“Pastor, we have had many prayers for Tyrel, but we have never anointed him with oil. Can we do that on Sunday?”
On May 8, 2018, I received a message from a longtime friend, Shelley McAmmond, congratulating my wife and me on 37 years of marriage. Her message also included a request: “Our son, Tyrel, is engaged to be married. He and his fiancée asked me to contact you to see if you would consider performing their marriage ceremony this summer in Saskatchewan.”
There are three activities that, as a pastor, I am truly honoured to do: baby dedications, weddings, and funerals. But this request was an exceptional honour, and it garnered an immediate triple “yes” from me. This may not have been a request to marry a royal couple, but it was, without a doubt, going to be a royal wedding.
On August 11, 2018, we gathered at the Costley family farm near Gravelbourg, Sask. It was a bright, hot (41°C) day. Family and friends had travelled from several provinces to witness this momentous event. I had gone through the tedious process of getting a temporary cross-province clergy number to marry this couple. As guests sat under their umbrellas and watched, the wedding party made their way down a grassy aisle shaded by several large trees.
As we all waited for the bride to make her entrance, my mind went back to Christmas 1993, when I was struggling to prepare a funeral message. What does one say to a family that is about to lose their five-year-old son to cancer? The doctors had given young Tyrel no hope after extended chemo treatments to fight and eradicate the cancer had failed. He was sent home with a morphine pack attached to him to keep the pain under control. He came home to die.
I distinctly remember my last home visit. The family doctor was there, and we walked out of the family home together. Tyrel was not able to walk or eat. He looked like death. I asked the doctor how much longer he thought Tyrel could live. “Maybe two or three days at the most,” he said. Christmas day was approaching—a time to be receiving, not losing; a time to be rewarded, not robbed. What words of comfort would I have for this family at the apparently imminent graveside gathering?
Christmas fell on a Saturday that year. Tyrel’s father, Darren McAmmond, called a few days before Christmas to make a request. “Pastor, we have had many prayers for Tyrel, but we have never anointed him with oil. Can we do that on Sunday?” I immediately agreed that we could.
On Boxing Day 1993, the church family gathered in the local school gym where we regularly met for services. We worshipped and sang while the McAmmond family waited to be called forward. When the parents and grandparents came carrying their very sick child, I called the church to join us in prayer. I took anointing oil and applied it generously to Tyrel’s head. My prayer, as I recall it, was not one of great, confident faith. As I looked at Tyrel’s sick, hairless body lying in the arms of his grandmother, Evelyn McAmmond, I prayed something along these lines: “Father, You love this family and this boy. Would You kindly give Tyrel back to his family, take away the cancer, and heal this boy’s body?”
We did not pray for a long time, but we did linger at the front, sensing God’s presence. Finally the family returned to their seats.
While there were no immediate signs of change, within a couple of days Tyrel’s mom called and said, “Tyrel wants to eat and is trying to climb off the couch.” At some point Shelley noticed that hair was beginning to grow back on Tyrel’s scalp.
In early January of 1994, the Jewish specialist who had worked on Tyrel’s case called to check in on the family. He learned the surprising news that Tyrel was alive, and that his condition seemed to be improving. Shelley and Darren were requested to take him to Edmonton right away. On January 4, 1994, the doctor declared, “There is no trace of cancer anywhere in your son’s body. All we can say is, God has healed your son!”
So there I was, almost 25 years later, standing with Tyrel in the hot summer sun, looking down the grassy aisle as his beautiful bride, Brooke, made her way to her groom. It was a moment that could never have happened had it not been for Boxing Day Sunday 1993, when God kindly gave Tyrel back to his family.
What an honour it was to blend these events together into a ceremony that joined these two people in a union of love. It truly was a royal wedding!
Cliff Newbury has been in full-time pastoral ministry since 1982. For the past 11 years, he has been associate pastor of pastoral care at First Assembly in Calgary, Alta.
Image: © istockphoto.com. This article appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.