(Photos Courtesy of Celeste Yocom)
Celeste Yocom: Missionary in Kosovo
A Difficult Process
By Selma Komisky
Celeste Yocom is a missionary and pastor’s wife, who has served in Kosovo for ten and a half years, along with her husband Pastor Mark of Calvary Chapel Prishtina and their seven year old daughter Isabella Yocom. Celeste has stage four Metastatic Breast Cancer and is currently battling for her life. This is her testimony.
Yocom came to Christ in high school, but due to lack of discipleship, she fell back into her old lifestyle patterns and not until she was 22, did she rededicate her life to the Lord. Radical changes took place in her life and she developed a love relationship with Jesus, which then brought her to the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
She went on short term mission trips and later went on staff at her church. In 1996, God called her into fulltime mission’s work as the Lord led her to Russia to serve with Calvary Chapel Church Planting Mission. Based in Moscow for six years, she later met her husband Mark at a Missions Conference in Austria. Yocom shares, “I met him and I heard about his ministry in Kosovo. To make a long story short, Mark and I corresponded while I was in Siberia and we sensed the Lord was doing something. He asked me to visit Kosovo, after a conversation I felt the Lord speak to me that He wanted me to be open about moving to Kosovo. I did not understand it at the time; however, I was open to praying about it. So I came, fell in love with the country, and with Mark. We were married on November 5, 2004.” Later, the couple had a little girl named Isabella – the newest addition to their family.
Since then, Mark became the Pastor at Calvary Chapel Prishtina. While serving in Kosovo, the Lord has shown Yocom to stand strong in face of persecution. “He is doing a new thing,” she notes. “The battle will be won on our knees.” In Kosovo, the people are open to the gospel. Yocom believes God is drawing people to Himself and that they are in need of discipleship (people to mentor them in the faith). Above all, Yocom points out that the main obstacle they face is the need for more people to help, saying, “The Lord is recently opening more doors. We are reaching people through English courses; we have ladies coming that are desiring Bible studies in there homes, while the mom’s ministry continues to thrive.”
Fast forwarding to February 2014, Yocum had a life change. She was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told her the type of cancer she has, and it is aggressive. However, it would be treatable. The cancer was stage four and it had spread to her lungs.
“I just needed to cry and just give it all to the Lord. I bawled and bawled. To be honest with you all, I felt like I had just been given a death sentence,” Yocom stated. “I had no idea what the year held. I was scared. So many emotions flooded me and I cried and prayed.”
Looking back, here is her story, how is she found out about having this dreadful disease.
February seventh she had a physical; the purpose for the physical was because there had been some drastic and rather fast changes that had taken place in her breast. Yocom recalls, “I had noticed some slight changes in November, however they got better, then the same in December, but then things changed at the end of January” Because this wasn’t getting any better, Yocom went on to say, “Mark and I felt it was time to seek medical attention. I had been praying, praying that it would be nothing, as well as praying that, if it was something, that the Lord would help me to embrace the news of possible cancer. I felt deep down inside that I needed to prepare myself for this news.”
She was given the news that maybe possibly she was dealing with breast cancer. A growth was found in the mammogram as well as in a breast ultra sound. At that point they decided to go through further testing and as you can imagine, this news was rather hard to accept. Yocom shares, “I received the news alone as Mark was with Isabella. It was so hard. The doctors were asking me when I wanted to have the biopsy, etc. We decided to go ahead with the biopsy – that was hard. I just had to process all of it on my own, while tears were running down my cheeks as I was going through the test. Some of the things that were running through my mind were, Lord how can I do this? How can I care for my family? Where am I going to get treated?”
She did not have a peace about getting treated in Kosovo or Macedonia. So Celeste and her husband prayed for wisdom and direction for the Lord to lead them to a Christian hospital in Northern Greece, St. Luke’s (a four hour drive from their home). On Valentines Day they arrived in Greece and met an amazing doctor. After they had been given the blow that tumors were found in her lungs, they needed time to process.
The holiday was bittersweet as Yocom and her husband had an incredible dinner together. When the bitter reality hit why they were there, Yocom acknowledges that she was blessed to receive treatment in such a beautiful country. She comments, “This was very difficult to process. However we serve a big God! He is sustaining us in the battle. He is giving us the strength to stand strong in the battle! We are fighting this! We have seen how the Lord has answered specific prayers. He has brought an incredible team around us to help with practical needs like taking care of Isabella and people helping with meals. He has led us to seek medical care in Greece and the Lord has given us a peace in trusting the doctors that have treated me.”
Yocom declares, “Going into the minor surgery (for a biopsy) I was feeling that the situation was intense. As I started to go under the knife, I immediately thought I just need to meet Jesus. I found myself just focusing on Jesus. It was Jesus and all of the prayers that pulled me through a very difficult situation. Then the Lord gave me a song by Fernando Ortega called, “Give me Jesus.” It says, ‘In the morning, when I rise, in the morning, when I rise, in the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus, Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus, You can have all this world, But give me Jesus.’” I felt like the only thing I could focus on were the words of that song. When it was over, Mark came in and I told him, that was really intense. For him, the battle was the same as he was getting the report that the surgery was necessary. After this experience, we felt that we just needed to go out and have a nice lunch just to de-stress from all that had taken place.”
As they were driving back to Prishtina, she reflected on all that had just taken place. Hebrews 4:14 came to mind, which states, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Yocom says, “As I was meditating on that verse I kept thinking of how thankful I am that we can come boldly to the throne of grace in time of need. I was desperate for Jesus. Oh how thankful I was on that operating table that I was able to go BOLDLY to Him in my time of need; He met me there!”
Nonetheless, Yocom felt the Lord showed her some specific things, which have been the key to helping her stand strong in the battle. Yocom states, “He showed me that I had my cry (which I needed), now it was time to stand strong and fight. He showed me that I can take this news and do one of two things: become bitter or better. I chose better. I could take this news and dwell on it, feel sorry for myself and cry, or choose life – a life of intention and purpose. The thing that came across my mind was what do I want my daughter to see? Do I want my daughter to see me crying all the time, or do I want my daughter to see her mommy trusting Jesus and fighting? As we were driving I was thinking, I don’t know how this will turn out, but I want her to look back on this experience, and I want her to be able to say my mom is a fighter. As I was praying on this drive, the thing that stuck out in my mind was that Jesus wanted me to purpose in my heart to live a life of intention. Be intentional with my marriage, my daughter, my relationships, make these things the most important things to me (of course with Jesus first). To invest and live a life with a purpose! I tell you, by the time I got home, I was a new person. I was ready to FIGHT! Jesus had and continues to give me all that I need to fight this horrible disease. I was ready to face this little ‘c’ called cancer with the big ‘C,’ Christ!”
Now one year later, they are able to look back and see all the amazing things Jesus has done as they continue on this difficult path. Mark and Celeste have been blessed by all of the prayer support they have received around the world. Yocom exclaims, “Jesus did not deliver us from the trial, but He has been with us every step of the way. The second round of chemo was tough as well as blessed; we saw the Lord move a mountain. I say ‘we’ and ‘our’ as Mark and I are in this battle together. He has been an awesome support at standing right beside me every step of the way. When we arrived, the doctors (two oncologists working with us) shared with us that through the last biopsy confirmed that I have HER2-postive metastatic breast cancer. The doctors went on to share with us how they would like to go about in treating us.”
Pertuzumab, trastuzumab, and docetaxel was the regimen that they prescribed and has been proven to be highly successful in treating patients in the U.S. for the form of breast cancer that Yocom has. Believing that she has been led to the right doctors, despite the horrible procedures and side effects, Yocom has felt God holding her hand. Moving on the hearts of government officials to approve the medication she needed in Greece, God sent a hospital staff member to pray for a miracle with her. Commenting on her current situation, Yocom shares, “He has sent amazing people for me to minister to in the hospital. He has been providing funds for us. He has given me an amazing support group to help me with our practical needs of caring for my daughter Isabella and people providing meals.” Her closing words, “God is faithful!”
Find out more about Celeste and Calvary Chapel Prishtina at: markcelesteyocom.blogspot.com and ccprishtina.com