A man lives on overtime after God uses a brush with death to make his life-saving message known.
Amanda M. Klemp
Randy Baker says that he’s living on overtime. He’s been saying this for 30 years.
He confesses, “God uses extreme circumstances for extreme people, so he used a two-by-four to get my attention and then once he had my attention, he had me.”
Going his own way
Baker grew up in California. When he was eight, his parents divorced. While he went to church a few times with his grandparents, his parents didn’t put a priority on a church life. The divorce was amicable, to the point that both sides got together for holidays and special events. But, Baker says, this was almost more confusing to a child because it seemed like his parents separated for no obvious reasons.
This family instability affected his own views of what family should be and what commitment means. “I got into things that were definitively not Christian,” says Baker. “It went on for a while until I met my wife, and then we ended up living together and not getting married because both of us came from dysfunctional families.”
He continues, “We didn’t see any functionality in the families that were supposedly Christian-based to begin with, so we were kind of trying it our own way.”
It was when they started to talk about having a family that Baker and his wife, Gail, got married. They were married in 1977, and their first son was born in 1980. This was when Gail, who was raised WELS but wasn’t attending church as an adult, felt the pull to go back.
“It was shortly after our oldest son was born that Gail started to feel the heartstrings tugging her back to church. So she started going without me and inviting me,” says Baker. He went occasionally, but often made other plans and found reasons not to go. Their second son was born in 1983, and all the while Gail made sure the children were baptized and going to church.
In general, the Bakers represented the all-American family—two small children with two stable parents who loved each other and a father who supported the household working in the construction business.
Changing his attitude
But God had other plans for Randy and needed to get his attention. In 1985, he came face to face with God’s two-by-four.
He was diagnosed with melanoma. It was stage five and had metastasized.
The only treatment available at the time was dangerous, and Baker didn’t have insurance because he was self-employed. He was given a 20 percent chance that he would live two years. He underwent surgery to remove the melanoma from his back, but the doctors said it would certainly return after three months.
“Now, God had my attention,” says Baker. With a cancer diagnosis, he says, “The rug gets torn up from underneath you by the world. I was facing my demise. We had two children at the time, and Gail was being faced with being a widow in her 30s.”
Facing death, Baker started going to church. He started attending Bible class, reading God’s Word, and praying. In 1986, he was baptized and confirmed at Shepherd of the Hills, La Mesa, Calif., where he and his wife are still members.
“It was dark days, and it took a while to get out of that from a worldly standpoint. But from the standpoint of going to Bible class and becoming confirmed and learning more about the Christian faith and how it should work, it changed my attitude quickly,” remembers Baker. “But I was still faced with not surviving. During that two-year period that I was supposed to be perishing, our daughter was born, so obviously God had something different in mind.”
Baker started spending more time thinking about God’s Word and praying for guidance and healing. He wanted to see his kids grow up. It was after his confirmation that he felt he could face his illness and impending death. But, he says, there’s never really a sensation of “all clear” as a cancer survivor; every little ache or pain or weird malady makes you wonder if it’s back. The difference now is that he felt he could face it.
He says, “As time goes on, you’re able to see the next day, the next week, and finally starting to be able to look further down the road. It was certainly meditating on God’s Word and getting introduced to the truth that changed my attitude, and I was able to look forward and get a smile back.”
After the surgery, he was expecting the cancer to return. By all medical accounts, it should have come back. But it didn’t.
“Basically, it went away, and they don’t know why it went away,” says Baker. “I think it was God, because nobody knows.” And it hasn’t come back in 30 years. “From a medical standpoint, it’s a miracle, plain and simple.”
Now, he has three children, a new faith in God, and no signs of cancer.
Baker says, “I had a new attitude and a whole new outlook on life. I was going to church regularly, going to Bible classes. The day I got confirmed, I was added to the church council and board of trustees.”
Working on overtime
It was at this time that he started tapping into his construction experience to work on building the church . . . literally. It started with pouring a foundation for a school. Then he worked on or helped build several WELS churches in his area of southern California. From there, he went with a crew to Antigua in 1995 to help with relief work there. The projects kept coming, and his hand was always raised.
When Christian Aid and Relief started relief work in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Baker was one of the first to go and last to leave. He spent the better part of three years overseeing construction work on behalf of WELS organizations.
“When I had the opportunity, it was an easy move to make,” he says. “It was work, and not always for pay, but it was an easy decision for me to give thanks back. This whole time, I’m in overtime. Every day is overtime, every month is overtime, every year is overtime. When I got asked to be involved with these projects, I couldn’t say no.”
He’s even brought his children to help with some the projects, modeling and teaching service to the Lord. One of his sons even met his spouse volunteering with his dad.
Baker says he comes into contact with a lot of people who say they want to do similar volunteer work someday. His advice is always, “Don’t wait. Make plans now, because we don’t know where we’re going to be tomorrow or in ten years.”
Baker is quick to say that none of this is actually about him. “It’s about God’s people sharing the light that’s presented through our actions.”
Amanda Klemp is a member at Gethsemane, Davenport, Iowa.
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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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