Grace Alone

In 2001, Jason and Suzie Herring were faithfully serving on staff at the Heritage Baptist Church in Glenville, Georgia. During this time, the Herrings had a growing burden for the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few years that burden increased, and the Herrings decided to move, completely by faith, to the Boise area to plant the North Valley Baptist Church.

In July of 2004, the Lord gave them a second son—Josiah—and just one month later, they arrived in Eagle, Idaho where they knew no one. They were starting from scratch and acting completely on faith. For two and a half weeks, Pastor Herring knocked on doors and then welcomed forty-nine people to the first service. Since that time, Jason and Suzie Herring have faithfully labored in Eagle, Idaho to see God change lives.

God’s will took a dramatic turn for the Herrings this past March. On March 27, their four-year-old son Josiah complained that his head hurt, and he slept most of the day. That evening, the Herrings decided to take him to the ER. Tests revealed fluid on Josiah’s brain, and at midnight a neurosurgeon met them at a nearby hospital for emergency procedures to relieve pressure on Josiah’s brain.

Over the next ten days, Josiah remained in the hospital. CAT scans and MRI’s revealed a tumor, and then a biopsy brought the final determination—Josiah had a grade four cancerous tumor that was inoperable. For fifty-five grueling days, the Herrings exhausted every possible option—while trusting the Lord implicitly and never wavering in their faith. The doctors expected Josiah to have about eighteen months to live, during which time his quality of life was expected to deteriorate considerably. But Pastor Herring was asking God to do a miracle and heal Josiah.

The Herrings were amazed at the grace of God upon their lives and upon Josiah over the fifty-five days that followed this hospital stay. Josiah began developing a personal walk with the Lord Jesus as a four-year-old boy. He began referring to Him as “my Lord Jesus Christ.” He quantified often that he loved Jesus the most and that Jesus was his best friend. It became evident that the Lord was personally ministering to Josiah in an amazing way.

About thirty days into the trial, the Make a Wish Foundation sent Josiah and his family to Disney World for a week. The Lord gave Josiah a wonderful week of strength and health. On his final morning at the Magic Kingdom, Josiah was scheduled to have breakfast with Mickey at Chef Mickey’s restaurant. A few minutes after waking up, he expressed that he didn’t feel well, and fell back asleep.

His sleep became a ten day coma from which he never awakened. Josiah fell asleep at the Magic Kingdom, and ten days later, he awakened in Christ’s kingdom! He passed up a character breakfast with Mickey to dine in paradise with his Saviour.

On a recent visit to the campus of Lancaster Baptist Church during the Spiritual Leadership Conference, The Baptist Voice interviewed Jason about his ministry in Idaho and about coping with the loss of his son.

You had a good ministry working with your father—why would you leave?
It’s interesting how the Lord works. Years ago a pastor started a church in Oregon and asked me to come along and help. For five months I taught the junior boys class, ran the children’s department, knocked on doors, and was a general gopher. During those months God burdened my heart for the Northwest. I didn’t know when, but I knew God would bring me back to plant a church.

I worked with my dad for the next seven years. In 2002, my cousin moved out to the Boise, Idaho area and told me, “If you are looking for a place to start a church, you need to check out this area.” My church flew me out for ten days, and I really felt God confirming His call.

Dr. Rushing, a long time friend of our family, helped make God’s will clear to me one evening. He told me over dinner one night, “A lot of people make a big mystery out of God’s will when it is not that complicated. The will of God is like a checker match. God makes a move, and you make a move. Then God makes another move, and you make another move. He never reveals everything at once. God made a move and impressed this place on your heart. Then you made the move to see this place. Several preachers have already said they would support you right away when you decide to go—that is God’s move. Now it is your move.” When he put things that way, it was very simple.

What were some of the obstacles you faced?
We had trouble securing the school facility where we first hold our services. We could not print up any brochures until the place was settled. When the material finally came in, I only had two and a half weeks instead of five weeks to doorknock before the first Sunday. I doorknocked like crazy those first couple weeks, and God gave us forty-nine in the first service. These were all visitors from the community plus our family.

There is a very ecumenical spirit in Boise. One in five homes is Mormon. Boise is home of Northwest Nazarene University, and the Seventh Day Adventists have a huge publishing house there. Planting a church with Baptist distinctives, especially when it came to establishing our charter membership, was a challenge.

We also faced some skepticism concerning whether we were really there to stay. Still today we are asked, “Are you here to stay, or are you going to move back to Georgia?” Even when Josiah died some people were surprised we buried him in Idaho and not Georgia. But Josiah didn’t know Georgia. Idaho was his home and still is ours.

How did Josiah’s death affect your family and your church?
In the middle of the trial, I knew I had to be very real. Some people, including preachers put up a facade. I tried to be very real and transparent. It was a big encouragement having so many people tell us they were praying for Josiah.

I learned what is helpful to say to someone who is hurting and what isn’t so helpful. Some well-meaning people would offer us clichés like “God is in control” and “He knows what is best.” While these statements are true, they don’t bring comfort in the middle of the trial. I know when you are with someone that is hurting, you feel like you have to say something. But really all that person needs to hear is, “I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

How have you coped with the loss of your son while staying faithful in ministry?
The Bible says in everything give thanks, not for everything give thanks. That is a big difference. We couldn’t pretend to be thankful that God took our child. God did not cause the cancer. Cancer, like all disease, is a product of Adam’s fall in the garden. But could God bring grace and mercy through a horrible situation like ours? Yes, He can, and He did. We have had many blessings through that trial and since then, but I don’t have to pretend and say, “I just praise God that He took Josiah to Heaven.” I am thankful he is in Heaven, but I would much rather have him back here with me.

The Bible lists several times where men of God mourned their losses. Jacob said he would go to his grave mourning for his son whom he thought was dead. David wished he would have died instead of his son Absalom. He grieved when his child with Bathsheba died. Job said that great sorrows had come upon him. All three men showed real, raw emotion. We are told it is not our place to question “why.” Yet Jesus questioned on the Cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

I told our church, “It is OK to be real with God.” It does not show a lack of faith—my faith was not shaken during it all—but God still gives us these emotions. We are not supermen. We are not super-anything. We are just mortal flesh trying to serve God.

What are some lessons God taught you in the midst of your trial?
Apart from the relationship I saw Josiah develop with the Lord in his last fifty-five days, I saw an aspect of the Trinity I had never seen or experienced before.

The peace of the Holy Spirit was a calm in the middle of a storm. It was like we were in a class five hurricane. Buildings were crumbling, and the world was falling apart. The little light of our life had a death sentence. I couldn’t find God in the circumstances, but He knew where I was. Then the Holy Spirit pulled us out of the winds and put us in the eye of the storm. The world was still falling apart around us, but we were in a calm, surreal place. Some people might have looked at us during the funeral and wondered, “What’s wrong with them? Why aren’t they falling apart?” It was just the Holy Spirit and the peace He brings.

I also understood Christ better, who is called a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We often focus on the fact that He bore our sins on the Cross, but He also bore our griefs and sorrows. He bore the product of sin—every hurt, every pain, every loss.

When I was talking with Josiah’s neurosurgeon he asked, “How are you holding up?” I said, “It comes in waves.” He responded, “It’s good that it does, because hormones that control our emotions die a quick death. If they didn’t, your heart would just explode.” When he said that I immediately thought of Christ on the Cross. For nine hours He felt one relentless wave of sorrow. In the end He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and His heart exploded. I saw the love of the Son in a way I had never seen before.

Then I better understood the love of the Father. It is easy to walk by faith on the plains of Palestine, but on top of Mount Moriah I was faced with a sacrifice I was not prepared to make. I told Josiah’s oncologist, “You know Doc, I have been looking to the thicket, listening for the rustle of the leaves, and listening for the bleating of the ram, but it hasn’t come. The thicket has been empty.” He said, “Just think that the thicket was empty for the Father, too.” There was no substitute because the Lamb was on the Cross. It showed me the length and breadth and height of the love of God in a way I could have never known before.