At Death’s Door

Will a divine promise eclipse an ominous prognosis?

mike“You must have someone to travel with you in case you bleed to death,” a physician told Alliance Pastor Mike Gmetro when he confirmed that he was traveling to Kansas City for General Council 2011. When Council began Wednesday evening, Mike was “bleeding terribly and in excruciating pain” but forced himself to attend the service. He sensed God telling him, “I still have a plan for your life if you just trust me.”

“I was trying to hold on to that,” says Mike. “I knelt down between the chairs and prayed, ‘Lord, I’m ready to be healed.’ I suddenly saw in my spirit (Alliance Pastor) Fred Hartley standing to my left. When I looked up, he was not there, so I continued to pray.”

The Battle Begins

Mike’s physical struggles began in 1999 when, as a New Mexico State College student, sudden, excruciating pain filled his abdomen. “I was rushed from the ball field to the hospital, where doctors gave me just hours to live.”

The visit resulted in an appendectomy. But there had been complications, and the pain had not subsided. Two weeks later, Mike was back in the hospital. This time, doctors diagnosed him with Crohn’s, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself, harming the good bacteria and eating away at the walls of the intestine. Mike underwent a second surgery; 30 inches of his intestine was removed. “I was never sick as a child,” says Mike, who had been training for professional baseball. “I knew that dream was over, but I played the last two years of college.”

The disease grew worse during those two years. Mike was in pain every day, doubling over for up to 60 minutes at a time, unable to move. A battery of prescribed medications did not help.

Mike married Liza in 2001, and they moved to Michigan, where they attended seminary. During a class in 2003, he had a “flare,” and Liza rushed him to hospital. Again, the doctors’ ominous prognosis was hours to live; another surgery took eight more inches of his intestine.

Graduating from seminary in 2004, Mike joined Liza on a missions trip to Siberia. “I knew I was really taking a chance,” he says. “Even If there was a surgeon, he probably wouldn’t have the instruments for the surgery I would need.”

Not long into the trip another attack began. The missionary the Gmetros were visiting and a local believer laid hands on Mike and began to pray. “Suddenly, it felt like bubbles were filling up inside me, and my body flushed with cool water. I felt incredible, and immediately all pain went away.”

A Reprieve

After the couple returned home, Mike continued to be free of pain. He completed the C&MA licensing requirements, and the Gmetros became missionary candidates with the goal of serving as international workers in the Middle East. They were assigned to Acts 29 Fellowship in Hamtramck, Michigan, for two-year home service before going overseas.

mike-2At Acts 29, Mike was associate pastor, working primarily in pastoral ministries and teaching ESL three days a week at a mosque to Bangladeshi men, and Liza ministered to youth. Then in December 2008, two months after their daughter, Lila, was born, a Crohn’s attack came out of nowhere. Liza rushed Mike to the hospital, and the surgeon removed another eight inches of intestine. For the next two and a half years, Mike experienced intense pain every day. The attacks would come when least expected—on walks with his family or in grocery stores. “Once I spent three hours in the cereal aisle,” he recalls, “with my daughter! I couldn’t reach anyone by phone, and I couldn’t move. People shopped around me or asked me to hand them a box of cereal when I blocked their reach, but no one asked if I needed help. The pain finally subsided enough that I was able to walk to the car.”

Shattered Dreams

Just before Council 2009, the Gmetros received word that Mike did not pass health requirements for overseas ministry, and they were removed from the candidate list. “Crohn’s was taking over,” he laments, “changing the plans that we believed God had for us.”

Mike continued his work at Acts 29, preaching and teaching daily, even as he endured severe pain. Resigning himself to owning the disease, he prayed, “Okay, Lord; tomorrow is not promised, but today I will serve you.” Then in March 2010, he started bleeding profusely. Liza rushed him to the hospital, where he learned that several ulcers in his large intestine had ruptured. Near death once again, Mike lay in the intensive care unit, shaking with convulsions and wanting to die. “I could only whisper, ‘Please help me. Please help me.” Two blood transfusions saved his life that night.

In fall 2010, Great Lakes District Superintendent Jeff Brown heard about Mike’s deteriorating health. “Jeff, who had been a mentor and spiritual father to me, authorized a medical sabbatical for rest,” Mike says. “As much as I love the ministry of Acts 29, I was in bad shape and needed a break.”

Mike’s health issues were stressful for Liza as well. The two were forced to broach the subject of death: what would she do if Mike died? How would she take care of their daughter? They prayed about their future, even as Mike planned for a speaking engagement at Beulah Beach. His district superintendent advised him, “Mike, if you can’t go overseas, then train up those who will go.”

After speaking at the Beulah Beach event, Mike met with Ralph Trainer, the camp’s executive director, who told him of a plan to establish Beulah Beach Institute to train up young people to take God’s word to the world and asked Mike to partner with him.” I thought of our prayer for the future and Jeff’s advice to train those who could go,” says Mike. “Ralph provided a fantastic opportunity, and I realized God answered our prayers.”

Removing What?

Mike and Liza moved to Beulah Beach in January 2011, excited about what God had in store for them. But Mike continued to be miserable with daily pain.  In March another flare of ruptured ulcers resulted in a hospital stay and a blood transfusion. Tests showed ulcers lining his entire large intestine with two fissures three inches long. Then three days before General Council 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri, Mike and Liza met with a specialist, who gave them the shocking news that Mike would have to undergo surgery to remove his colon and large intestine.

“I was reeling,” says Mike. “I thought I was done with ministry. After the prognosis, I heard a message by Jill Briscoe, who said, ‘Oh to know the Lord so well that we stop asking for the thorn to be removed, because we love him so much that we trust Him.’ I was clinging to that hope—whatever God wanted. Okay, Lord, if you want me to live out this sickness as a platform, okay.”

After Council’s Thursday morning service, led by Fred Hartley, people were invited to the front for prayer. Sitting in the back, Mike thought of going forward but saw Fred “swallowed by a lot of people,” Mike says. “There was a couple sitting next to me that I did not know. They introduced themselves as Todd and Debbie Adams and asked how they could pray for me. I briefly told them about my ongoing battle with Crohn’s and how I longed to be healed. As they began to pray, Todd stopped and said, ‘I want to ask my dad to pray.'”

A Father’s Touch

Mike kept his head down as Debbie prayed. He didn’t know Todd or his dad or where Todd was going. But as he looked up, he saw Fred Hartley to his left; Todd’s father,Virgil Adams; Ron Walborn, and about 20 people standing around him. They anointed him with oil, and Fred began to pray for healing.

“I felt those bubbles again; I felt God’s joy. The pain was gone, and all my prayer warriors were praising the Lord with me. I couldn’t stop rejoicing. I felt great!

Later, Mike went out to lunch with some pastors and their wives. “I was so excited about telling my story of God’s healing that I forgot about ordering and someone else ordered pizza covered with  jalapenos. I could never eat that before, but I began to eat and had no problems. I still felt great. I went back to the convention center and found Todd and Debbie to thank them and let them know I was still pain-free.”

Since that day, Mike has had no bleeding or pain. He discontinued all prescription medications, replacing them with a few nutritional supplements. He continues to have an abundance of energy and is looking forward to God’s new call on his life—to train and equip those who will go and make disciples of all nations.

“Todd Adams told me that he heard a specific word from God that day,” says Mike. “Todd said, ‘The Lord has told me you will receive manna from heaven; God will give you manna from heaven every day. He won’t give you more than you need, and He won’t withhold from you.’ So every morning I thank God for the manna today.”

Learn more

Read about Liza’s work with the youth of Acts 29 Fellowship.

Read about Todd and Debbie Adams’ work in Indonesia.

Learn more about the heritage of the Alliance’s Beulah Beach ministry.

What you can do

Give to Alliance Great Commission Ministries and impact lives for eternity as you make it possible for the people in this article and more to realize their call from God to go and make disciples of all nations.


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