Doug’s Last Wish

by | May 23, 2005 | Discouragement, Weakness

Doug and Margaret Nichols have faced their share of obstacles. After surgery for colon cancer in April 1993, Doug sat across from his doctor and listened in disbelief. “I’m sorry, Doug,” said the doctor nervously, “but you do have a 30 percent chance of recovery.”

“You mean I have a 70 percent chance of dying?” Asked Doug, with a grin.

“I wouldn’t put it that way,” said a surprised doctor. “But my best estimate is that you have about three months to live.”

“Well, let me tell you something, Doc,” said Nichols. “Whatever happens, I have a 100 percent chance of going to heaven.”

One year later radiation and chemo treatments had left Doug’s body wracked with pain. Though he kept his humor well-oiled, both Doug and Margaret knew the end might be near. But their world was not the only one collapsing. Nightly news reports from Rwanda indicated that civil war had spiraled out of control and more than a million people had been slaughtered, many by their own neighbors and trusted friends. The carnage was beyond belief. Terrified Rwandans by the thousands had fled across the border into Zaire and crowded into filthy, ill-equipped refugee camps, where diseases such as cholera found a ready home. People were dying everywhere-50,000 in three days alone in the little town of Goma. As Margaret and Doug read the terrible accounts and saw the images on TV, their hearts were broken. But what could one couple do?

“I knew I was going to die,” Doug told me, “but I wanted to do something before leaving this earth. I just wanted to hold some of those children in my arms and try to offer hope.”

Soon Doug found himself traveling with a team of doctors and nurses through the heart of Rwanda, with no idea of the adventure that lay ahead.

A Rwandan Christian leader whom Doug had worked with before had hired 300 refugees as stretcher bearers to bury the daily masses of dead and transport the sick so doctors could do their best. One day the leader approached Doug with an expression of deep concern. “Mr. Nichols,” he said, “we have a problem.”

“What is it?” Doug asked.

“I was given only so much money to hire these people, and now they want to go on strike.”

“What? In the middle of all this death arid destruction these men want to go on strike?”

“They want more money.”

“But we have no more money,” Doug informed him “We’ve spent everything. If they don’t work, thousands will die.”

His friend shrugged his shoulders. “They’re not going to work. They want more money.”

“Well, can I talk to them?”

“It won’t do any good. They’re angry. Who knows what they’ll do?”

Finally Doug’s friend agreed. Walking over to an old burned-out school building, Doug climbed the steps wondering what on earth he could say. Three hundred angry men surrounded the Rwandan who would act as interpreter. “Mr. Nichols wants to say something,” he called above the clamor as Doug desperately searched for words that would get through to them.

“I can’t possibly understand the pain you’ve experienced,” Doug began, “and now, seeing your wives and children dying from cholera, I can never understand how that feels. Maybe you want more money for food and water and medical supplies for your families. I’ve never been in that position either. Nothing tragic has ever happened in my life that compares to what you’ve suffered. The only thing that’s ever happened to me is that I’ve got cancer.”

He was about to go on when the interpreter stopped. “Excuse me,” he said, “did you say cancer?”


“And you came over here? Did your doctor say you could come?”

“He told me that if I came to Africa I’d probably be dead in three days.”

“Your doctor told you that and you still came? What did you come for? And what if you die?”

“I’m here because God led us to come and do something for these people in His name,” Doug told him. “I’m no hero. If I die, just bury me out in that field where you bury everybody else.”

To Doug’s utter amazement the man began to weep. Then, with tears flowing down his face, he turned back to the workers and began to preach. “This man has cancer,” he told the crowd, which suddenly grew very quiet. In Rwanda, cancer is an automatic death sentence. “He came over here willing to die for our people,” the interpreter continued, “and we’re going on strike just to get a little bit more money? We should be ashamed!”

Suddenly men on all sides began falling to their knees in tears. Doug had no idea what was going on because no one had bothered to translate. To his great embarrassment, one fellow crawled over and threw his arms around Doug’s legs. Dumbfounded, Doug watched as people stood to their feet, walked over to their stretchers, and went quietly back to work.

Later, as the interpreter recounted the whole story, Doug thought to himself, What did I do? Nothing. It wasn’t my ability to care for the sick. It wasn’t my ability to organize. All I did was get cancer. But God used that very weakness to move the hearts of people. Because they went back to work, thousands of lives were saved, and many heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

“So many are discouraged by weakness,” Doug told me later. “We feel that God could never use us; we have nothing to offer. But you can get sick, can’t you? You can simply obey God and do what He calls you to do-whether you feel you have the ability to do the job or not. Sickness and weakness-those things we think God cannot use-are many times the exact things God uses to glorify His name. But so often much is left undone in the world because we are so concerned about what people will think about us. We are underqualified; we’ve never done that before. And so we sit back as spectators.”

Callaway, Phil. Who Put My Life on Fast-Forward? Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2002, p. 228-232.


Doug’s Last Wish