Sunday Chronicles #89, April 22, 2018
Greetings from Springfield, MO where morning rain has given away to high clouds. I was able to attend chapel today since Son Jon was here to chauffeur me up to the door. He left about noon to return home, so I’m starting another week of living alone.
After writing last week’s chronicles about following God in extending compassion to others, my mind went back to a story I wrote for the Pentecostal Evangel in 1988. It is the testimony of Rick Gail, one of the students I taught at CBC. Although I had not heard from Rick in years, I was able to contact him via e-mail this week and received his permission to add his story to this blog. It is a bit longer than the usual blog, but I believe it’s worth the space. I hope you agree. Thank you for your prayers, comments, gifts, cards, visits,– all the caring things you do that make life better for me. jwb
‘I Heard God Walking…’
The halls and waiting rooms on the second floor of St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were crowded that September day in 1981. Word had gone out that Rick Gail, a policeman injured in a high-speed chase, had only hours to live. Rick had lain in a coma for over a week, since the night the patrol car in which he was riding had been broadsided by a truck traveling without lights at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The impact spun the patrol car around twice, then sent it 80 feet down the street. The truck bounced against a tree, went through a chain link fence, and demolished an 18 –inch-square brick porch pillar before coming to rest partially under the porch.
The first officers to arrive found Rick pinned in a 6-inch space between the steering wheel and the door. He had no pulse. They worked to revive him and to free him, but neither effort had succeeded when another officer arrived. “Rick’s dead,” they said. The arriving officer, Sgt. Mike Birmingham, was a Spirit-filled Christian and a close friend of Rick’s. “O Jesus, no!” he cried, as he got into the car on the passenger’s side. As he worked with Rick, he prayed in the Spirit. Soon Rick began breathing, and after about an hour the officers were able to get him out of the car and into the waiting ambulance.
At the hospital doctors found that Rick had a split sternum, crushed rib cage with all ribs on the left side broken and all but one on the right; a broken collar bone, and a massive concussion. His lungs had collapsed; X-rays showed them to be a pulp that looked like ground meat. The doctor did not understand how Rick could be breathing, yet he was. It was the first in a series of miracles. Miracles were not new to the Gail family. Rick’s father, pastor of a Bible-believing church, had brought up his family in a home and church that experienced the power of God. Family and friends gathered at the hospital in the dawn following the accident. They knew another miracle was needed.
Eight days later, Rick was still in a coma in intensive care hooked up to numerous machines. One machine was to pump fluid from his lungs, but nothing was happening. Doctors, believing Rick’s death was imminent, called in the family. In waiting rooms and halls family and friends were quietly praying. In a separate waiting room about 50 off-duty policemen had gathered. After being told Rick had only hours to live, Rick’s father went in to talk with the policemen. He told them how Rick loved them. “He talked about each of you. He would be pleased if he knew you were here. Only one thing would please him more and that would be to know you were praying for him. I realize you are from different religious backgrounds, and I do not wish to embarrass anyone; but if you feel you could, I’d like to ask you to stand in a circle, join hands, and pray for Rick. If some of you do not wish to participate and want to slip out, I’ll understand. But I know how Rick loves you, and I know he would want you to pray for him.” The policemen stood quietly and formed a circle. One muscular lieutenant watched them carefully. He had decided that any man who left would have to answer to him. Later he told what happened.
“I didn’t know anything about standing in a circle and holding hands to pray, but I knew I could do it for Rick. So I watched to see if anyone was leaving. But no one left. The room was very still, and Rick’s father was praying. I heard a rustling sound like someone was moving quietly. I thought one of the guys was trying to sneak out, so I looked around to see who was moving, determined he’d settle with me. But everyone was standing still. The pastor was still praying quietly. Then I heard the sound again, like someone walking softly. I looked, but no one was moving. And suddenly, I knew! God was there. I had heard God walking! I looked around to see if anyone else knew He was there. Guys I’d never seen cry were weeping and hugging each other. A spirit of love enveloped the whole room.”
The prayer was hardly finished when a nurse came out of Rick’s room and asked for his brother. The family thought the end had come. But she took the brother to Rick’s bed and showed him the tube coming from Rick’s lungs. Bubbles were forming in it. “I’m not sure what it means,” she said, “but I think it’s a good sign.” She was right. Soon liquid was being drawn from the lung cavity, and healing started. Rick remained in a coma for 2 more weeks. Even when his condition continued to improve, his doctors gave guarded reports. He would never be able to return to police work; he would probably always need oxygen.
After 28 days in the hospital, Rick left weighing 70 pounds less than he had when the accident happened. He could walk only with assistance. Fellow officers took him to the Y where they worked out. Soon Rick was working out too. Nine months after the accident he passed the stringent requirements and returned to the work he loved. But Rick soon found his police work was over. When he and a fellow officer were called to a burning building to rescue children trapped by a fire, Rick’s damaged lungs failed under the pressure of inhaling smoke. He passed out, and his partner had to drag him from the building before he could rescue the children.
Rick realized his injuries might bring danger to others, and he would be a handicap to the men he loved. When he passed out again while giving chase to a criminal, he knew he had no choice but to change careers. Since his teen years Rick had known God was dealing with him to be a minister, but he had resisted, telling God he would work for Him on the police force. Now God’s voice was clear and insistent. Working as a policeman was over, but working for God in ministry was only beginning. Among the results of Rick’s miracle are other miracles: the two officers who reached him first the night of the accident became active Christians as a result of seeing Rick live after they found him dead. And the conviction in the lieutenant’s voice when he says, “I heard God walking!” leaves little doubt that God visited Rick Gail’s room that night when death gave way to life.
Rick continues to serve in ministry in Iowa.