Victory Over Fear
After a decade in youth ministry, Jeff and Tiffany Wendt planted Canvas Church in Northfield, Minnesota, in 2011 with help from the Church Multiplication Network. Five years later, more staff had been added, as Jeff served as lead pastor and Tiffany as director of women’s ministry. Although still portable, the church averaged 400 attendees at weekend services.
The Wendt family — which included three young children when the church started — had grown by two more, the youngest only 18 months old. When Tiffany found a lump in her breast, she thought it might have been brought on by childbirth. Her doctor initially told her not to be concerned, but as the lump increased, the physician ordered tests. In December 2016, the 34-year-old mom and minister received a diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer.
Although shocked and then emotionally numb, Tiffany soon perceived the diagnosis as a spiritual attack. Other staff members at Canvas Church recently had experienced personal or health difficulties.
“I believe much illness represents spiritual warfare,” Wendt says. “And once it hits, you have the choice to succumb or overcome.”
The cancer turned out to be aggressive, so Wendt’s doctors developed a treatment protocol of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by a double mastectomy, more chemotherapy, radiation, and finally reconstructive surgery. About five weeks into the chemotherapy, discussing treatments, and realizing the gravity of her situation, Wendt felt her resolve collapsing into fear.
It marked a new experience for Wendt, who admits to having little patience before dealing with fearful and anxious people. Her close friend Lauren Crosgrove, executive pastor of ministry at Canvas Church, agrees.
“Tiffany had never really understood what people were going through when they struggled with fear, and she had to learn how to fight it,” says Crosgrove, 35.
Wendt relied on a journal of Scriptures about healing and God’s promises. But unprecedented apprehension crept in nonetheless.
“About five months into treatment I was putting the kids to bed and the fear rushed in — fear that I wouldn’t see them grow up,” Wendt recalls. “I was visualizing missed weddings and grandkids.”
Wendt could only collapse on a sofa.
“I knew I couldn’t live like that, and I told the Lord I wasn’t moving off that couch until I received an answer,” Wendt recalls. Within moments, peace replaced fear.
Small groups at Canvas Church stepped up to provide meals, do laundry, and shovel snow. Amazingly, the support of friends helped Wendt to continue in ministry throughout her treatments.
“She never skipped a beat,” says Crosgrove. “I’d see her texting a response to a hurting woman, even while she herself was hooked up to chemo.”
Wendt believes her positive attitude helped minimize side effects, but she grappled with the fatigue that accompanies cancer treatment. She credits her husband and adherents of the church for taking on extra responsibilities around the house and with the children to give her extra time to rest and lead women’s ministry duties.
“Some marriages falter during something like this, but they were very much a team,” Crosgrove says.
Wendt says during her cancer journey God gave her a special compassion for people dealing with fear. For instance, at one checkup, Wendt noticed a man in the waiting area obviously dealing with debilitating side effects. She also sensed that he felt fearful, so she prayed with him.
Wendt shared her ordeal at the 2018 Bridging the Gap Thrive Conference. Afterward, a woman brought her 9-year-old granddaughter to speak with Wendt. The girl explained that she had not been sleeping well due to fear, and, if she slept at all, experienced nightmares. After hearing Wendt’s testimony, the girl said she confronted her fears and felt relief.
As the Wendts began to emerge from the cancer treatment period, Jeff, 42, realized the extra responsibility of caring for Tiffany, along with full-time pastoral ministry, had not left much time to process his own emotions. Drained, he sought counseling. He now shares his experience to encourage other ministry leaders to be vulnerable, admit struggles, and seek help.
The Wendts continue to be busy at Canvas Church and with their five children: Jack, 14; Noah, 12; Sally, 9; Finn, 7; and Bo, 4. Two years after finishing treatment, Tiffany continues to receive good checkup reports.