Mike with his family (left to right: Trevor, Mike, Linda, Ashleigh, and Tyler)
Turning “Meanwhiles” into “Howevers”: How God used Ministerial Relief to Support a Pastor in His Battle with Parkinson’s
In 2001, Rev. Mike Potts noticed something different about his preaching: he had begun to stutter. “It was a new and disturbing experience for me,” said Mike. Then his wife Linda noticed that when he walked, his left arm didn’t swing like the right one. After two visits to Duke University Hospital and the Mayo Clinic, Mike was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The news hit Mike like a ton of bricks, and he fell into depression shortly after. “I was 45 years old. I had a beautiful wife, three kids, a dog named Ruffles, a fish named Caryn, and I had Parkinson’s,” he said.
“I was 45 years old. I had a beautiful wife, three kids, a dog named Ruffles, a fish named Caryn, and I had Parkinson’s.”
Growing up an only child in Wilmington, NC, Mike says he was raised in a close-knit Christian home. In his words, “we had all of the boxes checked for ‘greatness.’” In high school, Mike and his family moved to Charlotte, where a new friend introduced him to the ministry of Young Life. It was there, says Mike, that he experienced what a relationship with Jesus Christ was all about. “I came to know Him in a powerful way—I discovered that Christ was Lord, and He had a plan for my life.”
As a senior in high school, Mike wanted to go to Law School at Wake Forest University. But after a visit to Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University), God put it on his heart to preach the word and pursue the pastorate. He later graduated from Columbia Biblical Seminary in 1981.
After seminary, Mike took the role of Associate Pastor to youth at Seminole Presbyterian Church in Tampa, Florida. There he served under the leadership of Dr. John Buswell, who gave Mike the responsibility of preaching every Sunday night for six years. This gave him a rare opportunity to develop the gift of preaching at the ripe age of 22.
This in itself was a wonderful gift, says Mike, but during those years the Lord also brought another gift into his life—a beautiful girl named Linda Bardin. The two eventually married in 1985, and they now have three adult children and three grandchildren. Over the years, Mike went on to serve several other Presbyterian churches in Florida and Ohio.
Mike with two of his grandkids.
Almost a year after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Mike resigned his position at the church he was serving. The move was a deep blow. “I struggled with the providence of God as to why He seemingly ‘put me on the bench’ so early in life,” he said.
Mike and his family eventually moved to Charlotte, NC, to be closer to parents and friends. Over the next 10 years Mike faced many hospitalizations and surgeries. Through this process he had to learn how to walk all over again.
Mike with his grandkids.
By 2016, the Potts had exhausted their financial resources. They weren’t sure how they were going to pay for their mounting medical bills. Then came a letter in the mail from the coordinator of the Ministerial Relief Fund at PCA Retirement and Benefits (RBI). “The fact is, I never knew they existed,” said Mike. “It was all God.” Ministerial Relief had heard of Mike’s story and knew of his family’s needs. And they were ready to step in and help.
“The fact is, I never knew [Ministerial Relief] existed. It was all God.”
For many years, Ministerial Relief has provided much-needed financial assistance to Mike as he walks through this difficult season. Financial assistance helps pay for monthly bills and medical expenses. When asked what he would say to the PCA churches who support Ministerial Relief, Mike was at a loss for the right words to express his gratitude: “To be honest, words can’t adequately explain what you have done for me and my family. It simply overwhelms me. Your gift of support goes beyond the benefit to us personally—it comes straight from the heart of God.”
“Your gift of support goes beyond the benefit to us personally—it comes straight from the heart of God.”
In the midst of his suffering, Mike has found particular solace in the providence of God displayed in the story of Joseph. “After he was thrown into the pit, the Scriptures tell us ‘meanwhile…,’ meaning God had a plan. The rest of Joseph’s life is the providential, grace-filled story of the ‘meanwhile’ in his life. The same is true for me and you.”
In the final chapters of Genesis, Joseph and his brothers return to Egypt after burying their father. The brothers, afraid that Joseph might now punish them for the cruelties they inflicted upon him, throw themselves at his feet, saying, “We are your slaves.” Joseph’s response is astounding:
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’” -Genesis 50:19-21 (italics added)
Remember Joseph’s story. In a jealous rage, his brothers had sold him into slavery. As a slave, he’d been falsely accused of a crime and then imprisoned for years. Eventually, because of his God-given ability to interpret dreams, Pharaoh had made him the second highest ranking official in Egypt. He became one of the most powerful men in the land, overseeing the storage and distribution of food during a devastating famine. This was his moment to get his revenge for all the trouble and pain his brothers had caused him.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he says to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph recognized the Lord’s providence and grace in his life. He saw that if he hadn’t gone through all those trials, he wouldn’t have been in a position to save his family or thousands of others throughout the land.
This is what Mike would call a “however,” a recognition of God’s goodness, providence, and grace in the events of our lives, even those filled with challenges and suffering.
As he reflected back on the impact of RBI on his life and faith, Mike had this to say: “[Ministerial Relief] has turned my ‘meanwhiles’ into ‘howevers.’” He went on to write a book about his journey with Parkinson’s called Living in the Meanwhile.
To learn more about Ministerial Relief and how we serve pastors and their families, please visit pcarbi.org/relief.
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