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From death to life: Oklahoma churches’ fellowship born out of the power of prayer

At left Debbie Inselman, a retired IMB missionary, talks with the children of First Covington in the building gifted to them by Covington Christian Church. Photo courtesy of Phillip Gregg

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a three-part series.

COVINGTON, Okla. (BP) — Richard Kerr fell 27 feet and landed head-first on a concrete slab. Bones that didn’t break on impact did so when others attempted CPR. He died twice on the way to the hospital. Family members were urged to hurry to say their goodbyes.

He left the hospital under his family’s care five days later. But it was another family who nursed him back to health and basically adopted Kerr, then 32 years old, and his wife and two young children.

Janice Kerr holds her granddaughter, Courtney, at a church event. Photo courtesy of Phillip Gregg

Lindy Sasser was a neighbor of Kerr’s, member of First Baptist Church in Reydon, Okla., and the ambulance driver on Aug. 3, 2008. Kerr was so mangled that Sasser didn’t even recognize him until they arrived at the hospital, where Kerr was sedated and flown to Oklahoma City.

The 2020 Census counted 136 people in Reydon, four miles from the Texas line in western Oklahoma where Kerr joined others in working the oil fields. He was helping take down a building that day when it gave way underneath him.

The story of Kerr’s recovery is remarkable and exemplifies the power of prayer.

“It happened on a Sunday,” he said. “Lindy called the church and put me on the prayer list while I was in the hospital. Pretty much all of my family are involved in church, so my wife started calling around.”

‘The One who made him’

One of those calls rang during the evening service at First Baptist in Covington, a town of less than 500 just over an hour north of Oklahoma City. Janice Kerr was embarrassed because she always put her phone on silent in church, but hadn’t this day.

She saw it was her daughter-in-law and took the call. She then stood up and asked for prayer for Richard, explaining why before leaving for Oklahoma City.

Family and friends basically took over the floor where Richard had been admitted, with his condition being as dire as you can imagine.

A broken neck and back. Separated shoulder. All ribs broken. Fractures to his skull and face. He had put his hands up before impact, which had collapsed his fingers into his hands and his hands into his wrists, he was told.

Eleven doctors were assigned to him but couldn’t agree on a method of recovery. What was needed to fix one area of his body brought one or two protests that more harm would be caused to other areas.

“The only thing they could agree on was to fix my hands,” Kerr told Baptist Press. “They noted I was strong and responding well to anesthesia, so they did that on the second day.”

On the third day his kidneys began working. Hearing came back in his ear. He was prepped for shoulder surgery.

“They were getting me ready for surgery and thought the x-rays had been mixed up,” said Kerr. “There was nothing to be fixed, so the doctor signed off on my recovery.”

There were casts on his arms and internal and external stitches, but other areas showed recovery in just a matter of days. Kerr remembers the words of one physician.

“The only reason he’s here is that the same one who fixed him is the same one who made him.”

Under adoption

Saladine Ganda, a member of First Baptist in Covington, Okla., sits with Curtis Patrick, pastor of First Reydon, at Falls Creek Conference Center. Photo courtesy of Phillip Gregg

On the fifth day Kerr was released to his home outside of Reydon, but he was in no shape to take care of himself, and his wife was about to start a teaching job.

“The day after I got home Lindy showed up,” he said.

With a town as small as Reydon, it’s impossible not to know others. Even though Kerr and his family weren’t members, the men of First Baptist were going to adopt them.

“They said they were going to stay in constant contact,” Kerr said. “They just wanted to help.”

That help extended to Kerr’s physical therapy. Jerry Calvert, a deacon, changed his own PT days to match Kerr’s and provide the 52-mile car ride.

“He wouldn’t let me pay a dime for gas,” Kerr remembered.

Janice Kerr would also remember everything the Reydon church did for her son, vowing to repay their kindness one day.

Showing kids Jesus

Most every church has a Janice Kerr.

To call her a children’s ministry advocate doesn’t do it justice. Her son remembers attending the Vacation Bible School at First Covington, then with his brother and sister going to one or two others because their mother had either given materials or wanted to volunteer or both.

No kid who wanted to go to VBS – whether they lived under her roof or not – would be without a ride, as far as Janice Kerr was concerned.

“She was quite the cornerstone for our church,” said First Covington Pastor Phillip Gregg of Kerr. “She raised so many kids that weren’t hers and always opened up their home.”

Kerr’s favorite verse was Romans 1:16, appropriate for someone who was not ashamed of the Gospel and believed it to be the power of God for salvation.

She died on Jan. 6, 2016. Yes, 1/6/16. Her memorial service was held on Jan. 16.

Under Kerr, First Baptist’s children’s ministry began to grow from 10 to as many as 60 on Wednesday nights. First Baptist’s pastor at the time, Jeff Jackson, asked a neighboring church if they would mind lending out an adjacent building to help with space.

That church had no active children’s ministry at the time and allowed usage of the space. When that church eventually disbanded, they handed the building over to First Baptist.

“She was such a family-oriented person,” said Gregg, who began as pastor in 2011. “There were times she’d come by the church and I’d be working late. She would tell me I needed to go home.”

A chance to give back … that keeps giving

Kerr also handled the church’s attendance at Falls Creek Conference Center. One year she reserved a space for First Covington in a cabin that appeared to be available. Through a mix-up, though, another church on the Texas line in the western side of the state also thought it had reserved the space.

First Baptist Reydon. Kerr remembered what the church had done for her son.

When everyone involved realized the space was big enough for both churches, they went together. It began a fellowship across congregations that would last for years.

That’s not all, though. It would also lead to giving college students a home and international basketball players a place of refuge. It would create a path for a burgeoning youth program at First Covington highlighted by a young man who learned to speak English only a few years ago, but for a long time understood the power of the Gospel.

Janice Kerr wanted to repay the people of First Reydon for adopting her son and helping him. Ripples from those actions continue to this day. Baptist Press will report on some of those in new stories in the coming days.

“There are so many stories about her,” said Gregg. “She never missed any of her kids’ games, even when her health was poor. She’d take naps on the floor of the children’s ministry department rather than go back to her house in Marshall (13 miles away) and come back.

“That’s just what she did. It’s just who she was.”