July 5, 2016
A Second Chance to Seek First God's Kingdom
Post by Brittany Tedesco
I spoke with him on the six-year anniversary of his diagnosis.
"June 30, 2010," he said. "That was ground zero for me."
Dr. Arnaldo Zapata was an active cardiologist in Puerto Rico who didn't know how to slow down. Well-loved by his patients, he gifted them with laughter and levity. No matter what hour of the day you visited his practice, you'd hear the hilarity and the jokes.
Besides his practice, Zapata was president of three organizations, a board member of a slew of medical associations, and sat on several committees at his church. He kissed his wife goodbye every day at 6 a.m. and worked until midnight or 1 a.m., returning home for a quick shower and a few hours of shuteye before doing it all over again.
He and his wife had grown up in hardworking families who, despite their work ethic, remained in poverty. After the couple graduated college, however, success rained down on them. In fact, they didn't know what to do with all of their newfound wealth. And so, they asked God.
"God told me, 'You are blessed so that you can be a blessing to others'," Zapata said.
Okay. . . but which "others"?
In his spirit, Zapata heard the Lord respond, "those who do not know the gospel."
Not the type you have to tell twice, Zapata and his wife immediately got involved in cross-cultural mission work in Central and South America. A few years later, in the late 90s, he learned about indigenous missions through Christian Aid Mission.
"It made so much sense to me," he said. In his spare time, he became an advocate for Christian Aid Mission—speaking with pastors or in front of church congregations across Puerto Rico about how native missionaries were on the front lines of sharing the gospel with unreached people groups. Zapata inspired people to catch the vision of a witness for Christ in every nation, and they gave generously.
After asking to pray for him one Sunday morning, the pastor of Zapata's church told him that God was going to mold him—and He would do it slowly.
A blazing tornado of productivity, the father of five sons barely noticed as the years, and decades, flew by. In 2010, the blaze began to dissipate. Zapata felt weak.
Of course you're tired, his friends and patients tried to reassure him, you're over 50 years old and you never have any downtime.
"But this was different than just feeling tired," Zapata said. "I could feel the weakness in my bones."
A woman approached his wife at a spa one day in June with a message: she'd be receiving some news that would slice right through her heart, but after enduring hardship, she would emerge victorious.
Two weeks later, on June 30, Zapata was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in his bone marrow.
The following month, Zapata traveled to Houston for a second opinion. There he learned that the variety of multiple myeloma he had was particularly aggressive. Not one cancer center has been able to cure this type. He had two chromosomal abnormalities, which was causing the rapid progression of the disease.
Zapata prepared to die. He'd lived a full life. He was ready to meet his Lord and Savior. In fact, he hadn't shed even one tear. He calmly made plans for his funeral with his wife, who sat next to his hospital bed, and gave her instructions on their financial assets.
Two days later, a man from a local church visited Zapata and told him that God was going to heal him, but it would happen slowly and Zapata was to continue to undergo medical treatment.
The visit piqued his curiosity, but he wasn't sure if it was really from the Lord.
As if to answer those very thoughts, a second man, from a different church in the area, visited Zapata that same day—with the same message.
Even more difficult to ignore was the woman, from yet another church, who visited Zapata the next morning. "You know Jesus Christ, the Savior," she told him. "But you don't know Jesus Christ, the Healer. You will know His healing."
The next several months were filled with chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplants—things that improved his condition, but not by much. In fact, he continued to deteriorate.
He was in pain and grew weaker. His bones had become so brittle that, if he turned his body the wrong way, he could hear them snap. It wasn't long before he was relegated to a wheelchair—an electric one because he was too weak to use a manual one.
He hadn't asked God why he was so sick; he figured it wasn't any of his business. But one Thursday evening, he decided to ask God why He was going to heal him. "You have the right to do whatever you want, Lord. Answer this question if you want to, but if you don't, it's okay. In Jesus' name, amen."
The following Saturday, a friend of his wife brought a pastor to Zapata's home. Unbeknownst to Zapata, this pastor whom he'd never met had been praying and fasting for him. That afternoon, the pastor told him that God would heal him and that he need not worry about his family or finances, but just do the Lord's business. In fact, Zapata was about to be blessed financially.
The pastor turned to leave and then stopped and turned around. "Ah, you want to know why God is going to preserve your life," he said. "It is so that you can do the two things you love: work with your patients and continue in missionary work."
For the first time since the ordeal began, Zapata cried. "I was so humbled that God would answer me so quickly," he said. "Oh, Lord, You didn't have to answer so quickly."
The association of cardiologists of which Zapata was the president met together and decided that they would take over his practice for him while he was unable to work and continue providing him with compensation—not only that, but they also voted to provide him with a hefty raise.
Days of pain and weakness turned into months, which turned into years.
One afternoon, at a Texas Rangers game in Dallas that he had reluctantly attended, Zapata was approached by an older man who said to him: "The Holy Spirit told me, 'that man has been healed because I have a special assignment for him.'"
In 2015, Zapata began to regain his strength. He no longer needed a wheelchair. Much to his wife's initial concern, he started to lift heavy bags of groceries.
In less than five months, five people told him he'd been healed. But Zapata already knew.
The last two people who confirmed his healing had also told him not to be hesitant about what he'd been contemplating, but to act on it.
He'd been thinking about resuming his work for Christian Aid Mission.
In early 2016, Zapata wrote to us, asking to sponsor some missionaries and explaining that he'd been an advocate for us before and he was available to help again.
Today, he's back to work for native missionaries, sharing about their ministries in churches. Except this time, with a much leaner schedule, he's able to dedicate more time toward this work.
"If God didn't give you that disease," his wife told him. "You wouldn't have time to do His business."
Seek ye first the kingdom of God, Zapata discovered, and all else will be added unto you.