The Power of the Third Rail: Jim Shaw’s Story, A Review

The last time I saw Jim Shaw was at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Lackey Clinic. Back in 1995, Dr. Shaw had a God-inspired vision to meet the needs of people who lacked good medical care, in the greater Williamsburg, Virginia area. Looking back, the Clinic has been a resounding success.

But the path was never easy. Not too long after Lackey Free Clinic got started, Jim Shaw ended up on the other side of the doctor’s office, so to speak, as he began his extremely difficult, 18+ year fight against cancer. His short book, The Power of the Third Rail: A Testimony of Life and Hope in Suffering and Ministry, tells the story.

Dr. Jim Shaw likened those years of his life to a three-railed, model train set. One side rail was his medical ministry, growing the outreach of the Lackey Free Clinic, and the other side rail was his battle with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. But the center rail, which powered the train, represented the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the source of strength to guide him through the challenges of both ministry growth and suffering from cancer.

Jim Shaw had grown up in the Episcopal Church, even acting as an acolyte, but he had no depth of faith. Not knowing much about the Bible, he took an Old Testament class in college, designed by that school to help bolster faith in the modern world. Ironically, however, this class inadvertently destroyed whatever shaky faith he had growing up in a church. In this class, the supernatural acts of God, the parting of the Red Sea, the tumbling walls at Jericho, etc., were explained away, convincing this young man, destined for a career in pulmonary medicine, to turn off his mind “to the Bible as truth.” His scientific inclinations had led him to conclude that the Resurrection of Jesus simply could not be believed.

He married, and soon began his graduate studies in medicine, eventually doing research in pulmonary medicine. But his career put a huge stress on his growing family. His wife, Cooka, sought to bring Christ into the center of the family life, but Jim Shaw would have nothing of it.

Yet Cooka kept praying.

By the time the Shaws came to Williamsburg, the power of prayer began to soften Jim Shaw’s heart. Through the loving friendship of friends at our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, Jim Shaw slowly began to have some of his intellectual questions answered. He read helpful books by C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Frank Morrison. But these books were not enough. He eventually encountered a new picture of Jesus, as a real, flesh and blood person, from meeting Father Joseph Girzone, author of the book, Joshua: A Parable for Today, and this helped to prod Jim Shaw to eventually put his faith in Jesus.

The Power of the Third Rail, which I was able to read in one or two sittings, walks the reader through the ups and downs of trying to start, and eventually grow, the Lackey Clinic, as well as chronicling his long-term struggle with cancer. Aside from the Lord Himself, the one real standout hero in the book is his cheerful and supportive wife, Cooka. What an incredible love did they have for one another!

At times, Jim and I wrestled with each other on certain matters of faith. But after having read his story, I am encouraged to know that for the things that really count, Jim Shaw and I shared the essentials of knowing the reality of Jesus Christ.

I remember years ago, in the early days of his Lackey ministry, sitting with Jim at a dinner on a men’s retreat, with him telling me of his grand vision to get the Lackey Clinic going. I kept thinking to myself, while it sounded like a great, noble idea, I was not convinced that anything that impactful could really take off. I am glad that I was wrong, as evidenced by the hundreds of patients who have continued to receive expert medical care over the years. Dozens of medical professionals and other volunteers, supported by generous donors, who care for those who fall through the cracks of the U.S medical system, have made it happen, with all the praise and thankfulness going to God.

I also remember, during those years, Jim and Cooka sitting in the back of our church, with Jim harnessed up with a halo neck brace, designed to immobilize his body from being shot through with piercing pain. I really wondered how long Jim was going to make it. To think that he left this world, to be finally cancer-free, only just a couple of years ago, astounds me as to how God proved faithful to him, to have him serve His purposes on earth.

The most profound lesson I learned, in this book from Jim Shaw, is that it was his time reading and studying the Bible that energized his walk with Jesus. Jim’s life exemplified the teaching by the former, pastor emeritus of our church, Dick Woodward: to get people into God’s Word, so that God’s Word can get into them.

So, if you want an encouraging, short read as to how one can meet God, in the face of the twin challenges of ministry and physical suffering, go get a copy of The Power of the Third Rail. Thanks, Cooka, for getting Jim’s story into print!

Jim Shaw was a reader of Veracity. You can read his obituary here. Veracity blog founder, John Paine, wrote a brief tribute to Jim shortly after his death. For more information about Lackey Clinic, and how you can help, and carry on Jim’s legacy, here is their website.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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