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Freak motorcycle accident stirs pastor to see joy in trusting God

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Most things in Steve McKinion’s life have been more of a triumph than a trial — a blossoming ministry as pastor of a new church, a successful teaching and writing career and a loving, supportive family.

But on the night of Dec. 19, 2003, a freak motorcycle accident left him with a back broken, teetering perilously close to severing his spinal cord at any second.

It all began when McKinion, 34, pastor of Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., since June 2003, and an adjunct professor of church history and historical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1998, went dirt-track motorcycle riding with his brother Randy, a favorite pastime of the two since childhood.

As he neared the top of the ramp preceding a 50-foot jump he had made many times in the past, McKinion accelerated to 35 miles per hour and prepared to take off. However, to his surprise, the top of the ramp was in poor condition, and rather than propelling McKinion horizontally out and over the jump, it shot him vertically through the air — and out and over the handlebars.

Falling headlong about 25 feet, McKinion landed face-first on the ground, with his motorcycle crashing down on his back the next instant, leaving him writhing in pain and gasping for air.

Randy quickly dialed 911, and soon emergency personnel loaded McKinion in an ambulance for transport to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital, doctors discovered that McKinion had three broken ribs, a broken arm and an unstable break in his vertebra, which would require a lengthy and very serious surgery to repair.

The news for McKinion’s family after the surgery was not good.

Doctors informed them that damage had occurred to the nerves that control the use of his legs, located on that part of the spine right beside the broken vertebra. The result was that McKinion had lost the ability to move his left leg.

The news came as a shock and the greatest test of his faith yet.

“Couple the pain that comes from the surgery with the knowledge that I might never be able to use my leg again,” McKinion said, “and that’s when it really started to be a challenge. The real challenge — more than the accident, more than the surgery, more than the pain — was the knowledge that it would be a long road to recovery, trying to learn to walk with a leg that you can’t feel and can’t necessarily move, only sort of drag it along. That sort of thing, for someone who had been so very active and never had anything like this happen before, knowing that my leg would probably never heal, was very difficult.”

It was during those days when McKinion lay in the hospital bed hour after motionless hour that God taught him the biggest lesson he learned through the whole ordeal.

“Probably the biggest thing this taught me,” he said, “and this is really where James 1:2-8 has become so real to me — is that the joy that we have is in the Lord, and joy comes when we exercise our own will. James 1:2 says we are to ‘consider it joy.’

“To spend six weeks basically flat on your back in very, very serious pain, not sure what’s going to happen, where you can’t control your circumstances — to know that in the midst of it all, there’s great joy in the Lord and that God is not caught unaware of these things — that is very comforting. God is not caught off-guard. He’s not somehow surprised that this happened, but He is completely in control.”

Although McKinion’s faith was now strengthening day by day, his left leg seemingly refused to follow the same tack, and prospects for a recovery began to look bleak until the day after Christmas, when things took an unexpected turn — this time for the better.

During one of his routine physical therapy appointments with the hospital staff, McKinion unexpectedly moved the big toe on his left foot, the same side that had been completely motionless with paralysis for days.

In his next appointment, McKinion surprised doctors even more by moving his entire left foot on command.

“[The physical therapist] just started crying,” he recounted. “One of the doctors who were in there started crying as well, and she said, ‘You just don’t know what a miracle that was.’”

Now McKinion has full use of his left leg, and he knows without a doubt Who he has to thank for it.

“The Lord just healed that leg,” he said, a touch of awe still in his voice. “Spinal injuries like that normally don’t heal, and He’s given me complete recovery and use and feeling in the leg. It’s unbelievable what He’s done — a real miracle.”

Doctors now predict a complete and full recovery for McKinion six to nine months after the surgery and have even cleared him at that time to participate in many of the activities he did in the past.

So, will there be any more motorcycle riding in the future?

“I think it’s probably a safe bet that that won’t happen,” McKinion said with a smile. “I think that’s both of our decisions together — ours and my kids’ as well — that we won’t have that happen again.”

Just to be sure, McKinion’s wife, Ginger, has taken another precaution to make sure the jump that sent her husband to the hospital will be his last.

“My wife does have a motorcycle for sale,” he said with a chuckle.

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  • Kyle Smith