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By Mary Hiteman. Photo by Paul Bickford.

Through God, we love deeply, so hurt is strong.
When tragedy happens, His tears do fall.
We ask why? And where are You? We are too numb to feel.
We’re shocked & we’re angry & we cry. . .and we heal.
          Suzanne Shonnard

June 28, 1998 – do you remember where you were? I don’t remember, but Suzanne Shonnard does. She attended First Baptist’s first Prayers for Healing Service that afternoon. Her mother was scheduled to have surgery the next day to remove a brain tumor. She remembers praying with desperation—could her mother be healed overnight? She felt glued to the pew, arms tightly crossed, staring at the floor while nervously shaking one foot. She didn’t want to be disruptive, so she did not shed one tear because she knew she would end by sobbing. Something happened to Suzanne that night during the Healing Service. The message of hope inspired her, the music comforted her, candles were lit, and most importantly, there were prayers for healing. She did not want to leave the service—she felt a bit strengthened and closer to God, and she was finally able to take a deep breath.

Suzanne Shonnard

Suzanne Shonnard during the monthly Prayers for Healing Service at First Baptist.

According to Suzanne, that’s one thing the Prayers for Healing Service does—it gives you a chance to catch your breath. In the midst of a crisis, you are in a place where you don’t need to be strong. Each month someone shares an intimate story of healing. You hear scripture and prayers and feel the presence of God. You find out what others have done when the moments of peace wear off and the anger, loss and fear poke through. It’s a safe place where prayers are offered for others, where others will pray with you and for you.

Suzanne has become the moving force behind this on-going ministry. She recruits speakers and musicians for each Prayers for Healing Service. She arrives two hours ahead to set up the Chapel. She serves as one of the lay readers of scripture. As she participates, her faith is always strengthened by each Healing Service.

Back to June 28, 1998. Her mother died too quickly from the cancer, but Suzanne will tell you that no matter what happens, God is by your side all the time, with His arm around your shoulder – whether you feel His presence or not – He is there and always promising: “It’s OK, I’ll take it from here.”

In January, 2011, Suzanne felt His presence in a new way. She was facing some surgery of her own. At that month’s Prayers for Healing Service, she walked to the kneeler in front of the Chapel and received prayer. On the Wednesday before the surgery, she was prayed over by the Catalyst Prayer group (whose mission is to pray for FBC’s leaders). She was hesitant and a bit embarrassed on both occasions, but the experience of having folks pray with and for her was very humbling and very powerful. She went into surgery surrounded by the peace and calm of God’s presence.

Editor’s Note: Join Suzanne at the next Prayers for Healing Service, July 10 at 5 p.m. in the Chapel.


Mary HitemanAccording to one wise five-year-old, Mary Hiteman, associate minister for the Weekday Preschool at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, “is the boss of the school who tells us Bible stories each Monday after she says good morning to everyone at the front door.” Mary has led the preschool for 29 years, under its motto: “It’s ok to have too much fun!” Her other great blessing is being a grandmother to Hayden. They both enjoy gardening, camping at the “rivah,” vacationing at the beach, and reading.

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