Paralysis provides platform to preach
Nicole James | Malawi
In 2005, having just completed missions training with OM Zambia, Oscar left to serve in neighbouring Malawi. “Being my first time to go on the mission field, I was so excited and very expectant. ‘Wow! I go out and preach the gospel,’” he remembered thinking.
Three weeks after arriving in Malawi, Oscar paid three months’ rent on a house and recruited a friend to help him move. The next day, after unloading Oscar’s furniture into the house, his friend drove away. Oscar walked around the outside of the building and discovered that one of the doors was not hinged properly. Using a screwdriver, he began fixing the problem.
Suddenly, he felt a lightening-like pain course through his body. Oscar fell down, paralysed. “I started feeling pain like I’ve never felt before,” he described. “I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk.”
One of the neighbours standing outside saw Oscar’s condition and called his friend, who returned to the house, put Oscar in his car and drove to the hospital. Oscar’s friend encouraged the doctors to help Oscar. But after examining him, the doctors couldn’t explain his pain. So they put Oscar on a morphine drip, and he stayed in that hospital for six days.
Meanwhile, Oscar’s friend called the OM office in Zambia and explained the situation. Recognising that Oscar needed to return to Zambia, his friend agreed to transport him four hours to the border. OM staff met the men there and drove Oscar six hours farther to a hospital in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. After 24 hours of observation, the doctors still couldn’t diagnose Oscar’s pain, so they transferred him to the university hospital.
There, a CAT scan revealed the source of Oscar’s paralysis and pain: One of his discs had slipped, and a small bone was protruding into his spine. Oscar was referred to an orthopaedic clinic, where a spinal specialist recommended major surgery. The odds of recovery, however, were 50/50. “If this operation is successful, Oscar will be able to walk again. If it is not successful, he will end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life,” the surgeon cautioned.
Unwilling to take the risk, the OM Field Leader asked for a second option. The surgeon told him that putting Oscar on a stretcher for 90 days and preventing any movement might also allow his spine to fix itself. Unfortunately, the cost for that treatment was equivalent to running OM Zambia for six months. “Sir, we don’t have that kind of money,” the Field Leader stated.
A final but risky option, the surgeon explained, would be to put Oscar on a similar stretcher at home. The OM staff listened to the surgeon’s instructions, prepared a bed with a thin mattress at the Field Leader’s house and laid Oscar on that bed.
For 22 days, Oscar slept on the hard bed. People, including his future wife, visited and prayed for him. “It wasn’t easy,” Oscar said. But “on the 23rd day, I just felt in my body that today I can walk.”
The people standing near his bed tried to dissuade him from standing up. “No, please don’t make that mistake,” they begged. Oscar, confident he had been healed, ignored them and stood up. He placed his hands against the wall and started to walk. Then he walked without any support.
Within three weeks, he had completely recovered. People who saw him walking outside “were happy, and some were in shock,” Oscar said. Two months later, he went back to Malawi.
Before Oscar returned to Malawi, news that he had died spread around the Muslim community where he had rented the house. “In the condition I was in, no one expected me to come back,” he explained.
Three months later, however, a couple of the neighbours saw him enter the house he had rented and quickly informed other people. When Oscar came back outside, he found the whole yard full of people. “In Africa, people believe in ghosts,” he noted. Many believe that “when people die, they become ghosts.” Therefore, the group began asking him questions, wanting to know what had happened and whether he was truly alive.
Oscar saw the gathering as an opportunity to preach. “I was sick and I was almost dead,” he began. “I had no hope that I will walk again or come back to Malawi…. For you to see me standing here today is a miracle.”
To give the Muslim crowd context, he read from the Qur’an, surah 3:49-53, where Allah told the prophet Mohammed that Isa (Jesus) would perform miracles such as restoring sight to the blind, healing lepers and restoring the dead. “Among the people that Isa healed, I am one of them,” Oscar announced. As the crowd quieted, surprised by Oscar’s words, one man raised his hand. “I want to ask a question,” he said.
“What is your question?” Oscar replied.
“I want to know more about this Isa; where is he?” the man replied.
“If you want to know more, come tomorrow and we can talk,” Oscar told him.
Two days later, the young man, Leonardo*, showed up at Oscar’s door. “I’m a Muslim, born to a family of Muslims,” he stated. “We know about Isa as one of the prophets, but what you said about Isa is really different. Tell me more about this Isa.”
First, Oscar reviewed the same surah he had read to the crowd. “What that surah says is very similar to what it says in Luke chapter one: the virgin birth, the angel Gabriel [coming] to Mary,” he explained. Then he told Leonardo that God sent Isa to save mankind. “If we believe in Isa, He can save us and has power to heal the sickness in our body,” he continued.
Three days later, Leonardo returned, interested to learn more about Jesus. Soon, he and Oscar started talking every day. After six months of study, Leonardo decided to follow Jesus.
Persecution and provision
A few weeks after his decision, Leonardo told his father he had become a Christian.
“I’ll kill you and I’ll kill whoever changed you,” his father replied. “You have disowned me and you have disowned my religion.”
For several days, Leonardo stayed in the streets away from his family. Finally, he came to Oscar in the middle of the night. “My father wants to kill me,” Leonardo shared.
Alarmed, Oscar let Leonardo in, offered him a shower, prepared a bed and fed him. The next day, following advice from his OM leaders, Oscar found a Malawian family to host Leonardo. In fact, the man who took Leonardo in also used his influence to bridge the relationship with Leonardo’s father.
In addition, he procured a job for Leonardo, who moved into his own apartment three months later. Soon, his younger brother joined him and also became a follower of Jesus. One month into his new job, Leonardo visited Oscar, this time with three other young men.
“Oscar, God is working,” he said. “These were my Muslim friends, but now they are following Jesus.”
Happy and humbled, Oscar agreed to disciple the young men. That group grew into a church. Within five years of arriving in Malawi, Oscar handed over leadership to locals. “That sickness I had was a platform God created for me to preach the gospel,” he summarised. “When I said Isa had healed me, there was no question about it. That’s where Leonardo came in and opened up a door for the gospel. And today, many people are coming to faith even though I’m no longer in Malawi.”
Praise God for His miraculous work in Malawi. Pray that the church would continue to grow and that new believers would share the gospel with their family and friends.
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Published: Monday, 15 January 2018
Credit: Nicole James