This is not my usual “Back in the Day” column. It is, however, about something many of you from my era may recall; a practice church folk routinely carried out in the past. It was something you had to have experienced if you grew up in a religious household and attended church regularly. You knew when someone attending church had had a life-changing experience with a positive impact on him or her, such an impact that some regarded it as a miracle. Someone who had been touched by God would go to the front of the church to give personal testimony about receiving God’s blessings.
You seldom see this today, but it was a common occurrence in the past. People testified with emotion and enthusiasm as they wanted others to know that what happened to them was clear evidence that God was real. Last Sunday, if you were at the Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, under the leadership of the Rev. Marshall Paul Hughes Mitchell, you would have witnessed such a testimony. In this case, I was the person giving my personal testimony on God’s intervention in an outcome that promised to have had debilitating results.
I was called on by my pastor last Sunday to tell the story of my remarkable full recovery from a stroke that was described by medical personnel as “major.” Some may wonder why I would spill my soul in a newspaper column about this scary event that could have ended my life or altered it forever. As a result of my experience, I felt I had a compelling story to tell. I was encouraged by people who heard my testimony and others who became aware of it, to share my experience. This experience was a way to remind others that God is at work and all things are possible if you believe and place your trust in him. While the Lord has constantly demonstrated his goodness in my life, never has his power been felt more abundantly than on Wednesday, May 28, while I participated in a revival at Canaan Baptist Church. So, this is my story; this is my testimony; this is the kind of good news that our old folk used to gleefully espouse, back in the day.
While I regularly attend church on Sundays, participating in Bible study or another weekly religious program is another story. Truth be told, I am seldom, if ever, in a worship service on a weekday. But May 28 was different! I was not supposed to be there, but there I was, because of the nagging by my church member and nemesis, Blanche Lewis. She urged me on several occasions to attend this revival. But for her insistence, it is quite likely I would have been at home by myself, as my wife was at this revival. So this was early evidence of God’s appearance in this scenario. Being at home alone would have been disastrous.
During the praise and worship part of the service, I started to feel a sensation in my hand and then my legs. When I attempted to get out of the pew nothing worked. I was unable to move. Four seats from me was church member and psychologist Dr. Anika Warren, who immediately recognized that something was wrong and dialed 911.
I do not believe that where she was seated or her quick response to her observation was coincidental. Rather, God was on duty. I was pulled out into the aisle, where my cousin, Dr. Ala Frey, a medical doctor, instructed others to lay me on the floor, and within minutes she got an aspirin into my mouth and provided vital medical assistance. She was not supposed to be there; she had gone to the wrong location for this service and had considered returning home. But thankfully, she was directed to the correct location. Again, I cannot believe that she just happened to be there. God manifests himself in many ways, and he was in Dr. Frey on this evening, and kept her with me as I was transported to Einstein Hospital’s emergency room. She remained with me and my family until I had a room assignment. Folk, cousin or not, do not respond in this manner if they are hanging out in the devil’s workshop. They do, however, demonstrate this type of love and care if they have the type of relationship with God that family instilled in them, back in the day. Just how these events came together reminds me of Scripture; Romans 8:28, says in part “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to them that love God.”
God was still at work during the trip from the church on Pulaski Avenue to the hospital at Broad Street and Olney Avenue. The quickness of this trip was another factor critical in my survival. I had no feeling on my left side, from my arm to my foot, my face was twisted and my speech was slurred. At the emergency room, I was a candidate for Tissue Plasminogen Activator (T-PA), a treatment with which I was unfamiliar. There is a three-hour window for reeceiving this treatment and I was at Einstein in approximately 40 minutes. Interestingly, I was not afraid and did not think about whether or not my condition would be permanent. As TPA, which dissolves blood clots, was traveling through my veins, movement returned immediately. I was told by nursing personnel that they have seen this work in the past but never as quickly as it worked in me. Again, God on duty and watching over me!
The next day’s test results did not reflect any residual effects of my stroke. The speech therapists found nothing they should or could do. The occupational therapist had me walk the halls, and when they asked that I walk up the steps, I ran. They too had no further work to do. Some who learned of my positive results told me I was lucky. I tell you what I told the Salem Church family during my testimony, something I also told my close friends in the way “boys talk with boys.” As I told them, there was no luck involved in my recovery; it was just a matter of my “main man” Jesus Christ or “JC” hanging out with me; just “having my back.” The presence of my cousin the medial doctor and church member Mabel Jones, also a medical doctor, the next day was interesting timing. As happened throughout this experience, the pieces continued to come together. These two doctors appeared at the hospital at the same time my neurologist was present. This enabled knowledgeable medical personnel, a relative and a friend to ask all of the necessary questions on my behalf. The short of this conversation was that there was no evidence after my MRI and MRA that I had had a stroke. Learning that my discharge the next day was likely, I asked whether I could go to my fraternity’s (Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc.) Black and White Ball the following day and to church on Sunday. The answer was in the positive. My neurologist only identified one restriction: I should not shovel snow for the next four weeks.
So, I walked out of the hospital two days after this scary event. I went to the Kappa Ball and also to church. The only problem I had then is one that I continue to have today, are people staring at me, looking for any changes in my appearance. I just smile and even take off my eyeglasses to let them know that there are no outward changes; the changes are only within as I have a greater understanding of faith and the power of the Lord.
God put many people in my presence during this entire experience and has made certain that they have remained with me. He made certain there were those who carried me, transported my wife and others to the hospital, moved automobiles from one location to another, He also provided visitors, had friends and loved ones sending flowers, cards and making telephone calls to wish me well. Then there were the other things that we often take for granted during such times. God provided an outstanding and caring pastor in my life, a pastor who prayed for me; and was present with me in the emergency room. God brought a grandson, Kameron, into my life; a teenager today who gave me, during my dark hours, the will to live and be well to share in his adult years. A son, who was also present and provided his love to me and support to his mother; a son who took care of the things I would have done around my home; a son that transported me around until I received medical clearance to drive into Center City. Finally, more than 50 years ago he placed in my life, Gloria Swiggett Kittrels, a young lady I met as a freshman in college while she was a freshman in high school (go ahead and count on your fingers) for her love and care; for making certain I have followed the doctor’s orders. While she has stayed strong, I regret causing her “worryatioin,” as the old folk used to say, during this ordeal.
So, when people question or tell you there is no God, tell them to call me and I will tell them that there is a God, for what happened in my life, I am an “A” source and I want to tell my story to give honor and praise to God and give others hope, just as our ancestors used to testify, back in the day.
Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.