He asked him, “Do you want to get well?”- John 5:6
Nathan and I would always talk about Jesus.
So going to a church service with him was second nature.
It was a Tuesday night, and a bunch of us piled into the car and headed away from campus. It was dark as pitch that night. There were scores of stars out; they were shimmering, it was autumn. There was nothing amiss.
By the time we pulled into the gravel lot surrounding the church, it was already full of cars. I worried we might be late for something important.
There was someone talking when we filed in. The service had been going on an indeterminate length of time, but no one seemed miffed by our tardiness. We were in a room packed with people: white, middle-aged, Southern people; wearing kind faces and stiff clothes. Per usual, I was parked at the end of the row. A few of our new friends who had ridden along were between Nathan and me. From the middle of the pew, Nathan leaned forward a little and smiled at me. I nodded, turning my attention to the front-just like I had learned in Sunday school-with my hands folded on my lap.
We were there to hear a visiting minister, and once he took the pulpit, things began to liven up. He had a microphone, which he had clearly practiced utilizing with finesse. He would finish each statement on the loudest-and most important- words. He was a true Southern preacher-a maestro-bringing his rhetoric further and further up its in intensity and volume.
Like any good conductor he had me fooled. Just when I thought we had reached the end of the opus: there came the crescendo.
I looked up to the front, as the applause died down, expecting the minister to wave away the crowd. Instead, I noticed a lady standing near the preacher, flanked by ushers, beginning to approach him. She stopped about a foot in front of him, and there was a pause. With a single swift motion, the preacher thrust his hand forward at full speed, palm out, striking the woman in the middle of her forehead.
She crumpled in a heap on the floor. The ushers swooped down on her in a manner that reminded me far too much of birds on feed.
This was not just a service: it was a revival: and we had reached the time for healings.
I could feel every eye in the place on me. Like a child with her hand stuck in the cookie jar, I had been found out.
I looked to my left, then my right, for some form of backup. Nathan seemed to have vanished, and my friend who had been sitting next to me had gone up front with another girl from our row, for the altar call.
I was trapped. The ushers had already spotted me, and I could see them looking back and forth to one another, as if to say, “We got a live one!”
A woman with impossibly long hair approached me in her Sunday best. She was looking at me the way a little girl would watch a puppy in the pet store window. I smiled.
In a voice that was somehow both urgent and hushed, she asked, “Have you ever felt the power of the Lord Jesus?”
“Ma’am,” I replied, “I love Him. . . I certainly hope I have.”
“Well,” she stammered, attempting to hide her incredulity, “Can I pray for you?”
“Yes,” I said, with an air of defeat. The woman, who had never introduced herself or asked my name, placed both of her hands on me: one on top of my head, the other on my shoulder. Bowing her head, she began to pray. I could not discern a single word of her fervent supplication.
And I was praying, too. Silent, but frantic, in hope of exodus: it was as if our requests were on a race to the Heavenly Throne. And mine got there first.
One of my friends, returning from the altar call, caught my terrified gaze. His glance followed mine, from the woman huddled around me to the pandemonium at the front of the sanctuary. I mouthed the words “Get. Outside. Now.” His pace quickened, and he arrived behind me, not a moment too soon.
The woman, whose hands were still resting on me, finished her prayer and lifted her head. My friend spoke up, “I’m sorry, but she isn’t feeling well. I believe she needs some air.” He didn’t give the intercessor an opportunity to respond, but took me and pushed my wheelchair down the center aisle and out the door as fast as if the floor had been lit on fire. He kept running till we cleared the door and heard it close behind us.
There on top of the hill, I sat next to my friend. And we let the time pass between us.
In the quiet beneath God’s beautiful heavens, were the stars and I: grateful, our place in His Universe remained, untouched by human hands.