Purpose in Pain

“I believe God is choosing not to heal me because He wants to touch people’s lives through this ‘fragile jar of clay’.”

Though struggling with Parkinson’s disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ruth Palnick has found that pain can be a beautiful bridge to evangelism.


“You can strike up a conversation with a wall,” Ruth’s mother used to tell her. She’s never had a hard time talking with anyone she meets. This God-given gift not only brought Ruth a particular joy, but also served to show her from a young age that God was leading her to be an evangelist. Today, after 29 years, Ruth has retired from Missions Door, but not from that ministry.

Ruth’s ministry career began in 1989 when she was appointed by Missions Door to work in Honduras. While there, Ruth’s ministry time was divided between serving as a nurse in a red-light district clinic for people with AIDS as well as teaching pastoral leadership classes. However, when Ruth’s rheumatoid arthritis flared up in 1998, she was forced to leave Honduras to seek advanced treatment, stateside. Ruth could have accepted this as the end of her ministry, but instead, she moved to Arizona to continue evangelizing, and though physically unable to work as a nurse, she began working as a Hospice chaplain.

Shortly after, in 2002, Ruth was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Again, Ruth was faced with a choice: end her ministry or continue to work through the pain. And once again, Ruth pushed through. She decided to move back to the Pacific Northwest, closer to family, friends and supporting churches. Hospice of Spokane welcomed her in and Ruth spent the next 13 years doing chaplaincy in hospice, in a homeless women’s drop-in center and in a residence for formerly homeless who struggled with mental illness.

“God has given me the ability to listen to people and weave the spiritual truth into the conversations,” says Ruth. “Though my ministry with Missions Door changed locations, my work did not change.”

The most recent change in Ruth’s life has been her retirement from Missions Door. As Ruth’s Parkinson’s progressed and her mobility decreased, she made the difficult decision to retire from the Mission just a year shy of her 30th work anniversary. Now, Ruth lives in a Retirement community in Salem, Oregon.

And while this is unique to her previous moves, God has revealed to Ruth that her work is just the same. She has realized that her new home is a mission field in itself. “I may have retired from the Mission but not from ministry.”

So, what’s Ruth message in her new mission field?  Lately, Ruth has been speaking on the subject of which God has made her somewhat of an expert—Pain.

“Everyone on earth is facing some kind of pain. That’s where the listening portion of sharing the gospel becomes so important. Listen long and listen hard to discover just where the individual is hurting. Does coming to Christ mean all of our pain will go away? Absolutely not! God can and does heal; yet beyond that, He has promised to walk with us through the pain, pouring out his grace and helping us endure.”

After all, the Bible promises us that we will suffer. (John 16:33, 1 Peter 5:10) So it is not so much the question of if we will suffer, but how we should suffer. Will we invite Christ into our suffering? This has been Ruth’s message of evangelism over the years. “I have the capacity to talk about this [pain], but we all suffer from something. Everyone is dealing with something that they need to surrender to the Lord,” Ruth says. And just as God comforts us in our suffering, we are also called to comfort those around us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

This has been Ruth’s message of evangelism over the years. Whether training leaders in Honduras or conducting funerals as a hospice chaplain, she has found that it doesn’t take long to find someone’s pain or what’s hurting their heart. Over and over, God used Ruth, in painful situations, to bring about His purpose.