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Through Trauma & Trials

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In the almost 1.65 billion seconds of my life as an Ojibwe Indian, four seconds stand out from the rest. On June 9, 2009, my wife LaDonna, her brother Zane and I were on a ministry trip when we lost control of our vehicle on I-25 in northern New Mexico. We rolled three times at freeway speed.

Zane injured his back but was spared potentially more horrific injuries. LaDonna miraculously survived a C-1 neck fracture, which is fatal in 95 percent of victims. In the back of our SUV, I took the brunt of the damage.

I suffered an “open-book” pelvic fracture, bilateral femur fractures, a crushed and dislocated left hip, lumbar spinal fractures, rib fractures, a perforated colon, a Morel’s lesion to my right flank that almost cost my leg and extensive nerve damage to my lower extremities. I died in a Santa Fe emergency room. After being resuscitated and given rapid blood transfusions, I was flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, the only level-one trauma center in the state.

A dear Native American Nazarene leader came to the hospital and anointed and prayed for me soon after the wreck. Hundreds of others prayed consistently. Through much prayer and great medical care, I clung to life for the next two months in a medically induced coma; doctors said my injuries were so severe that my body would not have been able to tolerate them had I been conscious. After 15 surgeries, I emerged from my drugged journey to the underworld with new insight into some of those crazy rock-and-roll lyrics I had heard while growing up.

Over time, major wounds healed, and strength began to return. I was transferred to a specialty hospital and rehab facility for physical therapy. Six months later I returned home to Arizona for painful rehab that continues to this day. While my journey has been long and painful, Zane and LaDonna have recovered remarkably well.

While growing up, I attended Cass Lake Alliance Church on my home reservation in northern Minnesota. I was exposed consistently to deeper-life teaching. Looking back, I thank God for those who opened the Word of God to me and taught the Christ-life in fullness. This has sustained LaDonna and me through many uncertain days.

A. B. Simpson noted that the Bible holds out two great promises regarding Christ. First, He will come to us (Incarnation). Second, He will come into us (indwelling). For thousands of years the world awaited the fulfillment of the first promise. The second is the secret hidden from all the ages and from many generations that now is made manifest to all His saints: Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:26–27).

The Incarnation brought Christ down to our level, and His indwelling allows us to rise up to a unique level reserved only for His redeemed. It is done only by His work in us and is necessary for every believer, especially when deep trials and testing come.

In the midst of my struggle, the indwelling Christ manifested Himself in an intimate and powerful way. I’ll never be the same because of it. What did I learn?

First and foremost, it is all about His glory. His indwelling presence communicates this truth to us in our hearts. It is a mysterious work, undetectable from the outside but shining brilliantly when exposed to the light of great trial and affliction. Whatever happens in our life has a purpose: His glory. When I came to Christ I did not know the good or bad that He would allow to come my way. Would I be willing to go wherever He desired, do whatever He asked and trust in His leading?

Looking back to the accident, I was surprised that I did not ask the Lord why. Why did this happen to us? Why, Lord, when we were heading out for four months on the road to serve You? His presence within rendered the question irrelevant. What I did find myself asking time after time was, Lord, how can You use this for Your glory?

Yielding to Him in all circumstances—both good and bad—results in glory to His Name. We have seen many lives impacted by God’s work in us during this journey. We rejoice that some have come to saving faith in Christ because of it. That brings God the ultimate glory!

Taking the believer’s “big test.” I have spent much of my life serving the Lord in full-time ministry. Did I risk missing much of God while doing much for God? The big question for us is, What would happen should everything, even what we do for the Lord, be taken from us? Is He still enough?

After nearly losing it all, I can testify that Christ alone is all I need. From death’s dark valley to seemingly endless days of pain and inability to move in that ICU unit, I found that His presence was real, intimate and fulfilling. At my deepest need, I understood what is said in Psalm 73:25–26; when I am with the Lord, I desire nothing else on earth! In my deepest despair, He was totally sufficient.

He fights my battles. Spiritism abounds in animistic Native American cultures; yet it is not just Native cultures that are demon influenced. Postmodernism confirms that we live and serve in the “United States of Animism”! Many times we have had to confront dark and evil spirits in our work, both in Native and non-Native worlds. Our lives hang somewhere between the biblical realities of the sovereignty of God and Satan’s desire to steal, kill and destroy. God’s Word affirms that Satan detests all Great Commission work and will do anything to stop it.

It became very clear to us that demonic forces were attempting to capitalize on this accident to destroy us. As I lay in a coma, LaDonna heard the distinct supernatural sounds of Indian drums beating in the corner of my ICU room. Later on, while a dear Native ministry couple was visiting, a medicine pouch used in the spirit world mysteriously appeared between the chairs LaDonna and my father were sitting in. These supernatural manifestations affirmed to us the deep spiritual battle we were in as our bodies attempted to heal.

In the heat of that battle, when all we could do was trust, the Lord God took on every demon arrayed against us, sustaining and protecting us from the enemy’s onslaught. Several leaders knowledgeable about supernatural battles joined with LaDonna to pray against the counter kingdom in the Name of Jesus. Praise God—victory came and the manifestations ended, yielding to the awesome power of the indwelling Christ.

The enemy of our soul can go only as far as our Sovereign Lord will allow. Satan may unleash a legion of demons against us, but Jesus is our Mighty Warrior. From the frontline position in our inner selves, He fights our battles when we cannot.

At death’s door, He was all I needed. When I nudged right up to heaven’s gate, I gained the full understanding of the profoundness of His presence. A good part of my view of eternity used to be focused on the destination: streets of gold, gates of pearl, new bodies, family reunions, no more pain or tears—Paradise! These are all great truths to preach and teach, but the death experience is also about the Presence. It is all about Him! Many people ask me what I saw when I was there. While at death’s door, my thoughts weren’t at all about heaven; there wasn’t room for it. The Presence was all consuming and far outshone the destination.

In the two years that have passed since the accident, the indwelling Christ has taken on an incredible significance for me. Though I am still broken in body, the truths I have preached, taught and sung about for almost four decades are more real to me than ever before. I used to preach God’s truths by faith. Now, I preach these truths with greater confidence because of a deeper experience of His abiding and sustaining Presence. Take it from someone who has been there, by God’s providence. He is all we need!

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