting. I don’t know how He’s going to do that,” he added.
For more information about the ministry, including how to become a Journey Partner, or to purchase the book, contact McSwain at (731) 616-1482 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. B&R