By Michael Ashcraft —
As the #2 executive at the biggest waste hauler west of the Mississippi, Chris Banducci was the envy of his friends. He lounged in a nice house, drove a hot sports car and wallowed in money. “Work hard,” his neighbors told their kids, “and you’ll be a success like him.”
Then, at 29 years old, Chris was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and his world fell apart.
“I was angry. I was lonely. I was miserable and full of self-hatred. I just wanted to die. My drinking got worse; I drank myself to sleep every night,” Chris recalled. “I couldn’t imagine that any woman could love this ‘cripple.’”
Today, Chris Banducci, 61, is a Christian missionary in Taiwan. With God’s help, he overcame many obstacles and took on increasing challenges as his body began to fail him.
Looking back at his early years, it would be hard to imagine Chris answering a call to the mission field.
After he graduated from high school, he drove a trash truck.
“This was the best job I ever had,” he said. “I learned how to operate every bit of equipment at that place, to prepare for a supervisory role. Then I began to learn from my leaders how to manage people and make good business decisions.”
He felt some early physical symptoms of his disease, but shrugged it off.
As a supervisor, he was hated and feared.
“I mistreated people,” he said. “I stepped on people, lied, cheated and eliminated competition. I was not an easy person to be around. My reputation with women was such that they avoided me.”
Through raw ambition, Chris worked his way up to the director of recycling and resource recovery, second only to the owner and CEO. He reached the pinnacle of success.
“My neighbors would tell their teenage and college-age sons, ‘Look at him. If you work hard and apply yourself, you can be like that!’”
It was heady stuff. But while he relished the admiration, Chris knew on the inside he was a mess. His family lived up north, so he was lonely. He was good at intimidating people but not at making friends. He was drinking heavily.
Then he walked into the doctor’s office one day and received the jolting news.
“You have Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy,” she told him. “There’s no treatment and no cure.”
His doctor walked out of the room before he could recover from the shock and formulate questions.
“I completely lost hope that my life would be normal,” he said. “I knew my body would deteriorate. I just didn’t know how long it would take.”
Chris gathered himself together and maintained a semblance of normality in front of people. The gradual weakening of muscles might take years before it put him in a wheelchair. Behind the facade, he was a wreck. He turned increasingly to alcohol made plans to commit suicide when the disease progressed.
Then, his favorite waitress at the Fontana Sizzler’s invited him to a play at her church. She was performing the starring role about a young woman whose life spiraled into drugs, gangs and self destruction.
“The idea of Mexican gangs was totally foreign to me, but the plot was dead-on in my life,” Chris said. I was pretty much living the same way, without being in the gang.”
Chris related to the waitress because she struggled as a single mother. “There was a difference in her though,” he said. “Even though she had struggles in life, her attitude was the polar opposite of mine. She had hope and joy; I had only despair.”
The play shook Chris deeply. He ran out of the room after it was done, too scared to go up to the altar to receive Jesus. But he was haunted by the words of the preacher: “Jesus took the bullet for you.”
A short time later, at a Sunday church service, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and was born again.
He began attending church regularly and got involved in ministry activities. He joined the drama group. He admired profoundly Pastor Eric Strutz, of the Colton Door Church, and wanted to stop hauling trash out of people’s yards and start hauling trash out of people’s hearts.
In the drama group, he met the lady who became his wife in 1995. They had twin daughters the following year.
Then God began to stir his heart about becoming a missionary in Taiwan with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, a church-planting group. By now, he was in a wheelchair, and his wife had to take care of him. His mind was sharp – as was his preaching.
But would his pastor support the idea? It was hard enough for him to function in America where ample disabilities laws make life easier. But what would Taiwan be like?
Three times Chris had visited and preached for a missionary there. He had sized up the land and thought it would be feasible. His pastors agreed.
Chris arrived in 2009.
“People are willing to work around things and many stores will meet me in front and collect the product I’m looking for,” he said. “Parking is an obstacle; there are very few disabled spots, so many times I have to ‘walk’ a few blocks. My wife does all the driving.”
“Often we allow things to limit us,” Chris said. “Certainly there are physical limits, but they don’t have to be the thing that stops everything. People give up too easily. That’s what I did at first, but all of this has shown me that I can still contribute. I’ve just had to develop other skills.
“We all go through things,” he added. “The devil tries to limit our ability to answer God’s call on our lives. He doesn’t want you to be successful at reaching the people He has called you to reach.
“One time my parents were expressing pride that no matter what, I continued on with a good attitude,” Chris said. “My response was, ‘What else can I do? Quit?”
Michael Ashcraft pastors the startup Lighthouse Church in Van Nuys.