On June 20, 2022, two men from Terrace (B.C.) Christian Reformed Church found themselves in a Vancouver hospital preparing to undergo life-giving surgeries. Twenty-two-year-old Chad MacDonald was poised to receive a kidney from his 49-year-old pastor, Joel Ringma. Almost to the day a year earlier, Ringma had interviewed MacDonald for a pastoral mid-week video that he started sending out to his parishioners during COVID-19 gathering restrictions. In the spring of 2021 MacDonald, who had been diagnosed with a kidney disease, had come to a point where he was dependent on dialysis, and a future transplant was imminent. The video invited congregants to consider signing up for the living donor kidney program. It was viewed many more times—about 1,000—than Ringma’s typical views of about 75 each week.
Ringma had known MacDonald and his family since becoming pastor of Terrace CRC in 2003 and had baptized 4-year-old Chad, along with the whole family, in 2004. He felt compelled to sign up with the donor program himself. After a series of tests and bloodwork, doctors determined that Ringma was not only a good match but also in optimum health to be a donor. “When I realized I was both a viable match and declared by my own team of doctors to be healthy enough to donate a kidney, I was a bit overwhelmed,“ Ringma said.
With the support of his wife, Ella, and their three young adult children, Ringma said the process of preparing to be a living donor involved giving a “yes” for many small decisions. “Kind of like the rest of life: Trying to be faithful in the small things leads to faithfulness in the bigger things,” Ringma said.
MacDonald also had support from his family, especially in coming to terms with the magnitude of someone offering him a kidney and in trusting the slow process of finding a match even as his own health was in the balance. “We have been blessed with an amazing community,” Chad’s mom, Carla, said. “We are still stuck for words for this most incredible gift,” she said, recognizing God’s provision in all of this. “Joel interviewed Chad so as to have a video to reach out to others as no family was a match,” she said. “But our brother in Christ was the match! That's all God!”
Chad said, “I found it was letting everything fall into God's hand to protect Pastor Joel and me. God put us in the best surgeons’ and doctors’ hands and told me to have no worries and he had it all under control and to focus on rest and feeling better.”
The Terrace CRC congregation and local community held a prayer vigil on the day of the surgeries.
Ringma posted to a Facebook group that day:
“It’s game day! Thanks for the prayers already. God is good … all the time. Woke up before my alarm thinking of Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That Chad and I are not our own but belong body and soul to our faithful saviour Jesus Christ … not a hair can fall from (our heads) without the will of our Heavenly Father.” God's peace be with you all!”
The morning after surgery Ringma was able to walk with his IV pole three doors down the hall to greet MacDonald. “I was ecstatic to meet Chad propped up in bed.” Five days later MacDonald and Ringma met outdoors near the ocean for lunch.
MacDonald’s recovery will be slow and involves adjusting to medications that help his body adapt to the new kidney. He is staying near the hospital for regular monitoring for the next three months. Ringma returned home within a week and is taking the summer to recover.
The living donor program with which Ringma registered is transplant.bc.ca. In the United States, kidneyfund.org/kidney-donation-and-transplant is a similar program.