Strength in Faith: Local pastor fights through illness with scripture

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2016

A PASTOR ALWAYS: Despite his illness, Rusty Kuhn has only missed two Sundays. Now, he preaches sitting at a table in front of his congregation.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

A PASTOR ALWAYS: Despite his illness, Rusty Kuhn has only missed two Sundays. Now, he preaches sitting at a table in front of his congregation.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” –– Psalm 46:1 KJV
After being diagnosed with Erdheim-Chester disease in 2015, New Life Baptist Church pastor Rusty Kuhn often turns to the book of Psalms during his time of greatest need.
However, Rusty Kuhn said he didn’t always turn to scripture. In fact, he said he “grew up a long way from the Lord.”
His parents were originally from Nicholson and Bogalusa, but he spent the majority of his formative years in California because his parents were in the Air Force, he said.
When he was about 13-years-old his parents divorced, which was about the same time Rusty Kuhn said he began abusing drugs and alcohol.
But on December 26, 1996, his life changed forever when his mother, who suffered from mental illness, committed suicide.
“She died in my arms,” he said. “It made me angry at God and I considered myself an Atheist at the time. The pastor in Bogalusa who performed her funeral was very instrumental in my coming to know the Lord.”
In March of 1997, Rusty Kuhn delivered his first sermon.
“It was a passion with me the moment I was saved and I had a passion to share the gospel,” Rusty Kuhn said.
From 1997 to 1999, Rusty Kuhn preached on a fill-in basis until he became pastor of a church in Silver Creek, Mississippi, where he stayed for two and a half years. After leaving Silver Creek, he pastored at Bethel Baptist Church in Pearl River County’s Crossroads community for five years.
In October 2005, Carl Myers, Director of the Pearl River Baptist Association, told Rusty Kuhn that a former church building in Nicholson was available. The building used to belong to Grace Memorial Baptist Church, Rusty Kuhn said.
“I have a love for this community,” he said. “My mom was raised here in Nicholson and I knew that’s where the Lord was calling me.”
On average, there are about 50 to 60 attendees every Sunday and Rusty Kuhn said the response has been positive in the ten years since the founding of New Life Baptist Church.
Rusty and his wife, Dale, are active members in the community. They are called the “ice cream church” because they pass out ice cream to people in the community, Dale Kuhn said.
In 2014, while traveling and preaching about one of his theological books, Rusty Kuhn became exhausted, experienced pain throughout his body and felt short-winded.
“I attributed it to traveling,” he said. “But by December, my body just crashed.”
Doctors tested his heart and lymph nodes before finding a large tumor in his femur. The Kuhns were told he might have lymphoma, leukemia, a fever of unknown origin or an aggressive bone cancer.
“Even the doctors at MD Anderson weren’t sure,” Rusty Kuhn said. “No one had a clue.”
It wasn’t until he went to see a pulmonary doctor in Louisiana that Rusty Kuhn heard he might have Erdheim-Chester Disease. The doctor told the Kuhns he had seen the effects of the disease during an internship.
In order to diagnosis Kuhn, doctors performed biopsies on his tumors, which are located on his eye, lungs, cerebellum, spine, ribs, lungs, hip, left femur and right knee. They were all malignant, he said.
According to, Erdheim-Chester is a rare disorder that can “affect many organs of the body and is characterized by an excessive production and accumulation of specific cells, known as histiocytes, whose normal function is to fight infections.”
“The bone marrow produces histiocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infection,” Rusty Kuhn said.
The excess histiocytes are drawn to bones and connective tissues where they form malignant tumors.
His first treatment, which included daily injections, healed the tumor in his eye. However, he ceased that medication because it kept “crashing” his immune system.
About two and a half months ago, Rusty Kuhn began a new oral treatment, a chemotherapy pill known as Mekinist.
“It targets the mutated genes and turns them off to where they histioctyes aren’t going crazy,” he said.
When he began his new treatment, Rusty Kuhn was already confined to a wheelchair. Two weeks later, he began using a walker and this past month, he began using a cane. Since there is a tumor in his cerebellum, his balance is off and the tumors in his legs make it painful to stand.
Rusty Kuhn is one of 304 people in the world to have this disease, he said.
“A few years ago, it was a guaranteed death sentence,” he said. “There is still no cure but doctors are able to slow it down. There needs to be more awareness of this disease. Even though only 304 people have been diagnosed, doctors believe there could be more cases since no one is aware of it. Even some oncologists don’t have a clue about this disease.”
Since his diagnosis, Rusty Kuhn has only missed two Sundays at New Life Baptist Church.
He preached from the floor in his wheelchair and members of the congregation built a railing so he could preach on the church’s stage. He sits down at a table to preach. Services can be viewed at
“If the Lord decides to take me, I know where eternity is,” he said. “God has blessed us. We can feel the outpouring of prayers from our church, community and other churches. To me, that’s a blessing to see the way they have responded. I never thought about stopping preaching.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox