A Chat with George O. Wood
For eight years, I had the privilege of serving my predecessor, Assemblies of God Superintendent George O. Wood, as general treasurer of the Fellowship. I had the opportunity to view his leadership and spirituality up close and personal. He has made a tremendous impact on my life. Recently, I sat down with him to talk about his journey with stage 4 cancer. In typical George Wood fashion, he offered great perspective from Scripture on how to deal with life's unexpected challenges.
DOUG CLAY: As we bring a close to another year, it’s my delight to be talking to a friend of many of ours and a good friend of mine, Dr. George O. Wood. I’m confident that our conversation today will not only be inspirational, but there will be practical insights that will be of great blessing. Dr. Wood, thanks for taking the time to chat. You are deeply, deeply loved by this Fellowship. Can you give us an update about your health?
GEORGE O. WOOD: Well, Doug, first of all, thanks to you for making this moment available. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on Aug. 30. It was a tumor in the esophagus that had spread to the liver and one of my vertebrae. I went through several rounds of chemotherapy and a clinical trial drug, but the third round with a clinical trial drug had some severe side effects, which landed me in Barnes Hospital in St. Louis for 16 days and then transferred to Springfield for rehab. I did not realize that if you go 16 days in a bed, you lose your ability to be mobile. So I had to learn to walk again. With a walker, I can do OK. There are things that happened in life that you don’t ever anticipate. Certainly cancer was not on my radar screen at all.
CLAY: George, I know of your great love for the Word of God. Have there been particular Scriptures that really anchored your heart and emotions during this time?
WOOD: One of my favorite passages is Psalm 84: “Blessed are those who set their hearts on pilgrimage, who passing through the Valley of Baca,” which is a desert place, “Make it a well.” And then that great phrase, “They go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion.” And we’re all actually headed to Zion at one point or another. I’ve found that in the moments in my life when I have been the weakest physically — which has been the last few months — I have felt the strongest spiritually.
Right from the moment I got the diagnosis on Aug. 30th — two days before my 80th birthday — I felt an instant peace. As a follower of Jesus, I have two great options. I can go to my home in Springfield or I can go to my home in heaven. I like both. This is coming from a guy who all my life was afraid of death.
I don’t know what the final outcomes are going to be, but I just had this great sense the Lord is with me. I’m passing through this desert place, but I go from strength to strength. We all will appear someday before God in Zion. Whether it's this year, next year, who knows when for me, I’m really at peace.
CLAY: You’re still the chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. What’s the Holy Spirit been saying to you for the World AG Fellowship?
WOOD: At our last World AG Congress in 2017, there was a large audience and I felt the Holy Spirit give me a prophetic word. We were looking at where the Assemblies of God worldwide is going to be by 2033, which is the 2,000th anniversary of the Resurrection of the Ascension. I said, “The Lord wants us to be at a million churches worldwide.” We're about 370,000 now. I know that sounds audacious, but if every Assemblies of God church around the world in over 190 countries and territories started two churches, we’d be there.
Out of that has come a focus called MM33, MM for the Latin for 2000; 33 represents the numerals for 2033. With the Lord’s help, and a vigorous church planting movement around the world, we would see a million Assemblies of God churches by the year 2033. The focus and the vision is really catching hold.
CLAY: One of many traits that I’ve picked up from you is the discipline of finding a word at the end of the year for the new year. I’ve done that now myself for the past seven years. As our churches and our ministers face 2022, what would be a word that you would share with them?
WOOD: There’s a Scripture that for years I didn’t understand, the apostle Paul’s statement in Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The reason I didn’t understand it was he was in prison. He’s in a prison cell, he is chained to a guard, and he is saying, “I can.” And I want to shout at him through the tunnel of time, Hey, Paul, don’t you realize you can’t do anything, your traveling days are over, your epistle writing days are nearly done? You're not planting churches anymore. People aren’t being healed under your ministry.
Then it dawned on me one day that prison was the hardest thing God ever asked him to do. And what that phrase means is I can even do this. And that has been meaningful to me in this time when I’m fighting stage 4 cancer. I can do this through Christ who strengthens me, whether He chooses to heal me this side of the Jordan or heal me on the opposite side of the Jordan. I’ve never felt spiritually stronger in my life than I do now.
I’ve always struggled with the idea that I was personally loved of God. This kind of sounds strange since I’ve been general superintendent. But growing up in a background where every Sunday night I got saved again, I was concerned I was going to commit the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I was concerned I was going to get possessed by a demon. I was concerned I was going to miss the rapture.
So about five weeks ago in the middle of the night, my mind went back to my first memory in life. As a 3-year-old, I had a dream that I was falling into a bottomless, dark pit. I woke up screaming. And every once in a while, that thought would come back to me, as God rescued me. As I thought about this at 3 o'clock in the morning, I felt enveloped as if God wrapped a blanket around me and cocooned me in this deep sense of love. And the Spirit said to me, “Go back to that pit,” and I went back.
I went back, but it was gone. The Lord said, “I filled that up, you’re never going to fall into that again.” It's beautiful grass now, you couldn’t even tell anything had ever been there. It was like a 77-year closure of a traumatic dream as a kid that always in the back of my mind, I just fall.
The assurance of God’s love was so precious to me. And as I’ve been reading Scripture lately, I just keep focusing upon the fact that God deeply loves us. And that’s part of the, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” He strengthened me by giving me this great emotional assurance to this still-insecure missionary kid that I’m really loved of God.
We are all deeply loved of the Lord and no matter what we’re going through. Christ can strengthen you in that trial and absolutely get you through it.
CLAY: I believe that was a word for someone in our AG family. I’m thinking of that blessing in Numbers, chapter 6: “The Lord bless you, the Lord protect you and may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you.” You are radiating the face of the Lord with joy. Chief, it’s been fun to spend these moments together.