Broken & Mended Provides A Lifeline For People Who Hurt — All The Time


Far reach of pain

Chronic pain is much more prevalent than many Christians realize, said Dr. Mike Walker, a psychologist and administrative director at the North Texas Pain Recovery Center in Arlington, Texas. 

“So many people who are suffering from chronic pain don’t talk about it,” said Walker, an elder of the Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ in Arlington. “If you stop and think about it, pain in general is something that we’re just beginning to understand more.”

New cases of chronic pain occur more often among U.S. adults than other common conditions such as diabetes, depression and high blood pressure, according to a new study by the National Institutes of Health.

Twenty-one percent of U.S. adults experience chronic pain — defined as pain experienced on most days or every day in the past three months, the study found. 

Eight percent of U.S. adults suffer from high-impact chronic pain — defined as pain that limits life or work activities on most days or every day in the past three months, researchers reported.

While not familiar with Broken & Mended specifically, Walker said support groups can be helpful for those with chronic pain.

Interacting with other patients can take the focus away from the pain, he said, and the depression that frequently goes along with it. 

“Whether it’s going to church or out in the community, doing things is always better than just isolating and focusing on how bad I hurt,” said Walker, a 1976 graduate of Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City.

Nowhere to turn

For David Heflin, chronic pain began more than a decade ago with what he first thought was a simple hip injury.

By 2016, his health concerns “progressed to the point of having nerves burned in my back because the pain was so unrelenting,” said Heflin, the Woodward church’s preacher.

Now diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis — the same ailment as Brien — and Crohn’s disease, the minister said he feels pain almost all the time.

That’s especially true if he stops to think about it.

“There have been times when I typed my sermon on my knees because I couldn’t sit,” he said.

The 47-year-old father of three started Broken & Mended in 2018 to help himself and others.

“I just felt when I was at my worst that I didn’t really have anyone that I could turn to,” he said. “I tried to find a support group for Christians with chronic illness and could not find one. And so I began creating our own.”

Extending far beyond northwestern Oklahoma, the nonprofit has inspired additional Broken & Mended groups to form both online and in person — including meetings in Florida and at least eight Churches of Christ in Kenya.

Via video-conferencing technology, Timothy Gunnells — who endured years of excruciating pain from severe psoriatic arthritis — keeps up with the Woodward meeting from his home in Tennessee.

Stem cell therapy in Mexico last fall has helped reduce the level of the longtime preacher’s pain. He’s feeling so much better that he’s returning to full-time ministry next month with the Southside Church of Christ in Shelbyville, Tenn.

He became aware of Broken & Mended when he connected with Heflin online.

“I can’t really fully describe this for somebody who doesn’t really understand,” Gunnells said of the support group, “but I had felt isolated for so long. And even at church, people didn’t quite understand what I was going through. And they weren’t sure how to talk to me.”

Broken & Mended provided a desperately needed lifeline.

“Just sharing my own issues with my health and listening to other people share in that first meeting,” he said, “it lifted a burden off of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

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