Youth ministries grad John Lafreniere (’01) found himself pleading with God for answers after raising 40% support to start a church in his hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut. Eight months earlier and just weeks after his son’s birth, his wife Abby had been diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating disease that will take a person’s life in 2–5 years. “The only thing that kept me going forward was the grace of God,” said John.
Although they had the option of discontinuing their church plant, John said, “I looked at my wife and asked, ‘Abby, do you want to keep going?’ She looked at me and said, ‘This is what God has called us to do; this is what we’re going to do. There are people in Fairfield that need us. There’s a church that needs to be started. We need to keep going.’”
So they kept going, raising the remaining 60% support they needed and starting Fairfield Baptist Church in the local elementary school. During that time, John said that “Abby’s resolve was such an example to me,” his wife’s desire to be an active part in their church ministry inspiring him. “Through the course of this disease, Abby remained faithful to church and helped disciple the ladies of our church. She was a faithful witness and led several of her caregivers to Christ.”
With his wife’s encouragement and his training at PCC, John believed the Lord had prepared him for both the pastorate and the trials ahead. “Some of my greatest training came outside the classroom at PCC as I was able to lead a neighborhood Bible club as well as help at a local church,” he said. “The atmosphere and practical messages were crucial to keeping my focus on God while pursuing my academics.”
That God-ward focus was mirrored every time he looked at Abby. Six months into her disease, she lost the ability to walk, and after eight months, she lost significant ability to move her arms. Yet through all of her trials, she kept a heavenly perspective. In a video recounting her battle with ALS, she said, “We don’t understand everything that goes into our lives and things that happen, but God knows. And we’re just told that we need to trust in Him.”
As John continued to trust in God, he watched his wife slip further away. “One night, I was begging God for some perspective in what I was going through, and He gave me this thought,” said John. “Abby is my modern-day parable of how dependent I should be on God. Without my help, Abby could not do basic tasks, and so am I without my God.”
This realization began a journey that would influence not just John and his family but his entire ministry. Dependence on God became his focus as his wife’s condition worsened, as he acted as caregiver to his wife, father to their son Elijah, and pastor to their fledgling ministry.
Yet through it all, he could see God’s divine hand guiding, encouraging, and promising that the best was yet to come. On February 24, 2017, John said goodbye to his wife on this earth, knowing that her first steps out of that wheelchair were as she walked with the Lord.
“The grace of God continues to overwhelm us as we continue to press forward by faith,” said John. “We know there’s a bigger plan, and we just want God to get the glory.”
In the months that followed, John watched as the Lord continued to glorify His name, developing their little church body into a strong core of forty people—people on fire for the Lord. They joined in tract blitzes, door-to-door evangelism, and community events. They came alongside John and Elijah, encouraging them as a second family.
“Losing a spouse is obviously difficult; but in this trial, I have seen God’s grace give us healing, understanding, and a deeper perspective,” said John. “I have learned to more deeply trust the Lord. Most people trust God to provide more for them, but I have been taught that true trust is allowing the Lord to take away something that you think you need. Pressing forward by faith is one step of trust and another step of obedience. I don’t know all that God has planned for my future, but I know I have a Heavenly Father that will give me exactly what I need.”