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Only When It's Dark Can We See the Stars
A Father's Journal as His Son Battles Cancer
John van Popta

Four Long Years: That’s the time from 12-year-old Julian’s diagnosis of leukemia until the van Popta family reaches the other side. All the while, dad kept a log chronicling in detail the arduous ordeal. Is there hope in the pitch-dark Valley of Baca? With his journal, you can travel with these pilgrims on their journey.


Since John is sharing his entries with extended family, friends and church members, you hear him reporting and reflecting as a pastor. He had encountered similar situations before, but such experience counts for little compared to facing cancer of a loved one firsthand. So you also sense how a father’s heart aches as his son suffers. And how he wrestles with wounded faith.


“When I held my son in my arms tonight, I wept.”


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A minister’s son, John van Popta (B.A., M.Div.) pastored three congregations in the Canadian Reformed Churches before taking an early retirement due to Parkinson’s disease. Keeping an eye on the stars, he and his wife, Bonita, have six children and 25 grandchildren.

9x6 -194 pages - Hard-Cover, Soft-Cover & E-Book 



Available through our global and regional network of distributors

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What makes this book so compelling is that the story unfolds before the reader’s eyes: these entries are written as the events are taking place. When John and Bonita are on tenterhooks, awaiting results, or are wrestling with a difficult decision regarding Julian’s treatment, the reader likewise is in suspense. The reader does not know what is around the corner from entry to entry . . ..

- Ben Faber

Christian Renewal Review

While this is a deeply personal account, the struggle to trust God in the face of death is one that we’ll all have to face, and this then is an example of how to struggle well. It is a father writing, but there’s no missing this is also a pastor who wants to feed the sheep with what he knows we need: to understand that my only comfort is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. That truth, powerfully delivered, makes this not simply a good book, but an important one.

- Jon Dykstra


Reformed Perspective

The author of this book describes a family’s reliance on and trust in the Lord as they walked through the Valley of Baca. The book gives hope, comfort, and understanding to all who read it. Heartily recommended.

- Albert H Oosterhoff, LLM

Professor Emeritus

Western University (Law)


In this sober, moving account John van Popta tells the story of the illness of his son Julian, and of the way of bravery, despair, resilience and exhaustion Julian, his parents, family and friends had to go. It is a story of pain and encouragement, medical accomplishments and incapacity, of joy and lament. At crucial moments, God does not seem to respond to calls for help. Yet in all the weeping, hope – even beyond death – becomes real in relationships.

- Koert van Bekkum, PhD.

Professor of Old Testament

Evangelische Theologische Faculteit

Theologische Universiteit Kampen│Utrecht


God calls most of his people to pass through dark valleys. Few valleys are deeper, and few are darker than the

ones in which we see our children suffer. This is a book that will be a blessing to all of those who are being called into times of suffering, sorrow, and uncertainty.

- Tim Challies

 Author, Seasons of Sorrow


Heartbreaking and hopeful, these raw, unedited emails record the van Popta family's journey through the valley of the shadow of death and the Good Shepherd's often mysterious presence and care. It was a privilege to be Pastor John van Popta's friend and colleague in the next town over during these events, and to read these emails as they first appeared. I am delighted to see them available to a wider audience. 

- John Barach, M.Div.

Minister of the Word

Covenant Presbyterian Church

 Sulphur, Louisiana


This is the story of a family’s heart-breaking journey through the valley of the shadow of death. It will almost certainly make you weep. But it will also lead you to worship the God whose grace is sufficient, and whose goodness and mercy in Christ follow us all the days of our lives.

- William den Hollander, Ph.D.

Professor of New Testament

Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary


“Julian has been diagnosed with leukemia.” I remember exactly where I was when I took Pastor John’s phone call that late summer afternoon. The news came like a thunderbolt, shaking the basement where I was standing. Julian’s remarkable story, so lovingly detailed in this journal, is an encouragement to all. This book is a must-read and is already a best seller in my heart.

  - Peter Buist, Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry Emeritus

Charleton University


This collection of journal entries is vivid in its attention to medical detail and gripping in its stream-of-consciousness style, but what makes it especially worthwhile is its compelling testimony to God’s sovereignty and love.

- Jannes Smith, Ph.D.

Professor of Old Testament

Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary


Though it is autobiographical, this book deals with such deep experience that it becomes archetypal. Much can be written about it, but at minimum John van Popta's account of his pilgrimage through the valley of Baca gives us a fleeting glimpse of the infinite love of the Father who gave up his Son for us. 

- Daniel Shin, M.Div.

 Minister of the Word

Spring Creek CaRC

Vineland, Ontario

Reformed Perspective Review

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