It’s a Miracle!

By Claudia Bustamante/The Press-Enterprise
bryan-johnsonBryan Johnston lay on his hospital bed in Loma Linda University Medical Center, wiggling his fingers and stretching his legs.  
The movements are miraculous for the Lake Elsinore pastor.  
Earlier this month, Johnston was critically injured while unloading staging equipment for a worship session put on by Tides Church at Lakeside High School on Sundays. More than 900 pounds came down on him, severely damaging his neck and paralyzing him.  
Support, Bryan says, has helped his recovery. On the ambulance ride to the hospital more than three weeks ago, Johnston felt nothing but numbness from the neck down. “It’s a miracle that I can move my leg. There’s no two ways about it,” he said, recovering after neck surgery to fuse the vertebrae. The dislocation, Johnston said, likely would have resulted in quadriplegia, the inability to move his body below his neck. He added that the doctors told him 98 percent of patients end up quadriplegic, and the remaining 2 percent either turn paraplegic, with only the lower half paralyzed, or fully recover.  
“Doctors have been coming from all over Loma Linda to see me, to see that I’m real,” he said.  
Johnston said he believes much of his recovery is due to the sheer force of support he has received from the church and others.  
“Literally thousands of people from all four corners of the world are praying for us,” he said.  
“Even in Egypt,” added his wife, Deborah.  

Church Growth

Members of Tides Church are rallying to support each other and their pastor. D.  J. Johnston, Johnston’s brother and fellow pastor at Tides, said hundreds of people have volunteered to help with meals, baby-sitting, and raising money to lease an apartment where his wife and children are staying to be closer to Johnston.  
The 1 1/2 year-old church, which only celebrated one worship session with Johnston in its new location, has seen its numbers continue to grow in his absence. A typical Sunday would bring in about 200 people, said Ken Ramirez, administrative director. Last weekend, more than 340 people attended. “Outside of Easter, this was the biggest service we’ve had,” Ramirez said.  
Web site traffic also exploded. Before the accident, it averaged 75 hits per day. The day of the accident: 477. It has averaged out to 300 per day, added Ramirez, who maintains the site, which includes progress updates on the pastor. People are “running to see what’s up with Bryan and, at the same time, learn about us,” Ramirez said.  
Tides is one of 2,000 Christian and Missionary Alliance churches nationwide. Alliance churches have an 89 percent survival rate, meaning they are around for at least five years, according to Mickey Noel, national church planning director. They add between 50 to 60 new churches a year.  

Deja Vu

John Ruhlman, pastor at Temecula’s Life Church, has worked with Johnston for close to 12 years. They’re good friends with much in common. They’re both pastors. They both moved to the Temecula Valley to build churches. And they both suffered similar accidents when their churches were less than 2 years old.  
Two years ago, Ruhlman broke his neck in an off-road vehicle accident at the Pismo Dunes near Ventura County. He had the same surgery as Johnston but involving different vertebrae. Today, he’s walking.  
In the two months that he was in rehabilitation, Ruhlman said his church grew by at least 200.  
The coincidence has some other pastors perplexed. “It’s one of those things that you just scratch your head and say, ‘Oh, that was weird,’ D. J. Johnston said. “Now all the pastors out here are a little worried.”  

‘Expect a Miracle’

On a piece of paper taped to the ceiling above Johnston’s bed, a sign reads, “Expect a Miracle.”  
“Every day we see one,’ he said. One day it was more strength in his arm; the next it was his ability to raise his leg.  
During a physical-therapy session last week, Johnston was rolled in his wheelchair to an open space between two waist-high bars. He scooted forward and, with some help from the trainer, stood up.  
He took small steps as he held onto the bars. His father, Tim, who traveled up from missionary work in Mexico for support, followed him with the wheelchair. Deborah walked alongside and his mother, Kathy, videotaped the whole thing.  
“The first time he walked, he only made it halfway,” Kathy Johnston said. “This is the longest he’s ever gone.”  
Bryan’s ultimate miracle: “I’m going to walk out of this place. I don’t want to be rolled out.”


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