He stood nervously behind the lectern in front of a large Trussville Sunday School class. He had always felt he was not much of a speaker, and had brought a handful of note cards to help him get through it. But this was a story that had to come from the heart. A story he felt compelled to share with anyone who would listen, so he had been seeking small groups to talk to. This was his first, and he was apprehensive.
Ken Lass, Tribune columnist
It has been quite a year for him. It began with he and his wife rededicating their Christian faith in church. Shortly after, he determined to get up the courage to witness to his sister who had fallen away. He had put that off long enough. It was time. He brought her a Bible and did his best to lead her back. The reception was tepid at best.
In the spring he accompanied a Men on Mission group on a journey to Maryland where they were to build a new church. He had always been a skilled build-it and fix-it man, something he much preferred to public speaking. A few days into the mission, he was working on the new building when he began to feel chest pains. This wasn’t indigestion. He knew the difference. The pain kept getting worse and, though he hated to leave his fellow workers, eventually he conceded the need to be taken to a local emergency room. By coincidence, his wife happened to call him from home in Moody, Alabama that day just to say hello and ask how his day was going. Not so good, he said. He then informed her he was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. He told her not to worry. He’d been through stuff like this before. He’d be all right.
He was wrong.
Doctors determined he had a brain bleed. And it wasn’t his first. He’d had one before and still carried the stent in his head to prove it. But this one was more severe. Gradually it began to shut down his bodily functions and he fell unconscious. He had often heard stories about folks who have had near death experiences. How they saw heaven, and saw loved ones who had gone before. Saw the beauty and the peace. He had always looked forward to that journey one day, but this would turn out to be a vastly different path.
Instead, he told the group he actually saw hell. He saw the lake of fire. It was real. It was burning the walls of the new church he had been working on. He felt the pain of his skin burning. He says he cried out to God, saying this was not what he had been promised by the Scripture. He pleaded to be delivered from that awful place.
When he woke up, he was in a different hospital, surrounded by his wife and adult kids. He had been transferred to a major facility in Baltimore in a desperate attempt to save his life. His church family had arranged flights and hotels for his loved ones to get to Maryland to be with him in his final hours. The doctors and nurses appeared surprised he had awakened. It was clear everyone expected him to be dead.
Not only was he very much alive, but he experienced a remarkably quick recovery. Within days he was on a plane with his family heading home. Upon arriving he was contacted by his sister, who told him she had been praying mightily for him. That she felt Satan was punishing him because of what he was trying to do for her. Her faith had been rekindled by his safe return.
Prayer works, he said. Faith will be rewarded. That’s the message. That’s his story.
Would anybody believe it? Be inspired by it? He finished his talk, thanked the class for the opportunity, gathered up his note cards and began to walk toward the door. As he did so, the group exploded into applause and expressions of gratitude. A big smile of relief rippled across his face. He realized then it truly was a story worth telling.
There would be more lecterns, more groups to stand in front of. More people who needed to hear.