PRYOR, Okla. (BP)–Jeanette Smith and her step-son, 16 year-old Blake, stood on opposite sides of the baptistry at the First Baptist Church, Pryor, Okla. on March 11 — water dripping from their white baptismal robes — watching their husband and father being lowered into the water by five burly men as he followed them in a public profession of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Wendell Lang awaited below as Steve Smith — in his wheelchair — was lowered into the water by fellow Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers Ted Hollingsworth, Wayne Carman, Scott Horton and Branson Perry, assisted by Smith’s close friend Larry Williams.
The baptismal pool was almost a lifetime away from the pool of blood in where Smith had lain on April 25, 1999 after a bullet from a .357 magnum revolver blasted into the right side of his neck as he wrestled with a suspect who already had killed his wife and was threatening to end his own life as well.
Smith’s baptism is an affirmation that the former OHP trooper believes — despite his limitations — that God is going to use him, and in a mighty way.
“God has big things in store for me,” Smith said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but He has a great plan.”
Smith, 39, was saved at the First Assembly of God Church in Muskogee, Okla. when he was a teenager, but had not been baptized. Jeanette also was a member of the Assembly of God Church and attended a church in Salina, Okla. about 10 miles east of Pryor. Meanwhile, Blake, and Jeanette’s son from a previous marriage, Christopher, 14, attended First Baptist Church, Pryor.
“We just weren’t together,” Jeanette confessed. “We were experiencing all sorts of problems, and it was tearing our family apart.”
Finally, the family sat down and prayed for direction. They were led to attend First Baptist Church, Pryor — together.
“We knew the first time we went, we had found a home,” Smith said. “After we prayed about it some more, we decided to make it our church home.”
Having never been baptized, Steve and Jeanette visited with Lang, and revealed their desire to do so.
“Steve’s desire to be baptized should be an inspiration to us all,” Lang said. “Spiritually, it serves as a point of identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it’s very significant because of Steve’s limitations. The fact that he was baptized while in his wheelchair is a salient point that God meets us wherever we are.”
On that dark day in April 1999, all indications pointed to the fact that Steve Smith’s life was over. At 6-4, 245 pounds, Smith was a veteran highway patrolman who was well-known in Northeast Oklahoma for his countless hours of presenting drug and alcohol awareness programs to school children in the area.
Lang, himself, had witnessed Smith in action some time before — during yet another crisis involving a gunman.
“I’ll never forget the night someone called me and told me they were dealing with a man who was about to kill himself, and asked me to come,” Lang recounted. “By the time I got there, Steve already was talking to the fellow, who had tied a rope hanging from a tree around his neck and was threatening to jump.
“I witnessed at that time a very calm, a very caring, individual who was the personification of what a loving peace officer should be about.”
The outcome of that incident was positive, with Smith able to convince the man not to take his life.
Results weren’t so positive April 25, 1999.
That longest day of Steve Smith’s life found him in a cemetery near Bernice, Okla. as the murder suspect held about 40 peace officers at bay that evening. Smith and Delaware County Sheriff Jim Earp tried for more than an hour to get the man to give up his weapon. When the man finally put his weapon down on a bench, the officers rushed him in an attempt to end the standoff and Smith was shot in the ensuing struggle. Earp received a wound to the arm, while the suspect died.
After being wounded, Smith was rushed to a Miami hospital, then air-lifted to St. John Medical Center in Joplin, Mo. While racing north on the Will Rogers Turnpike between Vinita and Miami, paramedics were forced to stop and give Smith a transfusion of blood — which had been shuttled from the Miami hospital — in order for him to survive the ride.
“The only reason Steve is still here is because God wanted him on this Earth,” said Williams, whose first personal encounter with Smith came when Williams’ 15-year-old daughter, Georgianna, was seriously injured in an automobile accident on Aug. 23, 1996.
“Georgianna had a brain injury and substantial lacerations to her face and arm,” Williams said. “She was life-flighted to a Tulsa hospital and spent about 12 days in intensive care, another two weeks in the pediatric wing and about three more weeks in rehab at Children’s Medical Center.”
As Georgianna recovered from her injuries, and later underwent plastic surgery, Smith went out of his way to visit her in the hospital, something he admitted to Williams that he didn’t do very often.
“Our families were drawn together as a result, and it is now evident that God had put our families together for a purpose,” Williams said. “We became used to praying for Steve; after every one of his visits, we prayed together for his protection as he was leaving.
Those prayers continued and intensified almost three years later as Smith’s own recovery began. Included were months of rehab at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. To help offset some of the family’s medical expenses, Hollingsworth organized a “sticker” campaign. The windshield stickers, bearing Smith’s badge number 725, were sold to Mayes County residents for a minimum $2 donation. More than 5,000 of the stickers were donated by local computer training and software company, ViaGrafix.
“Steve and Jeanette are attending my Sunday School class, and I think that’s one way they became comfortable with our church,” revealed Williams, who noted that Smith’s baptism was carried out by several of his friends carrying his wheelchair only a week after the Sunday School lesson was about the four men who let their paralytic friend down through the roof to see Jesus and be healed in Mark 2:1-12.
“As Jesus healed that paralyzed man, I think God is going to use Steve mightily in the future,” Williams said. “In fact, there have been a myriad of indications I have seen already that God’s hand of protection is on Steve, and He has brought him through this ordeal for a purpose.
Jeanette credits the power of prayer for bringing her husband through his test. “I deeply appreciate all the prayers and support from our community,” she said recently. “More than once, I believe that the power of the prayers for Steve were what got him through some really terrible medical problems.
“We’ll never forget the love shown to us by so many people.”
Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger. David Gustafson, co-owner and publisher of The Paper in Pryor, and Larry Williams each contributed to this story. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STEVE SMITH.