In 2004, I witnessed a resurrection. Before I tell you the story, I will mention that in my thirty-some years of running clinics in developing countries, I have had a great deal of experience with the dying and the dead, and with people's misunderstandings about them. The people with whom I live and work in Africa are uneducated. If someone passes out due to heat or illness, sometimes others will think that the person has died. After lying flat for a moment and allowing circulation to return to his or her head, the person will wake up again, and onlookers will sometimes think that the person died and rose to life again. Similarly, a patient waking from a coma or a head trauma will sometimes mistakenly be reported to have been resurrected. But in the story I am about to tell you, neither I nor the other eyewitnesses had any confusion about what we had seen. A dead woman came to life again before our eyes. Frankly, it was one of the scariest things I have ever seen.
The morning of that unforgettable day, I suited up in an ambulance uniform and got into a new ambulance that I was driving back from South Africa to our clinic in Mozambique. The vehicle was not yet outfitted with medical equipment; it was basically an empty shell. But I figured wearing the uniform would help facilitate a quicker passage through the border and customs. Little did I know that the ambulance would see its first emergency that very afternoon.
About an hour before I reached the Mozambican border, a minibus ahead of me suddenly had a tire blowout. The wheel tore apart from the rim, and I watched with sickening horror as the bus, which had been traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, swerved off the road and flipped over again and again. As you can imagine, with each violent revolution the bus began to peel apart as the glass and sheet metal slammed into the earth. The bus continued to spin, and I caught glimpses of people being tossed around inside like rag dolls. What felt like an hour of horror actually took only a few seconds.
Suddenly, the bodies of two women, both of whom were clutching something to their chests, catapulted through the windshield. The women came crashing down on the rocky roadside, heads first. Then even more passengers flew from other windows. I immediately pulled the ambulance over, jumped out and ran toward the bus. Within moments, I was joined by quite a few other travelers who stopped to help. Being in uniform, everyone assumed I was in charge, so I took the lead in disaster response. There was no time to hesitate. "You and you," I pointed, "go down the road and stop the oncoming traffic. The rest of you, help me with the victims. My ambulance is new and I don't have supplies, so we need to call in several ambulances."
The people scattered at my commands, rushing to do their part. Right away, we went to work assessing the damage. The scene was gruesome. We counted eighteen victims, a few of whom were still trapped inside the overturned bus - and some were even pinned underneath it. My first priority was the two women I had seen go airborne through the windshield. I was shocked to see that the bundles in their arms were babies, and even more shocked that the infants were both still alive and unharmed. Sadly, the same could not be said of the two mothers; they had cushioned the babies' falls with their own bodies. After landing on their heads, the women were flipped onto their backs and sprawled out on the rocks. Somehow one was still alive, but just barely. The other had not survived. Her neck was clearly broken, and her head had twisted almost completely around so that her face was lying on the ground in a large pool of blood. Her temporal skull was indented, and her right eye had popped out if its socket and was resting on her cheek, hanging by its optic nerve. She had no pulse and no respiration. She was dead. I covered her head with a shirt that was lying nearby.
One of the loveliest, most courageous acts of love I have ever seen unfolded before me as I tended to the two mangled mothers. One of the victims, a Zulu woman with many injuries, including a bleeding, compound fracture of her right femur, saw the two babies and crawled on her elbows through the rocks to reach them. When she reached the two women, she pried the babies out of their mothers' arms. Then she rolled onto her back on the rocks, threw up her blouse and began to breastfeed and comfort the babies. Stunned by this act of kindness in the midst of obvious suffering, I asked, "Oh! Do you know these women?" "No," she said. "I am just trying to help."
I was blown away. Most women, particularly Zulu women, would never nurse a stranger's baby on the roadside. A strong cultural taboo exists against doing such a thing, as they believe it could expose the woman to any curses that rest on that baby, or vise versa. This woman, however - in extreme pain and in a life-and-death crisis - broke with her own cultural norms, abandoned concern for her own physical and spiritual well-being and comforted two strangers' babies. I will never forget that moment. Shortly thereafter, a white Afrikaans woman ran up to help me with the two mothers. "I just don't want to touch them," she said. I understood. Because of widespread HIV and AIDS in Africa, most people are very cautious about exposing themselves to another person's blood. Unfortunately, it's difficult to help an injured person without touching him or her. I decided I would just ask this Afrikaans woman and the other "no touch" helpers to pray. A good many South Africans, both white and black, grew up in church, so I was pretty sure they would have no problem with that.
"Everyone, listen!" I yelled. "Start praying for these people. I want you to pray out loud over and over again, 'God, heal and preserve life here today, in Jesus' name.' Every time I look at your, I want to see your lips moving!" After issuing this order, I went back to my rounds, running from patient to patient. I assessed their needs, compressed their bleeds and calmed their panic while waiting for the real ambulances and EMTs to arrive. A group of men finally managed to rock the bus over while others pulled more victims from underneath it. Everywhere people were calling to me, asking what to do next and taking my instructions. The scene was mayhem. And then it happened…
While tending to a victim twenty or thirty feet from the dead woman, I heard the first Afrikaans lady yell to me, “Sister, come back over here and help this lady!”
“She’s already dead,” I yelled back. “I have all these others to look after.” But she insisted, “Come! She’s breathing again!” That got my attention. I looked back at her in disbelief. What I saw was nothing less than terrifying. With the shirt still covering her head, the dead woman first sat up, and then rotated her head around to face forward again.
We all began to scream. A few of the helpers took off running, I heard their cars peeling out a few seconds later. I was scared witless, but somehow from some deep recess I mustered the courage to run over to the woman. I removed the bloodied shirt from her head and jumped back. Though her face was still covered in blood, her eye was miraculously back in its socket, and her head was no long misshapen. She coughed up some blood, spat it out, and then began to look around and call out for her baby. She was alive!
“She is alive again!” I yelled to the others. “Pray for your patients!” A roar of prayer went up everywhere. I ran to another woman who looked to be about eight months pregnant. Lying on the ground, she was hardly breathing and visibly in pain. She had fractured some ribs. I asked her, “Do you believe Jesus can heal you and your baby?”
Unable to catch her breath to speak, she just nodded. We prayed together. Within moments, she began to take full breaths and move her body without pain. She rose to her feet, grinning at me with tearful joy. She was completely healed! With a deep mighty voice that only Africans have, she burst out in praise and then rushed over to pray for others. I have learned later that she was a radical believer in Jesus.
Fourteen of the eighteen casualties were completely healed that day as we waited two and a half hours for the other ambulances to reach us from town. Not one life was lost. Five unconscious patients with severe head injuries were all healed. Many of the healed patients had cell phones and called their loved ones for a lift. Since they were from farms in that area, many went home rather than riding back to the county hospital. I am sure the EMTs were a bit confused by the scene when they arrived, as it looked nothing like that they had been told. The Lord had already done the work!
As I drove away in my empty ambulance, I marveled at what I had witnessed – I marvel to this day. I had prayed for many dead to rise to life, and to date it has not happened. The one time I did not pray, a dead woman came back to life. And I must confess, when I asked those stopping by to pray that God would preserve lives and heal, I was merely hoping that no others would die from their injuries while waiting for the ambulances. We were a long way from town, and several had serious head and body trauma that could have resulted in imminent death. I was in medical mode, not supernatural mode. Yet the Lord had mercy on us all and surpassed our wildest expectations, as He so brilliantly does. What a mighty God we serve!
EXCERPT from Outrageous Courage
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