Interview by Mark Labberton, Christianity Today
Of the thousands of people affected by the ministry of Steve Hayner—the former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who died Saturday after battling pancreatic cancer—Mark Labberton was one of the closest. Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, met Hayner while a freshman and brand-new Christian attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. The two ministry leaders went on to form a deep friendship as each grew in their respective roles and responsibilites.
In an intimate conversation with Hayner this October, when Hayner transitioned out of the presidency of Columbia Theological Seminary, Labberton said, “It would be hard to think of anyone other than my brother who has more fully bracketed my life as a person, a pastor, a leader, a disciple, a friend. There’s hardly been a decision since I was 18 where your friendship or example or encouragement or invitation hasn’t helped clear the ground for me to take the next step.”
Hayner reflected on his cancer diagnosis, following Christ when death is imminent, and eternal life in one of his and Labberton’s final conversations, which is edited below for clarity and length.
The Saturday before Easter, I remember calling you to wish you and Sharol a happy Easter, and you were feeling ill. The next three days, between that moment and Tuesday, life…
… changed virtually immediately. I went to the doctor first thing Monday, and by Tuesday we had a tentative, 95 percent diagnosis that I had pancreatic cancer. Normally the only thing they can do with this cancer is what they call a Whipple procedure. It basically means removing most of the organs in your upper abdomen, including the main tumor, then “replumbing” everything.
In my case, the surgeon wanted to do a biopsy to make sure everything else was clear. A pathologist in the operating room confirmed that I had metastatic pancreatic cancer and that there were already lesions in my liver. So it had already metastasized. That meant surgery was off the table. They were going to have to treat it another way.