March 2008 – When you see the Rosenbergers in person, it takes little imagination to understand why this couple operates a Christian ministry aimed at addressing the needs of amputees in developing countries.
But the obvious – Gracie’s two prosthetic legs – are only the beginning of understanding how Standing With Hope, their ministry, is both a metaphor for their lives and the message they bring to audiences across the country.
It’s a message of how God uses brokenness and dysfunction on many levels to bring joyous hope and remarkable faith to those who dare to trust Him with their lives.
If the story of Peter and Gracie were a movie, the opening scene would introduce a young man from Anderson, South Carolina, chasing his dreams to Music City, USA.
It is 1985 when the pastor’s son enrolls as a music composition major at Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee. Friends introduce him to a beautiful young voice major from Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
The screenplay might play out as a predictable romance if it were not for the horrific events just two years earlier that had shattered Gracie’s dreams and her body.
Flashback: 1983. Gracie, a freshman voice major awakens early in the morning. With only a couple of hours of sleep, she heads west on Interstate 40 toward Memphis. Her final destination is Little Rock, Arkansas, where she plans to spend a few days with a friend. Some 90 miles west of Nashville on a lonely stretch of four-lane, Gracie falls asleep. Her car smashes into a concrete bridge abutment. The injuries are extensive. In the coming months she undergoes numerous surgeries. It is two years before she is finally able to return to college.
Flash forward to 1985. Peter falls hard and fast for Gracie. After all, she is beautiful – and needy. And he is just the kind of compassionate Christian guy able to care for her, or so he thinks.
Gracie, on the other hand, takes some convincing, but soon begins to consider the possibility of the young musician as a potential husband.
A romance is born and so is a musical partnership. Soon Peter’s plans of being a songwriter and accompanist for other singers begin to focus exclusively on Gracie. It doesn’t hurt that she is blessed with a world-class voice.
Peter and Gracie marry in 1986. He works a series of unfulfilling corporate and government jobs in order to provide insurance for Gracie. Parker is born in 1988; Grayson, four years later. A larger family is all the more reason for Peter to pedal harder. “I should have had a license plate that read ‘I gotta,’” he says.
Meanwhile, they continue to perform their music at churches, schools and community events. It is well received.
The movie version might play out with the heroic, self-sacrificing husband overcoming all odds to provide for his family while injuries from the auto accident disappear as a fading memory. But for Peter and Gracie, another script had been written, one in which loss results in greater gain.
The plot thickens
In 1991, when residual problems from the wreck required that doctors amputate Gracie’s left leg, Peter showed great trust in God, at least outwardly. But, he now confesses, there was a core disbelief in his soul. “I thought if God is going to allow this tragedy to happen to Gracie, then how can I trust Him to care for her?”
“I saw a pattern in my own life,” he said. “I was trying to manage all these things including my career and Gracie’s health. And in striving in my own strength, I was becoming miserable to live with.”
Ironically, Gracie never held Peter responsible for fixing her life. It was a lesson that God had first made real through a one-time childhood encounter with Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom. After the car wreck and during the long nights in the hospital, her body racked with pain, Gracie reasoned that if Ten Boom’s faith in God was solid enough to sustain her in the face of Nazi cruelty, then He could be trusted with her injuries.
“Gracie came into the marriage knowing that she was not my problem,” Peter says. “She understood that my duty was only to deal with today.”
By 1995, Gracie again was suffering unbearable pain. The only medical remedy was to remove the remaining leg. In what turned out to be a symbolic precursor of her husband’s own spiritual victory, Gracie made the difficult decision to amputate.
“She put her hand into the hand of God and irrevocably stepped into His plan for her life with no looking back,” Peter recalls. “She came out of the surgery singing the ‘Doxology.’ That praise continues to resonate throughout our lives.”
In the years to come, Peter would do the same. “I finally quit trying to play God in Gracie’s life, left the security of my job and my own striving, and entered into the call of my life,” he said.
Heart of the story
The earliest notions of what would become Standing With Hope came after Gracie’s initial amputation as she lay in bed watching a TV show about the plight of amputees in developing countries. Peter says that right away, Gracie was drawn to the cause.
It took another dozen years for God to move the pieces into place that would enable that early vision to become a reality in 2004. Today, Standing with Hope is providing quality prosthetics to amputees in Ghana on Africa’s west coast and hoping to expand into northern Africa. Even more central to their work is training locals to care for their own people.
“We don’t want to fit 10,000 amputees,” Peter said. “We want them to fit 10,000 amputees. And that’s our goal.” He says this approach is essential because lifetime care for an amputee with a prosthesis is a high maintenance undertaking. For example, a limbless child needs a new prosthesis yearly. Therefore, when the Standing With Hope team, including volunteer prosthetists, travels to Ghana they hope to fit about 25 patients in a week. However, the focus is on training a clinic to treat and maintain 75 new patients every year.
Standing With Hope specializes in building and fitting below-the-knee prosthetic limbs. It is about a six-hour procedure that brings ministry volunteers in close contact with patients. That’s plenty of time to share Christ with each patient.
However, there is no obligation to accept the Gospel in order to receive a leg. “We want them to know that our service is a free gift and that we’re doing this as unto Christ, because we are thankful for what He has done for us.”
Music of freedom in Christ
Peter and Gracie’s music still plays an important role in their lives mainly by opening doors to tell their story. Two such notable opportunities include performing at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new amputee-training center for military personnel experiencing limb-loss.
Gracie can sing almost any style of music, says Peter, who describes himself as a “pretty good piano player.” But to qualify as a selection they perform for audiences, a song must meet one unusual criteria. “When Gracie sings, she’s not up there trying to impress you. She doesn’t want your applause,” Peter said. “She wants you to know how real Christ is and point you to Him as the only thing that has sustained her.
“So when we perform, we only sing songs that we have sung to each other in the hospital, or that she has sung while lying on a hospital bed, oftentimes in pain. Audiences can feel that reality.” Having endured over 60 surgeries, Peter says their repertoire is large.
Gracie’s medical issues are ongoing and 2007 was a difficult year physically. Peter says they continue to watch her condition closely because even small problems can have a ripple effect throughout her whole body.
Still, the couple looks to the future with a great joy at the prospect of sharing the Gospel with amputees in Africa, as well as telling their story of freedom in Christ to anyone who will listen.
Whether singing or talking about their own lives or building legs for amputees in Ghana, Peter says the message is the same. “Everyday, I have the pleasure of encountering someone who is struggling with something, and I say the same things to them. Like the crippled guy who asked Peter and John for money in Acts 3, I tell them, I may not have what you are looking for, but I have what you need. In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk.”
To learn how you can be a part of Standing With Hope, visit www.standingwithhope.com.