One evening in 1987 I got a call from a young man named Eddie Earnest who was serving as a deacon at our church in Ohio. An old friend of his was in the hospital. His name was Lewis. Lewis had been driving a cement truck when the front tire blew and he lost control and hit a tree. He was in intensive care at Grant Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Eddie wanted to go on Friday night. I had planned a much-needed day off and we were planning to visit family in another county. I told Eddie we would drive over and meet him at the hospital in Columbus, but Friday afternoon we were visiting with family and to get to Columbus to visit Lewis would require us cutting our visit short. I considered calling Eddie and asking him if he would mind moving our visit to Saturday. Finally I reconsidered and we headed home.
That evening we drove to Columbus. Lewis was in intensive care. He was strapped to a bed that tilted from side to side slowly to keep the fluid moving in his lungs. There were nurses, doctors and technicians all around him. His wife was standing beside him. I felt intimidated with all the people in the room since I had never met him before and wasn’t sure if he wanted a visit from a stranger at such a difficult time.
The hospital staff stepped away from the bed and let me talk with him. I introduced myself and said I was Eddie’s pastor hoping he would remember him. He and Eddie had not seen each other in years and at the time he and Eddie were drinking buddies.
He had a large tube taped in his mouth and could not speak. His eyes were closed but he responded my nodding his head yes or no.
I said; “Lewis I came to talk to you about your soul. If you had died in the accident do you know for sure that you would have gone to heaven?”
He nodded no.
I said; “Lewis the Bible says you can know for sure. Would you like me to explain what the Bible says about how you can know for sure that you are right with God and that you will go to heaven when you die?
I watched him closely to see how he was responding. Every one in the room was quiet and I sensed they were all listening. Lewis nodded yes.
I said; “Lewis, the Bible says we have all sinned and broken God’s law and that we deserve to die and go to hell but the Lord Jesus died for our sin. According to the Bible, if we confess our sin and believe that Jesus died for our sin we will be saved. Would you like to pray and turn to Christ and ask him to forgive your sin and give you a home in heaven when you die?”
He nodded yes.
I said, “Lewis if you truly mean that I want you to pray in your heart the words I tell you to pray.”
I prayed a sinners prayer and when I was done I said; “Lewis did you pray that prayer?”
He nodded yes.
I prayed thanking God for his profession of faith asked the Lord to heal and restore his health and stepped away from the bed.
It occurred to me that I should have spoken to his wife about her soul. Her name was April and she was standing nearby. I stepped back over and handed her a copy of “The Four Spiritual Laws.” I said; “You might want to go over this together, it explains what we just talked about.”
We left and drove home. The next day the phone rang and it was Eddie. Shortly after I left Lewis lost consciousness. The next day he died. I hung up the phone and thanked God that I had not delayed my visit. If I had I would never have seen him and he would probably be in hell today.
The next week I was sitting in my study and received a phone call from home. April was trying to get a hold of me. She didn’t remember my name or where I pastored, but she was visiting a friend telling her about what happened. When she described me her friend said; well, that sounds like the man who pastors next door. A few minutes later April and her friend were walking across the churchyard to see me.
April said that after I left the hospital she took the tract, went to the hospital chapel, read it and prayed the sinners prayer printed in the back of the tract. That Sunday she was in our service and came forward in the invitation to make a public profession of faith. Later she remarried a man who was a deacon at another good church in the area.
This time of the year I always remember Lewis’ last words to me. After I had prayed with him and stepped away from his bedside April could tell that he was struggling to say something. She leaned over him and said; “What is it?” I turned back in time to catch her tear-filled eyes looking at me. She said; “He said; “Thank you.”
He died a few hours later and I don’t know what his last words were. Maybe they were words of love to his wife or for his little boy Wesley. I do know that one of the last things on his mind before he died was thanksgiving for Jesus who died for him.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”
Up-date: Thanksgiving 2015
The story you just read happened in 1987. Every Thankgiving I think of Lewis Shellenbarger and his last words to me. Tears were forming in his eyes and rolling down his face to the bed. His eyes followed mine and he strained to speek, barely able to form a sound he said; “Thank you.”
Today I looked up April and gave her a call to see what had happened in the years since Lewis died.
She has been married to a Christian man for over 23 years. Along with Wesley they have three more boys, Caleb, Gabriel, and Joshua. All of them know the Lord. April and her husband Greg are active members of the Mount Vernon Baptist Temple today, faithfully serving the Lord.
We had a good talk. She thanked me again for coming to the hospital that night. She said; “I was angry, but when Lewis died I knew he had received Christ and I knew I wanted to see Lewis again and I knew I needed the Lord. I took the pamphlet you gave me and went to the hospital chapel with my sister-in-law and prayed to receive Christ. I’m so glad you called. Thank you so much for coming to the hospital that night. So many have come to know that Lord because of what happened with Lewis. I’m in nursing now and I have been able to help so many others who have lost loved ones. I remember the tears rolling down Lewis’s face when he prayed to receive Christ. It has always made me feel secure to know we will all see him again.”
Thanksgiving Week 2015