Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
It’s no surprise that Barb Hammond, a self-described “computer person,” found Wheaton Bible Church on the Internet. After working as an IT director for several corporations over the years, including a stint managing a software conversion for a company in Europe, she returned to the States from that assignment when her dad was diagnosed with bone cancer a number of years ago.
But in the spring of 2013, it was her mom—then 102 years of age—who was the focus of Barb’s concern.
At 99, Barb’s mom was still driving a car and joining Barb for regular golf outings. But three years later, her body was failing, and Barb was dividing her days between a demanding full-time job and caring for her mother, who was then in second-stage assisted-living care.
Her mom’s body was advancing toward paralysis, and eventually she could not move at all. Even so, her mind was clear. “Absolutely sharp as a tack,” Barb says, “but physically, she could not help herself anymore.”
I would go there directly from work, and we’d spend the evening together. I would sit beside her to help her play card games with friends, but over time she was able to do less and less, not even able to turn pages on the books I got her. I tried a tablet reader but she couldn’t even do that, so to keep her mind occupied I would read to her.”
“I was very happy to help her,” Barb says, “but as the months passed, something was happening to me. I think I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.
My mom never complained about a thing, but it was really a stressful time for me—watching her go through this.”
“Something else was really troubling me,” Barb says, “but we never talked about it because I didn’t know what to say. I thought she was scared about what was next for her, so I went to the library and got a Bible and started reading it to her.
“I’ve never known her to be a religious person, but she seemed to enjoy that,” Barb adds.
Since her mother had moved into the assisted-living facility, Barb had taken her in a wheelchair to the vesper services held every couple weeks. But when it got too hard to get her mom into a wheelchair and when she could no longer sit very well, Barb got the idea of finding a local minister who might come and visit her mom. That was when she turned to the Internet to search for a minister who might drop in and visit her mom in the afternoons while Barb had to be at work.
“I was bothered by what was ahead for her. I felt like I needed to do more,” Barb says. “I was doing all I could to make her comfortable, but I also think that subconsciously I wanted to know that she was going to a safe place when she died, that she was going to be okay, and it was going to be better for her.
“I was in turmoil and I was restless,” Barb remembers. “I would drive to work, listening to the news channels, and it sounded like racket to me.” She didn’t want to hear it anymore, so one day she changed the channel and landed on a Christian talk station that she didn’t even know existed.
“It was interesting. It was peaceful. And from then on, that’s all I listened to. But I never told anyone about it,” she says. “In fact, I quickly changed the channel if anyone got in my car. I didn’t want them to think I was losing my mind.
“After I’d been with my mom one Saturday, I went home and sat down at the computer, and started looking at churches—even listening to parts of a few messages by some of the pastors. Then I found a message by Rob Bugh. I listened to the whole thing. Thank goodness for the website!”
Barb also found a phone number, and not long after, she called the church. “I asked for Rob, but I didn’t even know how to pronounce his last name,” she says with a smile. “I don’t remember who I talked to, but I scheduled a time to see him.”
Before her appointment with Rob, Barb visited the church on two Sunday mornings, sitting in the back and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.
“This place was huge!” she says, “and there were a lot of people here!”
When she came to Rob’s office for their meeting, he asked Barb what brought her in to see him. “I told him that I had no idea why I was there,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m looking for. The last place I would expect to be is sitting in some minister’s office. But I am here.”
She went on to tell Rob that she had heard him speak and how she felt he was speaking honestly and sincerely didn’t seem to try to just say what people wanted to hear.
Then Barb began to tell Rob about what was going on with her mom.
When he heard about Barb’s daily routine, he told her, “You’re going to kill yourself if you keep that up. You can’t keep going to your mom’s in the morning, then going to work, and then back to feed her and care for her and put her to bed every night. You can’t keep doing that.”
Barb insisted that she had no choice, and then tried to redirect the conversation toward her mom’s need for a minister to come and visit her.
“I need someone to help her . . . spiritually,” Barb told him, struggling for the right word. But Rob again directed the conversation back to Barb herself: “What about you? Do you believe in God?”
“Are you going to go to heaven?” he asked.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” she replied.
Then Rob started telling Barb about Jesus and reading some passages from the Bible. And even as Barb continued to try to focus the conversation toward her mom, Rob presented the Gospel, pointing Barb to the verses that explain God’s plan of salvation.
“Do you believe that?” he asked her.
“Yeah. That sounds good,” Barb agreed. “But I really need to talk about Mom.”
“Okay, but first I want you to accept Jesus into your life so you are safe.” Then Rob asked Barb if she would be willing to pray with him—to receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. Barb said yes.
As the conversation ended, Barb again brought up her mom. This time, she remembers Rob telling her, “You need to take this back to her.” And he gave Barb the Scriptures to read to her mom.
Before she left Rob’s office, he suggested she read specific Bible chapters, then he called Marie Allison in and introduced her to Barb. He told Marie that Barb was a new believer, that she needed a Bible, and that she was going to go to Alpha later that week.
“I didn’t even know what Alpha was,” Barb said. “I thought it was some kind of sorority—but I said I would go.”
As she left, Rob made Barb promise to stay in touch and to come back to church the following Sunday.
A Growing Understanding
“As I left Rob’s office that day, I remember him telling me, ‘If you walk out of here today and are hit by a car, you’ll go to heaven.’ And I remember thinking, That’s pretty cool, but I was still trying to get my head around how that could possibly be.
“Now I understand so much better. Just a couple of weeks ago, at the Place 4 You women’s Bible study, the speaker said something that really helped me understand what’s been happening in my life since that day when I prayed in Rob’s office.
Barb then related what the teacher had said: “When two people get married, they stand before a minister, and he says, ‘Now you are husband and wife.’ At that moment they are married, and their first step away from him, back down the aisle, is their first step toward understanding what it means to be married.”
“Every step I’ve taken since leaving Rob’s office that day in April 2013,” Barb said, “I’ve been learning what it meant when Rob said, ‘You’re saved. You are a Christian now.’ From that moment on, by the grace of God, my life has totally, dramatically changed.”
An Important Conversation
When Barb left the church after she prayed with Rob, she headed over to see her mom. “I told her I went to this really huge church and I met this really nice man. I asked her if it was okay if I read her some stuff. Then I went through what I remembered of what Rob said to me about how to believe and what it means to believe in Jesus.
“I had told Rob that somebody who knows what they are talking about should go and talk to my mom, but he said, ‘No, Barb, you can do this.’ So I did.
“Mom listened and said, ‘That’s wonderful.’ I asked her, ‘Mom, do you believe that? Do you believe in Jesus?’ and she said, ‘Yes. Absolutely. God has been good to me. He’s watched over me my entire life.’
“I asked her, ‘Are you afraid, Mom?’
“And she said, ‘No. I’m ready.’”
Barb realized that she was the one who had been afraid. “My mom was the one who was dying, but I was the one who was afraid.”
Two days after her meeting with Rob, Barb went to the Sunday-morning Alpha class as she had promised. “Rob had told me when it was going to be, and actually showed me where the room was, so I walked in and was greeted by a woman named Debbie Duncan. Debbie welcomed me to her table. I reluctantly told a little of my story, and the group was very kind and prayed for my mom.”
After Alpha, Barb went straight from the church to see her mom.
“I told her about this Alpha thing, saying that I’d been there that morning and that it was pretty cool,” Barb remembers. “And I asked her, ‘So, what do you want to do this afternoon?’ Mom said, ‘My leg hurts. It really hurts.’ And two hours later she was in a coma.
“The last real conversation we had was the one earlier that week,” Barb said, “when I read the Bible to her and heard her tell me that she knew Jesus and she wasn’t afraid.”
Seeing God at Work
Looking back, Barb can see how God orchestrated every step along the way: her finding Wheaton Bible Church on the Internet, then picking up the phone and getting an appointment. And it could only have been God, she says, who directed her on that Sunday morning to come to a huge church service where she knew no one. And especially coming to meet with the pastor in his office.
There were no more conversations with her mother, but Barb was so thankful that God had given her the experience of that final, very important talk they shared.
Barb can’t imagine how she would have survived those final weeks without Jesus in her life. And she is amazed how, during those difficult weeks when her mom was in a coma, she was getting calls from Debbie—whom she’d just met at Alpha—checking in with her and asking about her mom, and asking if she could come and pray with Barb as she sat with her mom.
“I couldn’t even have imagined the kind of support and care I’ve received from Debbie and the people of this church,” Barb says. “It’s like something from another world than the one I lived in!”
“My mom lived for two more weeks in a coma,” Barb remembers. “We weren’t even sure what was keeping her alive, but one day while some family was there, I took my mom’s hand, and I whispered, “Mom, the people at the church told me that Jesus loves you much more than I possibly can—and you know how much I love you. Mom, you can let go. We are okay. You don’t have to stay. Jesus wants you.
“As God is my witness, my mom, who hadn’t been able to move a muscle for months and months, squeezed my hand with great strength and brought my arm and my hand to her heart. She took her last breath, and she died that moment. I have never experienced anything like that in my life!” Barb said.
A Life Transformed
The woman who was able to have that calm conversation at her mother’s deathbed was radically different from the one who walked into Pastor Rob’s office just a little more than two weeks earlier.
“For so many years, I threw myself into my career and making money. After a difficult divorce, I determined never, ever again, to rely on anyone. I was out to prove I could make it on my own.
“When I first met Rob, I told him I was a loner, a computer geek who was more comfortable with a computer than interacting with people. I didn’t hang on to friends. I didn’t keep in touch with people. I did all I could to avoid socializing. I could never have been part of a small group and talked, let alone sit in a big church—and especially not in the minister’s office and talk about myself,” Barb says. “But that is not me anymore. I am a completely different person. Today my whole world has opened up.”
Those new opportunities included a last-minute opening for the former loner to join the group from Wheaton Bible Church who traveled to Israel earlier this year. It was an incredible journey for Barb, where she could see the truth she was discovering in the Old and New Testaments come to life. During the ten-day trip she also experienced the embrace of a group of believers, as the men and women traveled together, ate meals together, prayed together, and explored many of the places where the events recorded in the Bible took place.
“I’m am being transformed,” Barb says. “My family doesn’t know what to think. They don’t understand it. In all the years of living in my West Chicago neighborhood, I never attended the annual neighborhood gathering, but this year I hosted it at my house! I now look for opportunities to talk with people, listen to people, and care about people.
“One of my old friends called the other night, and when I told her I was going to a movie with friends from church, she said, ‘Who are you? I’ve known you for most of your life, and you’ve spent most of that time trying to stay in the shadows and not be noticed. I don’t know who you are, but whatever has happened to you, I love it!’ I could go on and on,” Barb says, “about the old friends who have contacted me.”
When they ask what’s happened to her, Barb has had many opportunities to tell them what God has done—and is doing in her life. One longtime friend, visiting from out of state, asked to come to church with her. Barb gave him some of the books she had been reading, and over time this friend came to faith—and has now decided he wants to be baptized!
Barb continues to see God work in so many ways, through new friends and opportunities He has brought into her life and through all she’s learning.
She is also thankful for the way God has guided her through so many situations since He came into her life. Having struggled with hearing loss for most of her life, Barb says that while she’s long had to “listen hard” to hear what people are saying, now, Barb says, she’s “listening hard to hear Jesus. And every day He’s saying, ‘I want you to do this. And this. And this.’
One thing God has led Barb to do is to investigate ways she can get involved in reaching out to our community, sharing the love and hope she’s found in Jesus.
“To have such a warm welcome in this church that’s so big, I feel so blessed. This church is such an important part of my life. I’m so grateful that God led me here.”