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10/22/97 Missionary widow recounts comfort from Bible, friends

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–It has been several months since Sherry Blackwell’s missionary husband died after an automobile accident on an isolated Brazil highway, the night Blackwell was left on her own after 28 years of marriage to raise five teenage children.
Well, not entirely alone.
Blackwell, whose Louisiana family made Brazil their home in 1981, experienced God’s sustaining love from his Word and from fellow Christians.
“It’s amazing how I just wanted — more than any other time in my life — to see what God would say to me and how he would help me through his Word,” Blackwell said.
“And every time — it never failed — I went to the Psalms and it was like God wrapped his arms around me, just comforting me through his Word.
“The psalmist would talk about how deep in sorrow he was and about the problems he was facing and yet how God brought him out of it. And I just claimed that (promise) every time I read it and said I ‘know’ he will bring me out of it.”
She said the Psalms confirmed God “does have a future for me and a plan and there is life after this — even though you feel like there’s not.”
Her husband, “Boots,” was on his way home from a preaching engagement the evening of April 20. He traveled a lot in his work as a missionary — this night, it was late and he was on a fairly isolated stretch of road about 45 minutes from the town of Flourianopolis, where he and his family lived.
Then another car apparently crossed the center line of the highway. The sound of the resulting accident was loud enough to be heard by a man in one of the few houses in the area.
The man ran to the scene, where he found Blackwell pinned in his car by the steering wheel and column. But he was alive — conscious and talking, even joking.
They waited about two hours for help to arrive. Blackwell told the man his name and what he did and that his family was in Flourianopolis.
When workers eventually arrived, they went to help the people in the other car who were bleeding and in pain. Blackwell appeared to be doing OK. Even so, at one point, he called to the workers, “Hey, you have one other prisoner over here. Don’t forget him.”
Finally, the workers turned to Blackwell, who began to slip in and out of consciousness as they released him from the wreckage of his car. Apparently, the steering column had been acting as a sort of tourniquet against internal bleeding. With his release, the pressure that was keeping Blackwell from bleeding to death was gone.
“But I believe Boots never thought he was going to die until the very end,” Sherry Blackwell said. “And the only reason I feel like he probably thought he was going to then was he told this man, ‘Tell my wife I love her.’ That was the last thing he said. And I don’t think he would have told that to a complete stranger unless he felt like he might die.”
Blackwell said she has “finally gotten to the point where I feel like I can think about the future without it being so overwhelming. But for the first couple of months I couldn’t even think about the future. I just took a day at a time.”
Very close behind the comfort of the Scripture for her was the support of Christian family and friends.
For at least two months, someone called her every day. “To me, it was just God’s way of saying I haven’t left you alone — and it was through his people that he encouraged me and let me feel love. Because when you lose your spouse, you do miss that love and miss that ‘hug’ whether through a phone call or in person. God just knew I needed it and he provided it through so many people. People I didn’t even know called.”
Blackwell recalled a day about a month and a half after the accident when she was feeling down and at midday realized no one had called her yet. “I just felt so alone. But when I was sitting there, thinking this, the phone rang. And it was a missionary friend (from another country) who had worked with us before. And she said the Lord had laid it on her heart to call me. And I just know it was the Lord answering the need I had.
“And he still does.”
Blackwell no longer needs the daily calls, but on days when she does need a reminder of God’s care, it comes.
“I’m just so thankful that when the Lord nudged someone to pick up the phone and call, they did,” she reflected. “Because I know how guilty I’ve been in the past of not doing that. But now I can see the other side — and you never know what it means to the other person.”
That is something else Blackwell has learned through her family’s tragic experience and hopes to put into practice — the importance of encouraging others whenever she can. She said she has been greatly strengthened by thousands of cards and notes telling her someone was praying for her. “I was so amazed at how many people I didn’t even know were praying for me and would write to tell me.”
All have combined to deepen Blackwell’s relationship with God. “It’s closer now because I’ve had to depend on him. I don’t know how people make it if they don’t have the Lord.”
Still, there are hard things to face, Blackwell said. “One is thinking I may be alone for the rest of my life. And I don’t want to be. And I know really I’m not alone because I do have the Lord. But it’s companionship I mean.
“Then the other thing is I get mad at God when I think I have to raise five teenagers without my husband — because I needed him for that part,” Blackwell added with tears in her eyes. “And it’s been hard to accept that.”
And it has been hard on her children to adjust to the loss of their father, to life in another country, to making new friends to replace their Brazilian friends. Blackwell struggles to help them understand and deal with their anger and emotions. She reminds them that God will speak to them if they will seek him in his Word. And she asks others to pray for them.
Blackwell said she leans on God especially to make it through the nights. “During the day I can stay busy, but at night when you’re there and by yourself, that’s when it gets hard.” Some nights, anger and tears come. “But it only lasts a few minutes and then it was as though God’s arm was just around me and I would feel such a peace and a comfort … . I had never experienced that kind of peace before. I don’t know how to explain it except that it was like he covered me and wrapped his arms around me and I just felt like I was going to be OK. I just knew that. It was a feeling, an enveloping of his love that he gave to me.”
Blackwell has experienced the love of others as well. Leaders of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist International Mission Board have been very sensitive during the experience, she said.
The Blackwells had planned to spend this year in Pineville, La., on furlough as missionaries-in-residence for the state convention. State leaders quickly let Blackwell know she could still serve in that capacity.
Meanwhile, International Mission Board leaders agreed to keep Blackwell on full salary through her furlough year, which extends into next spring. The board also paid for her children to return to Brazil in August when the family spent three weeks closing up their house of 15-plus years, selling what they could not ship to Louisiana and saying goodbye.
Blackwell was busy in September getting her children in school. Jennifer, 19, is in college. The rest are all in junior high and high school — Jonathan, 17, Jodi, 15, Joshua, 14, and Jill, 12.
Among Blackwell’s plans for the future are returning to teaching and staying in Pineville, where her brother and his family live and where her family spent a previous furlough.
God could change those plans, Blackwell acknowledged.
Even so, she said, “After all that I’ve been through and seeing how God has taken care of me through this, I know without a doubt that he’s going to continue taking care of me.”

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  • C. Lacy Thompson