Inevitably, when my New Testament students read the book of Acts, especially passages such as the one in which Peter raises Tabitha from the dead (9:36–43), the question arises, “Why don’t we do things like this today? Do miracles still happen?”
This kind of query elicits a more basic question, “What is a miracle?” We normally think of miracles as those events that defy the norm, when God intervenes in the natural laws (Josh. 10:13) or suddenly overturns the effects of the Fall (Mark 2:12; John 11:38–53).
In Scripture, however, the focus of those who observe the miraculous gravitates not to the event but to the someone who caused the event. “Who is this man,” the crowds inquire, “who could do such things?” (Matt. 13:54; Mark 6:2). True miracles signify that God has been at work, directly or through his agents (Acts 2:22; 19:11; Heb. 2:4). Yet the power of God in miraculous signs does not overpower, but woos. It calls for a response, a response of faith and trust (Matt. 11:20–23; Mark 5:30).
If that is the case, we might think that if we don’t regularly observe miracles, we are shortchanged. We don’t have an opportunity to respond in faith because there is nothing to elicit a response. Just as inevitably, however, after one student raises a question about the absence of miracles today, another will respond with an anecdote from the global church, where visions, healings, and even resurrections are igniting conversions to the faith. Then some will quietly share amazing events that they have experienced in their own lives and churches.
Our conversation usually ends up broadening our concept of miracles. We might not all have seen the dead raised, but we have seen relationships healed, finances provided, bodies healed through the wisdom of physicians, and even things as quotidian but awe- inspiring as the birth of healthy babies. We begin to realize that our daily existence is miraculous because without the sustaining power of Christ all creation would dissipate (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). All life points to the miracle of God’s goodness toward a rebellious creation.
Miracles, then, are God’s acts, including everything from sustaining life to raising the dead. If miracles truly are all around us, how then should we respond?
One of the most intriguing miracle stories happens right after Jesus’ transfiguration. While he has been on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, the rest of the disciples have been trying—unsuccessfully—to cast a demon out of a boy. When Jesus returns and completes the healing, he tells his disciples that certain miracles demand prayer (Mark 9:29). The practice of prayer puts us into relationship with God and, in so doing, helps us realize our dependence on him. From that stature, not only can we recognize his miraculous work in all things, but we are also prepared for him to work through us in miraculous ways. Through the cleansing and relational power of prayer, we are ready to be his agents. Certainly, God has chosen to impart to some the gifts of miracles in specific and readily apparent ways (1 Cor. 12:10, 28), but through the power of prayer, we are all equipped to observe, respond to, and even be a conduit for God’s miracles.
Among the thousands of street children in Brazil, Sidney is just one of many kids in crisis through whom missionaries Thomas Galphin Smoak III ’86, M.A. ’03 and his wife, Susanna ’88, have witnessed God at work.
by Susanna Spradley Smoak ’88
Sidney came to the ABBA Rescue House from the streets of São Paulo. He claimed that he didn’t know how to get back home after running away with a few derelict friends two years before. He had started playing hooky instead of going to school, and when his friends suggested they go on an adventure to the other side of Brazil’s largest metropolis, he found himself lost for good—until one of the ABBA tios (uncles) he met on the street invited him to camp.
At camp, Sidney and his street friends flew kites, played soccer, and swam in the pool until their bodies felt like the rubber from their worn- out sandals. They ate more food than they had ever seen in their lives. There were talks every evening, silly skits, and plenty of laughs and hugs.
On the last night, the tios told the boys that they could choose to live at the Rescue House. If they came, they’d have to start school, do chores, and stick to the house rules. Sidney said he was ready. Life on the streets had lost its charm. The tios told him they’d have to find his family to get legal custody.
A few days later, Sidney and one of the tios, Donizete, zoomed down the highway to search for Sidney’s family. Donizete systematically drove down each neighborhood alley, asking if Sidney recognized anything. Sidney shook his head at each turn, and both started to feel that he’d never find his family. He leaned his head on the open window to hide the tears that threatened to surface. That’s when he saw a familiar brown dog in front of a strange white door.
“Stop! I think that’s my dog!” He sprang from the van and the dog danced and barked around him. “But this isn’t my house,” he began, and then startled as the door swung open and the faces of his mother and father appeared. They tumbled into each other’s arms, his sisters and brothers rushing out behind them, laughing and crying until someone finally explained that the government had come through and renovated his block of low-income housing.
Sidney’s return was an answer to his parents’ desperate prayers. They had come to Christ and wanted to get baptized, but the pastor had insisted on marrying them first. Wanting to gather their estranged children for the celebration, they had searched for Sidney and prayed he would return before the wedding day. The day Sidney recognized his dog was the Tuesday before their Saturday wedding.
He stayed at the Rescue House for a couple more months before moving back home. When Thomas took him to the children’s judge, the social worker asked him why he thought he was ready to go back. He replied, “I had to scrub the bathroom at the Rescue House one day for my chores, and it was stinking something awful. One of the boys can’t control himself after life on the street and makes a mess every time. Well, as I was mopping it up, I realized that my sin was like that mess, and it smelled just as bad to God. Kneeling on the wet tile, I promised God I would never go back to the street.”
Michael Cates ’03
The fact that he’s alive gives Bethany Crabtree Cates ’03 reason to be thankful every day.
by Dawn Kotapish ’92
When a team of doctors asked him to turn off the Cubs’ opening game on television in his hospital room, Michael Cates ’03 knew he had more than a bad case of pancreatitis, or, for that matter, gastritis or acute food poisoning—the other misdiagnoses he’d received in recent months.
Tragically, the verdict this time was stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, with the disease presenting as an array of cancerous constellations throughout his lungs, stomach, spleen, pancreas, and large and small intestines. At his sternum hovered a malignancy the size of a grapefruit.
For Michael, even worse than hearing the news was having to break it to his wife, Bethany Crabtree Cates ’03, mother to two-year-old Eleanor and four months pregnant with daughter Uli.
Later that day, Bethany arrived at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and entered a darkened room. Michael put his arms around her.
“Everything changed in that moment,” Bethany recalls. “This unprecedented darkness settled into our lives. I couldn’t do anything without crying. His funeral was so clear to me—who would be there and what they’d say.”
But in spite of the cancer’s advanced reach, the Cateses’ medical team stressed that Michael’s prognosis was nevertheless hopeful. In his favor was a hardy family history, his youthful 31 years, and even, counter-intuitively, the disease’s aggression.
Also in Michael’s favor was his top-flight health. Ironically, even while his body (unbeknownst to him) had been under siege, Michael had just completed his first-ever marathon. Held two months earlier in Austin, Texas, the marathon had been sponsored by the Livestrong Foundation, which works to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.
After the diagnosis in April 2012, Michael took a leave of absence from his MBA studies at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and began the first of six chemotherapy sessions. Mercifully, the intense stomach pain he’d been experiencing subsided immediately, and he returned to a normal weight. But then the night sweats returned, and he asked a friend from the ministry Journey61 to pray for him.
Immediately after that, the night sweats disappeared and so did Michael’s anxiety. “I really felt God telling me, ‘Let it go, give this to me, this is not your burden to bear.’”
After the fourth chemo session, Michael called Bethany to share two miraculous words: “Dead negative.” On June 29, just three months after his diagnosis, tests showed Michael’s body to be officially cancer- free.
In February 2013, Michael and Bethany returned to the Austin Marathon. This time, Michael improved his time by 22 minutes.
Carrying a sign reading, “Jesus healed my husband,” Bethany joined Michael near the end, and they crossed the finish line together to the cheers of family, friends, and strangers.
Whether Michael’s recovery was a miracle of modern science or a result of God’s direct intervention—or both—Bethany says they will never know. Nor does she much care. “If it was through chemo, praise God,” she says. “If it was an instantaneous healing, praise God. Our lives and relationship with Jesus were transformed through this experience, and that is miraculous.”