ALAMO — For many years now Kyle Woodfin, pastor of Alamo Baptist Church south of Dublin, has made a ministry out of taking those unfamiliar with the outdoors and getting them more comfortable among the trees and animals. He sees their preconceptions change once they get closer to and experience the beauty of what was previously unknown to one degree or another.
That same path had to be taken over the last year as Woodfin and his family walked alongside his son, Joshua, and the cancer diagnosis that would ultimately claim the 18-year-old’s life Dec. 2.
On Jan. 2, 2012 Joshua Woodfin was diagnosed with ALL T-Cell Leukemia. What followed were numerous visits to Egleston Hospital in Atlanta as doctors and nurses helped Joshua in his battle. According to his dad, the circumstances – weighty as they were – didn’t change Joshua’s personality.
“He always had a servant’s heart. He was a jokester and always brought life to the party with a smile on his face,” said Kyle of his son known for engaging in ice fights with Egleston nurses.
Joshua gave his life to Christ as a young boy and was described by friend Andrea Towns as having a testimony that had “the power to call others to more … to give more, to trust more, and to walk more faithfully in obedience whether rejoicing on the mountain top or lying broken in the valley.”
Towns, an English major at Truett-McConnell College, wrote out those words as part of homage to Woodfin. She also was Joshua’s date for the senior prom. A recently incurred soccer injury made them quite the pair, remembers Kyle.
“She was on crutches and had a big cast on her knee, and Josh was slick on his head [from cancer treatments],” he chuckled. “They were a sight.”
At one point Joshua’s cancer went into remission, only to resurface. His health would begin to noticeably deteriorate after a bone marrow transplant last year was unsuccessful.
“The doctors sat down and told us they’d done everything they could,” remembers Kyle. “Joshua and I were traveling back from Macon and I looked at him and said while he still had the energy, what were some things he wanted to do.”
His son had two requests:
Be with his friends.
Play bass guitar during worship at Alamo Baptist Church one more time.
The last few weeks of his life close friends came by to see him. Joshua made it a point to talk to each of them one-on-one, assure them he was at peace, and console them as they cried.
And he played once more at Alamo Baptist, those last songs being “How Great is Our God,” “10,000 Reasons,” “Who Am I,” and lastly, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
When it’s you
Pastors and their families aren’t exempt from life, and when life hits they need support like everyone else.
“I’ve walked many families through similar situations,” noted Kyle, who wrote more on Joshua’s death in this column, “but it’s much different when it’s you. Our church family was very supportive, kind, and helpful. They gave us the freedom to do what we needed to do. Last year I spent as much time at the hospital in Atlanta as I did in Alamo. They were what a church ought to be to a pastor.
“At times we felt certain Josh was going to be healed. There were needs, but they were met. Our car was wearing out and one was given to us.
“All through it God was reassuring us with His peace and grace that things were going to be okay. He’s sovereign. I had to work through that as a dad and pastor.”
When the bone marrow transplant failed, Kyle said he prayed for God to make him strong enough to be a guide; one he’d never been before.
“I asked for help to be the kind of man who could walk Joshua to the gates and hand him over,” he remembers.
In hospice care on Dec. 2, praise music played softly as family surrounded Joshua in the small room. He heard voices calling his name, he said, before asking, “What do I do?”
It was okay, his father responded, guiding his son a few moments further, “We’ll join you later.”
“I see the other shores,” Joshua said just before he died. Ending one journey, beginning another.