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Gas explosion burns Alaska dir.; prayers needed

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP) — Suffering third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, Alaska Baptist evangelism and church growth director Jimmy Stewart is hospitalized and grateful for prayers after being injured in a gas leak explosion at his Alaska cabin.

Stewart is expected to undergo his fourth surgery today (Aug. 3) — one of many anticipated in a hospitalization of at least six months followed by convalescence and a lengthy rehabilitation, according to the Alaska Baptist Convention (ABC).

Nearly two weeks after the July 23 explosion that Stewart bore the brunt of as he searched for a gas leak in a crawl space underneath the cabin, he is talking, able to walk and in good spirits, the ABC said Aug. 2. He was temporarily blinded by the accident, but some vision had returned to one eye and is expected to return to the other, the ABC said.

“The family reports Jimmy is up, sitting on a chair in his room, and walking some. He is talking and wants to know what has been happening while he was sedated,” the ABC said in its daily update on Stewart’s condition. “He is receiving his first solid food since the accident…. His condition is still critical, so prayer is vital.”

Many are praying for Stewart, his wife Kathryn and their three adult children, who have come from across the country to their father’s side at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

“Right now we’re especially asking for prayer for no infection,” ABC Executive Director Randy Covington told BP after visiting Stewart. “That still is the biggest worry I think of the doctors and everybody involved, even though they’ve seen some really good progress even in the last week he’s been in the hospital.

“[Also pray] for his heart to remain strong because he’s still going to have a number of treatments he’s going to have to go through, and again we know how painful those long-term treatments will be.”

Doctors are pleased with Stewart’s progress, Covington told BP, noting that Stewart’s heart is strong; he has no internal burning in his lungs, no brain damage and has not developed an infection.

The ABC has established a funding page to support the family, and members of the Northwest Baptist Convention based in Vancouver, Wash., are visiting Stewart, praying with his family and providing material help, including food and transportation. Also aiding the family is the North American Mission Board, which supports Stewart in his work as Alaska Baptist Convention director of evangelism and church development

“We had a number of people across our state who said ‘How can we help the Stewarts,'” Covington said. “Many were wanting to give, and so we established an assistance fund through our Alaska Baptist Foundation that will allow people to give … to help the family with immediate needs and with medical needs that will be forthcoming.”

Donations may also be mailed to the Alaska Baptist Foundation, 1750 O’Malley Rd., Anchorage, AK 99507. Harborview Medical Center is encouraging that cards and letters of encouragement be mailed to Stewart at 325 9th Ave., Seattle, WA 98104, including “Attn: Patient Jimmy Stewart” in the address.

Stewart has blessed and encouraged many in his evangelistic work, Covington said, and is well-loved by many in Alaska and elsewhere.

“Jimmy has a real heart for evangelism and sharing the Gospel in some of the darkest places. He has a personality that’s so enthusiastic and has a passion for sharing with people,” Covington said. “Jimmy never goes any place without having a smile on his face and just a joy of the Lord in everything that he does.”

The details of what exactly triggered the explosion — which occurred as Stewart, his wife and friends were preparing to vacation at the cabin — remain unclear, Covington told BP yesterday.

“Basically they had gone to their cabin Saturday evening (July 23) with some friends, and when they got there they noticed there was a gas smell inside the cabin. So they basically opened the cabin up and let it air out to get all the gas out.

“And then he went and checked his (gas) tank, realized it wasn’t leaking at the tank, so he began searching to where the leak might be. He was in a crawl space that’s sort of underneath the cabin. Basically there was an explosion and since he was down there, he took the brunt of the explosion underneath the cabin.

“The force and the pressure of the explosion went up into the cabin. There were people inside the cabin but none of them were injured fortunately. There was no fire as far as anybody can tell, but the pressure from the explosion actually pushed one of the walls out about three feet, separated it from the roof joist and then of course blew out the windows and blew the door out of the frame.”

For more information on Stewart’s recovery, go to http://www.alaskabaptistconvention.com/ and click on the “Jimmy Stewart Update” tab.