Minister seriously injured in ATV accident
The future is unknown for a well-known preacher and evangelist…
As Don Blackwell made his way onstage at this year’s Polishing the Pulpit conference, he was nervous.
Hundreds of times before, maybe even thousands, Blackwell had preached before a crowd.
But this time was different.
“This accident impressed on me more than ever that really nothing matters except fearing God and keeping his commandments.”
“It was a difficult thing to do … because there were so many people seeing me that way,” he said.
For most of the nearly 5,000 people packed into the Sevierville Convention Center in East Tennessee, it was the first time they had seen the well-known minister and TV host in a wheelchair.
Just three months before the gathering of members of Churches of Christ from around the globe, Blackwell and his wife, Sheri, were in a life-changing accident. They crashed while riding through the Virginia countryside on an all-terrain vehicle.
“As far as I know, I was riding through the field having a great day,” Blackwell said. “Then it occurred to me I couldn’t move.”
The accident shattered his T8 thoracic vertebra, confining him to a wheelchair.
It all happened in what seemed like a split second.
He doesn’t remember the accident. He only remembers waking up in the hospital, where a doctor told him his spinal cord was severed. He likely would never walk again.
Sheri Blackwell also was injured, though not as severely. She had a cracked vertebra, requiring her to wear a back brace for several weeks.
It seemed like a dream, a really bad dream. But after a couple of days, reality began to set in.
“When I finally woke up and realized it was real, it was the most devastating thing I’d ever experienced,” he said. “‘Devastating’ isn’t really a strong enough word.”
Blackwell, a minister and elder of the Southaven Church of Christ in Mississippi and executive director of the Gospel Broadcasting Network, was scheduled to speak six times at Polishing the Pulpit.
After the accident, he wasn’t sure he’d even be able to attend.
The event’s directors visited him in the hospital and asked if he’d tell his story as a keynote speaker. After much thought and prayer, he agreed.
AN INTRIGUING SONG CHOICE
While his future seemed unsure, Blackwell knew he couldn’t give up doing what he loves: preaching the Gospel.
A few weeks into his rehab in Atlanta, he was allowed to leave the hospital for a few hours on the weekends. He used that time to preach at area congregations.
He said he’ll never forget that first Sunday, preaching in his wheelchair.
“The song leader led ‘Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,’” he said, laughing. “I leaned over to my wife and said, ‘That song is very offensive.’”
As he preached, he said, he began to feel like himself again. He realized he couldn’t move his neck to look around at the church members. So he began to spin his wheelchair from side to side to compensate.
It felt natural and, for a moment, he almost forgot about what he calls “the situation.”
After weeks of rehab, Don Blackwell was able to leave the hospital. He and his wife lived in a hotel for several weeks while their home was remodeled to accommodate his new wheelchair.
Then came August.
As he prepared to go on stage at Polishing the Pulpit, Blackwell knew it would be challenging. For many in the audience, this would be the first they had seen of him since the accident.
“Before I got up there that night, my legs were spasming, which means they were jumping around,” he said. “So I had to get out of my chair and stretch them to try to stop that.”
It was stressful. He was nervous. But he pushed through those feelings, telling the emotional story of the accident, his recovery so far and how he saw God at work through it all.
“I actually didn’t feel like it went well,” he said. “There were a few times that I lost control of my emotions and didn’t feel like I was able to speak clearly what I was saying.”
But even weeks after the event, people tell him how moved they were by his words, his story.
“This accident impressed on me more than ever that really nothing matters except fearing God and keeping his commandments,” he said, “and that’s what we have to press on doing.”
‘I ALMOST MISSED THIS’
Life is much different now from what it was just a few months ago.
“I believe it’s the providence of God that has allowed me to be able to do everything I need to do to preach.”
He recently received a standing wheelchair. That should help him manage his blood pressure and reduce the spasms in his legs.
Since the accident, he’s also welcomed his first grandchild.
“What kept going through my mind is, ‘I almost missed this,’” he said. “I was so thankful that I was able to get to meet her and hold her.”
Blackwell is preaching often.
However, his recovery is far from over. He still deals with significant pain, and he anticipates another surgery soon.
“I have some days that I wake up, and I hurt so bad that I don’t want to get out of bed,” Blackwell said. “But if I do that, I’m just going to be miserable.”
So, he presses on, preaching and learning how to live life without the use of his legs.
He knows things could have been worse. He thanks God for the abilities he still has.
“I can still write. I can still type,” he said. “I believe it’s the providence of God that has allowed me to be able to do everything I need to do to preach.”
He acknowledges that “thank you” doesn’t seem like enough to say to the thousands who prayed for him, sent cards and donated to his family in the weeks after the accident.
He appreciates the support and encourages them to continue praying.
“I’m still early in this. I’m still learning,” he said. “Every day I’m facing difficult encounters.”
He’s grateful for the opportunities to preach and share his story. He hopes to continue using his story to help others come to know Christ.
“More than ever, I realize you truly do not know what’s going to happen one second from now,” he said. “I was riding along having a great day, and then a second later, I was in the hospital. What if I had woken up in eternity?”
While he looks forward to heaven, he hopes to keep using the time with which God is blessing him to teach others about their Savior so they, too, can look forward to eternity.
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