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The Rev. Scott Schmieding sat in an examination room at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston 13 years ago as a surgeon examined a malignant tumor in the center of his tongue.

The tumor was spreading rapidly, the doctor told him, and most or all of the preacher's tongue would need to be removed. He might never be able to swallow on his own. His speech would likely be unintelligible.

In that moment, Schmieding was not afraid of death or the physical ordeal that he faced. But he wondered about his calling if he survived: How could he spread the word of God if he couldn't speak?

Schmieding asked God to either make him whole or take him to heaven. Ultimately, God would do neither.

Schmieding survived the cancer, but he lost his entire tongue. In the years that followed, he retrained himself to speak using a special retainer and a muscle from his abdomen that surgeons transplanted into his mouth.

Two months ago Schmieding took on a new ministry as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Though his speech is difficult to follow at times, the awkwardness of his speech has, in fact, brought more power to his words, parishioners say.

Jana Leppien, who was on the Immanuel selection committee, recalled how one person put it best: "If someone is willing to work that hard to speak, after going through what he went through, I'm going to work twice as hard to listen."

Schmieding had never smoked or chewed tobacco and he had no family history of cancer. But in 1997, five years after his ordination, he noticed a sore in the back of his tongue. In an 11-hour operation, surgeons in Houston sliced open Schmieding's neck from ear to ear and removed his tongue through his throat. Then, they reconstructed ...

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Pastor With No Tongue Still Has a Lot to Say
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May 2010

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