MIRACLES IN THE MONTEREY BAY
Supernatural Impact of Renewal:
I picked Tommy up early in the morning to drive to Bakersfield from Salinas. We had to pick up a 1965 Mustang hardtop and bring it back by nightfall, as it was Wednesday and we had service that evening at 7PM. I was a little tired, as I had spent the day before in Sacramento California discussing renewal issues with our District Superintendent. Pastor Cole, along with most of our District leadership were opposed to the Renewal Movement I was a part of, so I felt it important to periodically meet with him and let him know we were OK. This had helped us at times in the past, as he killed a pending Bill before it went to the General Council floor that would have excommunicated all Renewal pastors, and forced the Renewal Churches to come into compliance with the non-renewal standard, regardless of their stand. Brother Cole and I had a long conversation about the potential problems this would create. At the end of the meeting, he gave me his word that he would do everything in his power to squash it and he did.
We had lunch together before I left Sacramento. After lunch, I went over to Vacaville following my meeting in Sacramento with the District people, in order to attend a Conference at Vacaville Christian Life Center. John Bevere was going to be the main speaker and I was excited to hear him in person, as I had only read books by him at this point in my life. It was quiet the contrast going from the sterile and formal atmosphere of Sacramento to the freedom of Vacaville. As I sat in during the time of worship, I chuckled to myself, reflecting on the contrast.
I was also looking forward to seeing my wife Clara and a significant group from Sanctuary Christian Fellowship, our church in Salinas CA attending the meetings, as I had drove to Sacramento by myself, but I knew that they were going to drive over and meet me for the Bevere service. My heart was warmed with the thought of seeing my wife and friends in Vacaville. I liked to expose our people at Sanctuary to as many speakers and churches as I possibly could; as I knew we could learn and adopt practices that could help us in our pursuit of God’s Presence and Glory as defined by the Renewal Movement. As I watched the people dance and minister to the Lord, I looked forward to observing my flock integrate with this gathering of Bay Area Renewal Churches in celebration.
Dance, Children Dance
Later in the evening, the people from Sanctuary showed up with Clara. I had saved a block of seats toward the front, as I like to get as close to the stage as I can get, in order to be close to the action. You never know when God might explode onto the scene, or you might be called out for prayer ministry. As we took our seats, the group was a buzz over the evening meeting. Darryl Shedenhelm, one of my associates who was also teaching in our school and I were clowning around a little, as was our custom. As worship started, I left my seat, went into the front area, and began dancing before the Lord in joyous praise, abandoning myself before the King of Glory. The music was loud and raucous, which led to a real sense of joyful bliss, as a friend of mine, Georgian Banov likes to say.
I looked at Darryl and noticed that he seemed be a little tight, as he was just standing there immobile. I kind of hopped over to him and rammed into him as we used to do when we danced in Punk Concerts prior to being saved. Darryl looked at me with chagrin in his eyes. I came back over to him hopping all the way. As I got close to him, I reached out to him and shouted, “More!” With that said I then grabbed him and tried to get him to dance. He pulled away and told me that he was not ready for that yet. Prior to this evening, Clara and I had taken Darryl and a group of about twenty other people to Toronto in 1998. He had a powerful encounter with Holy Spirit during that trip one night. God nailed him to the floor as he shook in an almost violent manner. It was a liberating experience for him, but he still had some reservations about the freedom that renewal brought to the church in worship.
Darryl knew it was real, as he and his wife had began to accept this new way of doing church related things, but the transition was not always easy for him due to his more conservative Christian background. When Clara and I had first went to Brownsville in 1997 to check out what all the reports were about, and we did not proclaim Brownsville a work of the devil upon our return, the Shedenhelm’s almost left the church, as they were being influenced by Hank Hannagraff’s radio show, and his vitriolic attacks on the moving of the Spirit in Renewal services at Toronto Airport Vineyard Christian Fellowship and Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola Florida. They knew we were not anti-revival, but when we began to openly endorse the newly emerging movement, they and others in the church began to struggle with our allegiance to the freedom expressions. I had been advocating the right of Toronto, Brownsville, Pasadena and any other church to pursue God as they deemed appropriate on my Radio show, Dimensions of Faith for a couple of years prior to our churches full embrace of the new move of God, as I had felt the criticism was unwarranted. In America we have the freedom to worship God as we deem fit.
I was never opposed to what I heard was happening in Toronto and the other hot spots of spiritual activity where the newly emerging style of worship was focused, but I was not ready to jump on board initially. My prejudice or reluctance was based on prior observation, as I had seen something new come along in the Vineyard churches only to be rejected by John Wimber after time passed, with a lot of leaders being hurt in the process too many times to embrace the latest and greatest spiritual toy that came along one time to many. This reluctance to walk out new revelations in the light of emerging leadership had led to our departure from the Vineyard earlier. The funny thing is, once Toronto was asked to leave or stop doing what they were doing that was offending so many in the body by the Anaheim leadership and they chose leaving over renunciation, I realized that there was probably more to what was going on in Toronto than another temporary event in Vineyards history.
Toronto and 1994
Clara and I then flew up to Toronto for a conference and to scope out the happening. While we were there, we learned why so many people had asked me when we had been to Toronto before, although we had never been prior to this trip. Our church had been in a time of extended revival starting in mid 1994. The revival phenomena started shortly after we arrived in Prunedale California to pastor Believer’s Church in late 1993. When we were voted in by the church members as their pastors, I told them that we were going to make worship our calling card, and that we were going to begin welcoming Holy Spirit in a new way. The church had been a part of the Word of Faith movement in the past, as well as the Assemblies of God, so there was a natural openness to the supernatural, but the Word of Faith philosophy had influenced the church and some of the basic practices were different from what we had grown accustomed to in the Vineyard.
John Wimber’s reluctance to allow the traditional accouterments of Pentecostal practices like the spontaneous loud message in tongues followed by an interpretation had influenced me to avoid those expressions once we began to embrace the Vineyard way of doing ministry. I did not like to use catchers in prayer lines, as I encouraged people to stand and continue to receive for the Lord as we prayed for them. We would have people stand with the person being prayed for, but there job was not to catch and release the people, assisting them to the floor. It was our philosophy to instruct the prayer attendants to hold up the people we were praying for especially if they seemed to have the Pentecostal propensity and training that expressed itself in falling over. We saw this practice as well as others peculiarities as cultural leftovers from a revival that had seen better days in the past, and we felt that many people fell as a courtesy to those who were praying, or that they did not want to be judged as being less spiritual, so they would fall to avoid judgment. These assessments on our part may or may not have been accurate, but they did affect our philosophy of ministry.
Even though I thoroughly explained these differences to the people at Believer’s Church prior to the election, the church still accepted our leadership and welcomed us as their pastors. My Vineyard induced reluctance to embrace the more demonstrative elements of Pentecostal revivalism began to change in early 1994. My youth pastor’s future mother-in-law had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Brenda had invited her to attend church, hoping I would pray for her healing and for her salvation, as Brenda was unsure of her mother’s spiritual status, due to her strong Catholicism. They sat in the front row that morning, hoping for a miracle.
Brenda’s mom’s cancer made its second appearance as she had a large tumor removed from her jaw earlier in her life. The cancer returned with vengeance, aggressively spreading throughout her body. The doctors had little if any hope for her survival, giving her a survival estimation of no more than six months, so she came with desperation. No one expected what happened next. She had a profound encounter with the Lord during worship. She told me later that she felt warmth cover her body. I had begun placing the podium on the floor rather than positioning it on the stage, so I happened to be stationed right in front of her when I began to preach that morning. I had barely spoke just a few words when she let out a loud shriek, jumped to her feet and promptly fell forward into my arms, limp as a wet noodle. My immediate response was to gently place her on the floor, where she remained for the entirety of the service. For the most part, she just lay there, although an occasional outburst of laughter punctuated the morning air from her flaccid body.
Amazingly, she lay there long after service ended, with Holy Spirit doing a deep work in her heart, and, as we would later find out, her body. The cancer that had ravaged her body shrunk. It did not disappear entirely, but it did shrink to the point where it was easily removed and remediated. That event started an openness in my heart to an allowance of a more expressive version of revivalism. I had seen this style before during my Teen Challenge days, as we had to visit many churches that embraced a multitude of styles. I was comfortable in most types of churches, but I really liked the Vineyards natural approach to the supernatural.
New and Unusual
My Vineyard training did challenge me to be open to new ways however, so I began to explore different ways to incorporate the two styles into a singular expression. When we finally made it to Toronto, I realized why people said that we were just like them, as Toronto was a Vineyard that allowed a more dynamic and old school Pentecostal style of worship and prayer ministry to exist in their services. People were allowed to be loud, to dance, and to fall down when they were prayed for in the prayer lines. It did have the normal Vineyard order applied to the occasion, such as painted lines and controlled prayer teams, but it was a blended style of worship that took the best of both worlds and tried to bring them together into a singular format.
Brownsville Assembly did something similar, just in reverse. Whereas Toronto focused on grace and freedom in their message, Brownsville focused on repentance and the need to achieve standing. It was the classic separation of Armenianism and Calvinism. The amazing thing was that both variations of theological influence were in play during the same revival at the same time, as each influenced the other. To the best of my knowledge, this has never occurred in church history prior to this revival period during the 1990’s. You could almost say Toronto was Vineyard doing Pentecostalism, and Brownsville was Pentecostalism doing Vineyard style ministry, as their worship style was definitely influenced by the Vineyard movement. Brownsville’s worship pastor Lindell Cooley regularly used music from Vineyard albums, placing his unique style on them. There seemed to be many pastors and leaders in the church who were open to this new way of expressing worship, practices, and theological perspectives through the blending of the previously two primary church organizational models that had influenced the churches growth over the previous century. It was an incredible time to be a pastor, but there were inherent risks, as leaders in both movements rejected the emerging style.
One of the most dangerous positions to be in as a leader is to belong to the last move of God, when a new move starts. It takes real character and an adventurous spirit to accept something that is not what you had been a main advocate for in the last occurrence of revival. I’ll never forget what Clara and I experienced the first time we went to Pasadena and the woman sitting right behind us let out a “HO!” at the top of her lungs during announcements. We quietly moved to another section in order to escape the undisciplined outburst. Wouldn’t you know it? Another person did the same thing all over again! The analytical portion of my faith still struggles with some of these areas of practice, although I see the need for people to be liberated from the constraints of excessive religion and hypocrisy.
The church in Vacaville had struggled with some of these very issues, as they had been associated with the Assemblies of God when the Renewal Movement first burst onto the scene. All of us who were beginning to identify with this emerging model faced opposition and a measure of alienation, as no one had ever experienced this type of expression of worship in the modern world. It was a new thing, and it wasn’t going anywhere. Now here we were in Vacaville, expressing our freedom in Christ. I turned around and saw that most of the people from Sanctuary had also made their way down to the front of the church also. Darryl’s reluctance to dance came back and caused him to reevaluate his attitude against an open expression of emotion and fun the next day, as he was forced to recollect my encouraging him to come and dance with me before the Lord as he sat in a hospital waiting for the results of emergency surgery.
I was tired when we left the service, but I new I would be able to sleep on the way home. I knew I had to get up early and make our trek to Bakersfield and get my little brothers old 1965 Mustang for my boys to use when they entered into High School. I had met with my Board on Sunday evening and had informed them of my travels during the coming week. I had been asked to meet with our youth pastor by the Board, as one of my Board members was furious with our him, and he wanted Tommy terminated. I reluctantly agreed with his demand, as there had been a number of significant blunders that were hard to overlook. I explained to them that I could not deal with Tommy until my travels were concluded however, as I was going to be out of town, and I was planning to take Thursday and Friday off in order to recuperate before Sunday rolled along, as my duties had increased significantly due to the growth our church was experiencing.
I had actually planned to take Darryl and his brother-in-law with me to Bakersfield, as they were both mechanically inclined. I must confess that mechanics is an area I am deficient in, and Tommy was not much better. The Board asked me to leave my choices at home and take Tommy, as they wanted me to talk with him about his position during the drive to Bakersfield and let him know that his job was coming to an end. It was their request that I deal with his employment by Sanctuary post haste immediately. I acquiesced to there request, thinking to myself, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The weather forecast for that day in January of 1999 was rain and fog. In other words, it was going to be a typical winter day for our part of the world. When I picked Tommy up at six in the morning, I noticed him and Elisabeth in an intense discussion. He later told me that she had a strong apprehension against our trip. I wrongly interpreted this as her having a sense that her husband was going to be asked to leave Sanctuary, due to some of the issues he had recently encountered. It was an odd time in the church, as we were becoming more even focused in our desire to welcome Holy Spirit and allow Him to do whatever He wanted to do with us and among us, yet we were still growing numerically in a significant manner. We were running four services on Sunday, two English-speaking morning services, and an evening service. We had also just allowed a Spanish church that was on the verge of closing to begin meeting at our facility in an effort to bring the Spanish and English speaking communities together. There was a significant growth in tension between the two groups, as the Spanish population had exploded in Salinas during this time. The prejudices were acute, especially from the Caucasian and English speaking community. Salinas was in a time of transition, as it had just become the only city in America with a population over 100,000 to speak Spanish as a first or primary language.
Outbreaks and Opposition
Communidad de Fe & Amor had just begun to use our facility. I had met Alejandro about four months earlier when he attended a Renewal service at Sanctuary that had a pastor speaking from Mexico. One of our members was an immigrant from Mexico, and she put us in contact with an evangelist/pastor who was developing an apostolic network in Mexico and California. I invited him to our hoping that we would help the Spanish speaking community. When Yesidro Gallenda arrived and began ministering, I began to struggle with his message, as he was calling people out and ‘lengthening’ their legs. A friend of mine had shown me once how unscrupulous evangelists used optical illusions that old Vaudevillian magicians would use to achieve this seeming miracle, so I watched him closely. He actually did exactly what my friend had shown me, which I found to be disconcerting. Then he began calling people out, telling them that he had an anointing to pray for people to lose weight miraculously.
I do not want to serve as a myth buster of spiritual excesses, but I do know how this happens. Many people have been wearing denim trousers to church for quiet a few years now. If we wear clean Blue Jeans to church, they will normally be tight, due to the effect of laundering. When we are active in worship, dancing, praising and interacting with the music, our cloths tend to stretch. This can create the allusion of supernatural weight loss, as tightly fitting clothes loosen up. I do not know if that is the case in every claim of weight loss, but it was in Yesidros.’
To further complicate things, I was reluctant to stop the service, as we had people who had traveled for hours to attend the services with him, as he recounted a story about a young girl he had prayed that had been wheelchair bound with Muscular Dystrophy. According to him, she rose out of her chair and walked. There were people in attendance who brought their wheelchair bound friends and relatives, hoping for a miracle. When it came time for the prayer ministry, we quickly converted the front of the service by removing chairs in order to increase the prayer area. As we did this, people began moving the wheelchairs forward, strategically placing them in areas where they would be noticed. I watched the evangelist to see how he would respond.
Little Girl Walk
There was a young girl in attendance that I was particularly interested in, as her mother and grandmother had informed through an interpreter that she had Muscular Dystrophy. She was 16 years old and in bad shape. Her hands, feet, arms, and legs had curled in on her, rendering them useless. She was incapable of extending her fingers, much less her hands. Her head was strapped to the chair, as she was unable to hold her head up on her own volition. My heart was breaking for her, as I realized that she probably did not have much time left before she would succumb to the disease that was ravaging her young body. Much to my chagrin, Yesidro deliberately avoided her every time he moved up and down the prayer line.
I watched him purposely move in ways that kept her out of his line of sight. You could see the discouragement settle in on her mother and grandmother, as they began to realize that the evangelist was avoiding their beloved little girl. I became indignant and grabbed Blaine, the man whose mother-in-law had been healed of cancer. I asked him, “Blaine, will you help me pray for this girl in the wheelchair?” “Sure pastor. What do you want me to do?” I told him that I did not really know, as we were going to wing it. The girl spoke English, so I was able to communicate with her and her relatives.
“Would you mind if I pray for your daughter, I asked?” Her mother began crying and quickly told us to pray. I wish I could tell you that she immediately got up as I commanded her to rise up and walk. She did not, but that did not stop me from commanding her to be made whole. At first, there was no visible change in her body or demeanor, but that did not stop Blaine and me. I had Blaine stand behind her chair, as I instructed him to pray quietly in the Spirit. As I laid hand on the girl, I took her hands and began speaking to her condition, telling the disease to reverse itself and leave her body.
We continued in this prayer vein for about three quarters of an hour when all of a sudden her grandmother cried, “Gloria a Dios! Gloria a Dios! Which translates as glory to God” Her fingers, which were incapable of movement, had started to stretch out! It was a miracle. With that little bit of success now in hand, I redoubled my efforts as I commanded her limbs to be strengthened. It took about another half an hour before there was any additional motion, but all of a sudden, her hands and arms extended outward from her body. Her legs started kicking around the same time. She then turned to her mother and asked her to loosen the straps that were holding her head in place. At first, her head dipped into her chest, but before long, she began to pull it up on her own.
It is impossible to tell you how this made me feel, and I cannot stress how powerful this was. It was probably about one in the morning by this time, and most of the crowd had left. I saw Yesidro look over longingly at the miracle that was unfolding before all of our eyes. The young woman then asked me, “Could you take the straps off of my body?” “I want you to pray for me to walk.” You have to understand, she told me that it had been years since she had walked. I immediately began to loosen the straps with her mothers help. Within minutes, she was wiggling in her seat as I commanded her to, “get up and walk!”
At first, she did not respond, and then all of a sudden she asked me to help her. I took her two hands that were now working perfectly, and began to pull her up, telling her again to “get up and walk!” With that second attempt, she stood and let go of my hands. She then began to take what turned out to be around twenty tentative steps across the front of the church, ten using a chair as a aid and ten by herself before she sat down, exhausted, yet very excited.
“I can walk! I can walk!” She shouted as tears were running down hers and her families faces. I had just happened to meet this family as they pulled into the parking lot earlier in the evening. When I saw their situation, I offered to help them unload the wheelchair and help them with their daughter. Now I was able to help them reload the wheelchair into the van with one large difference. I t was no longer an essential need.
The next morning, I needed to meet with Yesidro in order to pay him for his ministry. As the check was being cut, he started talking to me through his interpreter. He told me that he saw I had an anointing on my life, and he wanted to pray for an increase of God’s prosperity in my life. The interpreter told me that gold dust was showing up when Yesidro prayed for wealth, and he believed that this would be sign for me. Yesidro instructed me to close my eyes and bow my head as he prayed. I know I am skeptical, and I should not have done what I did, but I could not help myself. I kept my eyes barely open, trying to make them look closed, while still being able to see what was happening.
Yesidro carefully slid his hands into his Jacket pockets and rubbed his hands on the inside of the pocket. As he removed his hands, he looked down, making sure that what he placed in his pockets was now on his hands. He then began to pray loudly in Spanish, and then he slapped my upturned hands with his. As his hands hit mine, he quickly rubbed his hands against my palms. He then told his interpreter to tell me to look at my hands, as they were now coated in gold glitter! I thanked him and asked him to leave.
Within days of all this, I called Alejandro, as he had asked me to come and minister to his church. I took a group with me on the Sunday evening that he invited me to come. When we first pulled up to their building, I thought we were in the wrong place, as it had been Red Tagged by the city. This meant that the building had been declared uninhabitable. As we watched people enter the building, we followed them. I asked Alejandro what was going on with his building. “Pastor Bill, the city wants us to move and I don’t know what to do.” “I am thinking about quitting the church and telling everyone that it is over.” It was a heavy burden to take into the pulpit that night. As the night of ministry ended, I told Alejandro that I would pray for him and I would ask God for a miracle on their behalf.
Later that night as I lifted up their need and asked God to bless them with a place to meet, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. I heard the Lord tell me that we were to be the answer to their need, and that I needed to offer to let them use our building. My response was to call an emergency Board meeting, as I did not want to make that significant of a decision on my own. I told them what I believed God had told me and I informed of the churches position of desperation. They responded beyond my expectations, as I was given permission to invite Communidad to use our facilities. Not only did they have a place to meet, we also gave Alejandro an office in our complex with a separate phone line. As an additional gesture, we told him that all we wanted for rent was what we estimated our raw costs would be for utilities. We were a generous body that God had blessed with substance, so we blessed others.
A part of me looks back at what we were trying to do in the community as a connective cause for the attack on my life by the enemy on that fateful evening in January of 1999. Tommy and I had made it to Bakersfield without any complications, other than awkward silence after our conversation about his employment ended. Unfortunately, Tommy had a significant fight with one of the elder’s sons, and he did a major illegal turn in the churches bus with kids in it. Those events coupled with a few other problems that related to his dismissal of the Renewal Movement, and I was left with no other choice. I had to find anew Youth Pastor.
As we left to return to Salinas, we made a plan to stop at a McDonalds about an hour down the road as our lunch destination. Right after we resumed our trip upon leaving the restaurant, I saw Tommy flashing me with his lights as he pulled over to the side of the road. The car had inexplicably died. We pushed the car out of the way so that it was safely off the road, and I drove down the road to the next exit, as there was a U-Haul located just off the exit. As I entered the business, I asked them if I could rent their Tow Dolly. The manager promptly told me “no,” as they reserved it for locals. He then told me where another facility was about an hour away. I asked him to call ahead and see if they would hold their Tow Dolly for me if they had one. They did have one, and they consented to hold it for me to rent from them.
Flipping Out, Flipping over
“Tommy wake up!” I yelled, as the Explorer began to Jack knife on Highway 101, just outside of Prunedale. “What happened?” he quickly replied.
“I don’t know, but I think we have a flat, and I’m trying not to wreck,” I said.
The rain had begun to fall shortly after we emerged from the fog bank that covered Hecker’s Pass on 152. As we descended down into the valley below, we were both happy, as we knew home was just a little further down the road. It is always comforting to know that home is just around the bend. As we past San Juan Batista, I began to regret not stopping for a soda, as Tommy wanted to sleep. It had been a long day. As we left the 152 and merged onto the 101, I felt a strong jolt as we began to descend a steep grade. I was probably going about 50 miles an hour, as we were picking up momentum on the slope. I started to hit the brakes in order to slow down and that is when the problem began.
The Tow Dolly started to push the tail end of my vehicle. The combined force of the Dolly and the blown tire had a dire effect on my ability to maintain control of the car. We began careening back and forth on the rain slickened roadway, almost side swiping a car next to us. I jerked the wheel to the right to try to avoid hitting the car that was parallel to us in the fast lane of the road. As I did, we swerved into the dirt, which further complicated my inability maintain control of the car. Internally, I was beginning to panic a little, as I had been through some rather bad accidents over the years when I was younger. Although I was never hurt to seriously, I realized that accidents could be fatal. It was at this point that I woke Tommy out of his sleep, as I wanted to brace him for the accident if I could not regain control.
“Aaaah!” Tommy screamed. “Are we going to die? I know we are going to die!”
“Listen to me Tommy,” I yelled back. “If you do what I say, you should be OK. I’ve been through this before and there are ways to survive.” “If we start to tip over, this is what you need to do. Duck down low and hold onto to the seat below you. This will protect you,” I told him.
“Just make sure you let me get down to, OK?” Tommy said he would. I had been in numerous accidents in my youth and had watched shows on how stuntmen survive their staged accidents. The combination of these events allowed me to tell Tommy what to do.
About this time, we had entered San Juan Batista’s outskirts and left Hollister’s boundary. Michael Chapman, my worship leader was setting up for the evenings worship. His wife Julie was sitting in one of the pews silently praying and loving on Jesus. All of a sudden, Julie began to have an open vision as she sat there. Looking off into space, she saw a large black velvet canvas appear before her. “That’s odd,” she thought to her self. “What are you showing me Lord?”
As she was questioning Jesus about her vision, images began appearing on the canvas. Face after face began to be there, one after another. As soon as one faded away, another took its place. Each one of these images meant something to Julie, as she recognized each one of the images. The unique thing about the faces was they all had one thing in common. They were all people she knew and they were all dead. All of a sudden a new face appeared on the canvas. It was me.
As Julie gazed at the vision, she knew this was a call to intercede. She just did not have the specifics as of yet. As an image of someone she loved disappeared, a new face began to take its place. It was me. As soon as I appeared on the canvas, Julie knew that my life was in jeopardy, so she immediately began to pray for my safety, asking God to save my life. Part of her intercession included the sending forth of Angels to keep me safe and protected from whatever attempt against my life was being perpetrated against me by the enemy. I say this as she had an overwhelming sense that I was under a major attack from satan, and that my life was really in trouble.
Although I did not realize it, Julie was praying for me, pleading for my life to be spared as I lost control of the car on 101. It is amazing for me to stop and recollect the goodness of God in the incident itself, and to know that God is ultimately in control, and that He moves on His people to pray in the most opportune times. Let me encourage you to be obedient the next time God wakens you or prompts you pray for someone or something. He loves to involve us in the ongoing story of His activities in our lives.
The Tow Dolly was swerving behind us uncontrollably. I told Tommy that the torque it was generating was too much for me to handle, so I sped up thinking that this would help me to escape the inevitable accident. It looked it was going to work! Then we came upon a significant curve in the road. As we hit the curve, I knew that this was it. The car began to tilt to the left and within seconds, we were on our side. It is a horrible feeling to realize that you are flipping in a car. The sense of helplessness is overwhelming. As my head slammed into the window, I struggled to pull away from the carnage that was exploding on the scene all around me. The car continued in its spinning twisting motion. I tried to pull myself to the center of the car in order to brace myself and escape the debris, but Tommy had occupied that space already.
“No!” he screamed. : Get away! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” he said repeatedly, as he pushed me away from the center of the seat. The momentum took over, and I was jerked violently back into the destruction that was being inflicted on the driver’s side of the car. As my head slammed the side again, I was no longer able to move it. I was not paralyzed. I was simply trapped between the doorframe and the collapsing roof, as the car settled on the roof and began sliding before it finally came to a stop.
That is what happened when the Ford Explorer I was driving while towing another vehicle, flipped after experiencing a right rear tire blowout on a rainy California Freeway. Yes, I survived a near death event, but my survival almost did not happen. All of a sudden, the top of my head was being torn away as the car slid down the road. The asphalt was literally removing the top of my head away from the rest of me. I later found out that the road has left permanent indentations on my skull, and that the groves were so deep that a fraction of an inch more was all it would have taken to penetrate my skull and begin removing the grey matter.
The injuries I sustained almost led to my bleeding to death, while conversely leaving me with permanent groves carved into my skull. God allowed a number of events to happen that conspired in keeping me alive. One of these events among the many miraculous occurrences that transpired during the accident and its aftermath that ensured my survival was that a minor accident that happened a little further down the road from the site of the accident. An ambulance had been dispatched to the scene of this accident as a precautionary measure. That ambulance arrived was on the scene almost instantaneously following the conclusion of my vehicle’s slide along Highway 101. The attendant’s aid and responses led to my survival, as they had an Air Ambulance at the site expeditiously. As I have mentioned already, when the accident was in process of unfolding, my head had become lodged between the doorframe and the collapsing roof. This made it impossible for me to remove my head from the road, which had become a grating devise that had intruded itself into the cab of the vehicle through the Moon Roof that had shattered due to the damage it underwent.
As I felt my head grinding away, I did the only thing I knew to do. I shot up a quick prayer, telling the Lord I was ready, and if He did not do something quick, I would be with Him soon. This was a prayer of desperation, the kind that normally seems to sound something like, “oh god, oh God, oh God… HELP!”
Actually, my prayer literally went like this, “Jesus, if you don’t do something now, I am going to be with you.” “Help me Lord!” I was somewhat at peace with the prospect of dying, but I really did not want to leave my wife and boys at this stage in their lives, so I was hoping for and asking for a miracle to happen. That is when it happened.
It was right at the point of my emergency prayer that I felt a sudden jerk with a sharp pull on my left rib cage, which dislodged me from the collapsing roof and door frame. I immediately thought that Tommy had reached over and grabbed me, pulling me toward the center of the vehicle. When the vehicle had finally stopped sliding down the road, I asked Tommy if he was all right. He said he was, as he was scrambling to get out of the car through a shattered window. As I watched him squirm out of the car, I began to realize that I was hurt badly. My bucket seat had collapsed backward, and my body was nestled between to seat and the back seat. I knew that I was really hurt by the hardship I was having in seeing, as my head was bleeding profusely, and my head hurt in an extreme manner. As I fumbled around trying to get loose, I started to panic, as I could not remember how to get out of the car. Part of the problem was the concussion I suffered, with another measure of difficulty coming from the fact that I was suspended upside down, still strapped in to the drivers seat.
As I remembered how to unbuckle the belt, I pushed the release button. When the mechanism detached, the next thing I new I was falling onto the ceiling, which now served as the floor of the car. I landed on my head. As I righted myself, I felt the top of my head and discovered the extent of the injury. As I felt my head, it was apparent that my skull was partially exposed, so I felt for the parts of my scalp that were still intact. Then I brushed off the larger pieces of the shattered glass and road debris that were on my head. Once the largest pieces were removed, I took my shirt off, folded the flopping parts of my head back into place, tied it all off with my shirt and sat down next to the guard rail to wait for help.
Tommy came over and asked how I was doing. I told him I thought I would be OK, but I wasn’t sure. I then asked him to find a cell phone. He went back into the car, retrieved one of our phones, and called my house to see if he could find someone to talk with. It just happened that my wife left the service and came home to get a book that she had forgotten, as we lived just two doors down from the church. As soon as she heard what had happened, she ran back to the church and told everyone what was taking place. She had to make a decision, so she asked the Lord, “Do I take the four brown eyes (our boys) to tell the two blue eyes good bye?” My boys regularly told Clara that they felt sorry for me, because I was the only Bolin with blue eyes.
The Lord quickly responded by telling her that this was just a fiery trial and that I was not going to die. Michael and Julie Chapman then drove her to San Jose with others in order to meet me at the hospital, as Tommy or the ambulance company had told her that I was being heli-vaced to San Jose for surgery, as there were excellent hospitals for my type of injury. It would be appropriate to say that the service ended with the news of the accident.
As I sat on the side of the road waiting for help, one of the cars that was behind us had pulled over to render help. It was a proper thing to do for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we wound up blocking both of South bound lanes. As the driver who pulled over came over to me, he asked me if I was OK. I told I thought I was going to be fine but I did not know if I was really going to be all right. He then asked what I did. “I am a pastor,” I told him. “Really?” he said. “You know, my wife and I are having real problems in our marriage right now.” Do you do marriage counseling?” “Well, yes, but I am not in shape to talk right now.” With that, I pulled out my wallet and handed him one of my cards. “Call the office and find out when I will be back in the office.” “We can talk then,” I said. He actually came in after I returned to work. He came with the bloody card, looking for help in his marriage.
As the ambulance came on the scene, they began to do what they routinely did at the scene of the accident. Tommy pointed to me, telling them that he thought I was hurt bad. As I was sitting up and talking, they did not seem overly concerned. One of the attendants came over to me asking about my condition. I told him that my head really hurt, and that I was bleeding profusely. “Let me take a look at your head,” he said. With that, he unwrapped my makeshift bandage. As soon as he reached the final layer and examined the injury with his flashlight, he called his co-worker over to speak with him. “Get on the horn and call for a helicopter. We need to evacuate him immediately!” “Wait a minute,” the other ambulance attendant said. “Are you sure?” “Get it here now!” he said again. They put me in the back of the ambulance and re-wrapped my head and they placed me on an IV with plasma and pain medication. At about the same time, a Highway Patrolman arrived on scene and took the reports. Just as he was finishing up with me, the helicopter landed. I was transferred to another gurney. They then placed me in the small tube in the front of the copter.
Realizing that I might not make it, I decided to witness to everyone I could, so I shared my faith with the entire Ambulance attendanst, the Patrolman, and then the helicopter pilots and nurse. When we arrived at the hospital, I continued with my task. This was initiated by a message I heard shortly after conversion. Keith Green put on a concert that I attended right after I gave my life to Jesus in 1977. When he was preaching, he talked about the rapture. His comment that affected me was about what he wanted to do when he was caught up to be with the Lord in the air. He told us that “I don’t know when we are going to go, but when I do go I am going to reach out and grab two sinners, one with each hand. Half way up, I’m going to ask them, do you repent, or do I let go?” It was funny and we got his point. Preach all the time, no matter the circumstance. As I lay on the board, completely immobilized, I shared with Jesus with multiple people, even leading two backslidden believers back into relationship with the Lord.
Prior to surgery, they conducted a body scan and a CAT scan to try to determine the extent of my injuries. Although I did not suffer any internal injuries in my body, the scan did indicate that I was severely concussed, with bruises and contusions on my brain. As they prepared me for surgery, Clara and I had to make a significant decision. I had eaten prior to the accident, which put me in a risk margin for complications during the surgery. Our decision revolved around the anesthesia, as the doctor told us that he was concerned about putting all the way under, as I may not come back. There were also concerns about the amount of blood I had lost that augmented these problems, as the main threat I faced to my life was blood loss. In the final analysis, we determined to go with localized anesthesia, which would mean I was going to be awake during the surgery. It is an interesting thing to be awake when teams of doctors are performing emergency reconstructive surgery on your head.
Due to the churches cancellation of services that night, a large contingency of people from Sanctuary had travelled to San Jose to be with Clara. When Clara arrived, she heard me laughing and talking as she approached the area where I was at in the Hospital. The Lord once again gave her assurance that I was going to be okay and she knew I was going to be fine. Her reasoning was based on what she heard as she approached my room. I was preaching the Gospel to my attendants as they were prepping me for surgery. I imagine it was somewhat unsettling to hear someone who was missing part of the top of his or her head telling you that you needed to repent and turn to Christ, as you never know when your life is going to end. My favorite line in the hospital was, “look at me!”
Part of the preparation for surgery led to a rather intense argument between the doctors and my wife, and me. Because of the accident and the anticipated consequences of the anesthesia, they thought that I needed to take off my wedding ring. There was a problem with this however, as this was my original ring that I had been wearing for 15 years, and it would not come off. I probably should have had it sized previously, but I never did get around to changing its size. They told me that they needed to cut it off my finger. I objected strenuously to this, as I never took my ring off under any circumstances. After a lengthy verbal battle, I finally consented when they agreed to try to remove it without cutting it in two, as I thought it would be easier to repair. As they rolled me into the surgery unit, Clara and I prayed, and I disappeared behind the doors.
My understanding is that the surgery was uneventful, other than my incessant chattering. They did have to make some strategic decisions in anticipation of the reconstructive surgery that they knew I would undergo in the future. My doctor had already contacted Stanford Medical Center, preparing the way for me to be transferred to their facility for the advanced rehabilitation I would need in order to be put back together. When the surgery was ending, the margin of danger ended for my inability to be put under, so they medicated me, knocked me out, and eventually moved me to a recovery room.
Later on, the attending Recovery Room nurse would tell my wife Clara that she was lucky I survived, as Clara was cleaning me up and removing the road debris form my face. As she came over to my wife, she kept saying, “Lucky, lucky Mrs. Bolin.” “Lucky, lucky, Mrs. Bolin.” After hearing this repeated repeatedly, my wife finally interjected, “Excuse me, but I am not lucky. I am blessed. My husband and I are Christians and this not due to luck. I t is due to God.” With that, she said, “you don’t understand Mrs. Bolin. Normally after an injury like this, I am telling the spouse how sorry I am that their mate survived the accident but not the surgery. You husband is lucky to be alive.”
She then showed my wife the X-Rays and CAT scan results as she walked my wife through the injuries I had sustained. Part of this was accomplished by pointing out the various bruises on my body and why they existed. She commented on how good it was that my face was untouched other than minor bruising. She then identified the other places where I had developed those large unsightly blemishes. “This one came from when he slammed into the side of the car,” she explained, pointing out a large bruise on my left arm. “This one here, the one that runs across his chest and stomach is from the seat belt.”
Methodically, one by one, the nurse told my wife what I had went through, identifying these post traumatic markers that had made their appearance on my body. She then told my wife about a bruise that troubled them. It was a bruise they could not explain. On my left side directly over my rib cage, a large and deeply discolored bruise was developing. “The reason they we are troubled by this bruise,” she explained, “Is it is indicative of massive internal bleeding. This area here is where the blood naturally collects and coagulates, and it tells us that we need to find where you are bleeding.” The problem is the scans did not find any internal bleeding. His only problem is with his head.”
She then reiterated to Clara that it was her experience that people in my condition usually never made it following an accident like the one I survived. Her biggest difficulty in explaining my survival was in the bruising on my body, as she saw all the normal forms such as the seat belt marking, with that one exception, the large bruise on my left rib cage that indicated profound internal bleeding. The problem with this bruise was the MRI and CAT scan that I underwent showed no evidence of this type of injury internally that would lead to this collection of blood.
All I can say about the post-op experience is, “Thank God for medication!” It is hard to describe the excruciating pain I was in as I had my skull scraped away by the blacktop. To further complicate the process, I was also in a danger zone for the first 72 hours following the accident. The doctors had told Clara and me that the concussion I experienced could lead to my brain swelling. Privately, they had told Clara that if this happened, I may not survive, and if I did, the conversation would change to quality of life, as opposed to a return to my normal functions.
I was processing all of this the following morning as I sat in my bed. This led me to try to get prayer from a larger circle than our church, so I picked up the phone and made a couple of strategic calls. The first call I made was to the District Office of the Assemblies of God. Following my explanation of what had happened the night before, the receptionist told me that all of the Officers were out of the office. She then transferred me to the Superintendents office. She said, “He needs to know what is going on, so tell his secretary where you are, and she will contact him.” As soon as I identified myself, Carol asked me what I needed, as I had just been into the office days earlier. “I need to tell Brother Cole that I might be dying,” I said. “Excuse me,” Carol relied, “I didn’t hear what you said. I t sounded like someone was dying?” “Who’s dying Bill?”
“No,” I said. “No one is dying, but I might be dying. I am in San Jose General following an accident I was in last night.” I then explained to her what had happened and why I was calling. “I need prayer Carol, as my brain might begin swelling.” She quickly told me that she would send out a communiqués to the District for prayer. I was then told that all three Officers had left Sacramento for Santa Cruz due to a meeting they needed to attend for Bethany College. “Let me call them on a cell phone and tell them what happened Bill,” she said. As she hung up, I then looked up a local church and put a call in to the pastor, as we were comrade in arms in a desire to see revival welcomed to our cities. I did not now it at the time, but Bill Johnson from Bethel Redding was in San Jose for a series of meetings at the church I was calling.
Following another time of explaining what happened, she put me through to the pastor who happened to be talking with Bill. As soon as Bill heard, what was going on, he and the pastor drove over to the hospital unbeknownst to me. At the same time, Alejandro and one of his associates were also making their way to San Jose to pray for me. Within minutes of each other, the three District Officers who just happened to be on the outskirts of San Jose, Bill Johnson and Alejandro’s entourage came into my room and joined Clara and me. I told them, “You know, I love all of you. It has been a dream of mine to get all of us to sit down and talk about our differences with the renewal movement. If I would have known that it would take this to get you together, I don’t think I would have wanted to help the Lord to get you together.”
We all had a good laugh. Suddenly the door opened again. Clara’s sister Rosanne had traveled to Salinas to help with the kids. She decided to bring them to the hospital so that they could see that I was going to be fine, as they were very stressed over the tidbits they had picked up from overheard conversations. Before they left, my son William took his brother Garrett on a scavenger hunt. They went to the church and retrieved every vial of oil they could find. Then they looked through the house and collected all the oil there as well. This included prayer vials and cooking oil. When they came in, “William gave Clara the oil and said, “Anoint him and pray for him Mom, so dad can get better.” Will and Garrett then began giving all of these men oil so that they could me and pray for my recovery. It was a moving moment that has been indelibly carved into all of our memories.
About sixty hours had past with all of us gaining optimism that I would clear the danger zone when things began to change for the worse. I started to feel quaky inside and started to tremble all over. Apparently, my pupils were dilating erratically and I started to vomit uncontrollably. These were all signs my doctor had said we needed to watch out for, as they could indicate that my brain was swelling. It all started to happen as I was being transferred to Stanford. By the time we arrived at Stanford, I was in serious shape. Once I was admitted, they placed Clara and me in a room where we began to wait for the doctors. As the team arrived, they diagnosed me as probably having a brain that was swelling. This was not good news, as they told Clara that they were unsure as to what they could do. My blood loss had amounted to about a third of my blood volume, and they did not think that I would survive another surgical procedure. On that happy note, they left us.
Moments later, God intervened on my wives behalf. She was struggling in despair, even having difficulty praying. Her thoughts raced back to the Lord’s initial word to her, as He had assured her that I would live. Know she was beginning to wonder what type of life I would have. All of a sudden, the doors swung open and two women burst into the room. Without asking, one of the women went to the back of the room and started praying in English and in her prayer language. “Lord, this is a man of God, and he needs your help Lord,” she cried out. She was a member of a Black Pentecostal church. The other woman went over to me and began pointing to different places on my head. She began ordering healing and change with specificity. “God heal him. Release blood Lord. I command the tissue to shrink!” As they prayed, God brought my wife exactly what she needed, as there are two things she loves: exuberant, spirited prayer, and specific intercession. Within moments of their impromptu prayer meeting, all of the symptoms ceased to exist.
The team of doctors had ordered another MRI. I was placed on a gurney and shipped over to the part of the hospital that contained the diagnostic equipment. As the doctors looked at the results they expressed amazement, as my brain was perfectly normal. There were no signs of bruising, swelling or contusions, even though the original pictures that had been taken on the night of accident had indicated. They kept me overnight and then released me Saturday the following day.
Tommy came over the following day, shortly after I arrived at our home. He wanted to talk to Clara and set he record straight, as I had been telling him that he had pulled me to safety. “Mrs. Bolin,” Tommy said as he sobbed almost uncontrollably, “I need to tell you that I am so sorry. I did not try to help Bill. All I could do was hold on and scream.” He explained to Clara that he had no idea why I was telling people that he had grabbed me during the rollover and pulled me to safety. He realized that he could have helped me, but did not, as his understandable concern was for his own life.
“It’s OK Tommy,” Clara replied. “You did what most of would do.” “I’ll let Bill know what happened.” When Clara told me what Tommy had said, I was baffled, as I had concluded that the bruise on my side must have came from Tommy, as I had felt a hand pulling me away from the carnage. The following day, Clara told me that she was going to go to the church and tell everyone that I was doing fine, but please do not come over, as I needed my rest. When she came back from the first service, she told me that everyone was relived to find out how I was doing. When the second service would have started, Clara came in to check on me. She said, “I am going next door to tell everyone thank you from us and to give them the update, and to ask them to not come over, as you need to be quiet. Get your rest and stay here. I won’t be long.” With that, she left our bedroom.
For some unknown reason, I decided to get up and follow her (I blame the medication). As I put on a pair of sweatpants, I set out the door and walked into the church. Michael had just introduced Darrell Evans song, “Trading My Sorrows” that morning. The church was worshipping the Lord as they sang this song when I walked into the sanctuary of Sanctuary. As I entered the room, the place erupted. As everyone gathered around me, thanking Jesus that I survived the ordeal, I showed them the bruise on my side. The bruise had took on the form of a large hand, with four extensions or digits wrapping around my ribs, and one digit around my back, with all connected by the large, dark mass in the middle. Once I realized that it was not Tommy who had grabbed me during the car wreck, the truth of the bruises started to sink in and make sense. Whether it was the Hand of the Lord, or the hand of one of His Angels, I had been delivered supernaturally.
Jim Goll teaches about angelic intervention on the part of humans through intercession. This belief system has been part of Christianity from its inception. It is quiet fascinating to think about how the God of the universe responds to us as we pray. Sometimes He sends Angels to protect us, deliver us, bring healing grace to us, and to execute his judgments. Although we may not always realize that they are here, God has regularly used Angels to usher in His presence and to tell us what God has prepared for us, as they serve as connectors, bridging the gap that exists between heaven and earth. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus oozes with angelic activity, as they made their appearance at a Judean hillside. The story is found in Luke 2:8-11, and it reads, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
It is my belief that God sent an Angel to answer the prayers that were being offered to the Lord first through Julie, as she received her vision, and secondly as I cried out for help. My life was about to be extinguished when all of a sudden God broke in and I was rescued. The bruise in the shape of the hand was a marker of sorts. It is probably ideal to continue with the events of the bruise. On the evening of the accident, as Clara was receiving her instructions from the nurse about the bruises on my body, the nurse also told her how long each bruise should last. The one on my side was the deepest in color, so she told Clara that it would probably remain on my body for 12 or more weeks. When I showed the bruise to the people who had gathered around me in the service on Sunday, the discoloration was intense. When I woke up the following morning on Monday, as I prepared to bath, and get ready for one of our members to come over to our house to photograph the bruises, I noticed something unusual. The bruise had completely vanished! It is hard to explain what happened apart from it being and out right miracle, and I am grateful to the Lord.
Thanks for sharing this Bill. I was truly blessed and encouraged by your testimony. What s mighty God we serve!
Thanks for sharing!