‘The Lord is definitely not done with Mitch’
As Shannon Wilburn sat next to her critically ill husband’s…
A small table and stool sat just to one side of the stage at The Park Church of Christ in Tulsa, Okla., as Mitch Wilburn got up to preach.
It was the first time in nearly five months that he would deliver a sermon.
“I was not nervous for him to deliver a sermon,” said Shannon Wilburn, Mitch’s wife. “I was nervous if his dizziness would kick in.”
In October, Wilburn was hospitalized with COVID-19. The roller coaster of his 48 days in the hospital was intense. He was intubated, then extubated, only to be intubated a second time. At one point, a nurse called code blue as his heart rate dropped to zero. Then — miraculously, his family said — his heart began to beat again. Within days, he regained some strength and the ability to breathe on his own. Just before Christmas, he was sent home.
His journey with COVID-19 was not over, though.
“I don’t know if I’m what they call a COVID long-hauler yet, but I still have to listen to my body and be careful,” Wilburn said.
In fact, just one week before he stepped back on the stage at the church building, he was in the hospital.
Doctors are still trying to figure out if it’s COVID-19 or his myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease, causing him to have heaviness in his body and dizzy spells.
Despite the lingering issues, Wilburn was ready to be back on stage.
“I started teaching during my freshman year of college,” he said. “Other than a vacation, I’ve taught for the past 35 years, every Sunday.”
In his first sermon back, which was streamed on YouTube, Wilburn took a moment to thank everyone for their prayers and to applaud fellow Christians who had preached in his place for the last few months.
While his sermon focused on the Lord’s Supper, Wilburn did mention his journey back to health.
“If your house caught on fire today, what would you go in and get?” he asked the congregation.
He then showed what he would grab — a Bible that his mother had given him and a prayer journal that he began on Oct. 15, 2020, as he entered the COVID-19 unit at a Tulsa hospital.
“There’s a break in there where I didn’t know if I was going to see another day.”
He shared how it documented his journey day by day.
“There’s a break in there where I didn’t know if I was going to see another day,” he shared.
The journal, he said, also contained precious letters to his wife and children, letters he wrote when he wasn’t sure if he would ever see them again.
When asked about that journal, Wilburn said, “It’s interesting to know not only what I was writing but the way I was writing. It’s enlightening. Some of those things I had forgotten.”
For church members, having Wilburn back at the pulpit felt “normal,” in a good way, considering so many things in the last year have felt “abnormal.”
“Seeing your preacher (and I do think of him as ‘mine’) almost die but then return to the pulpit was a sermon before he even started talking,” said Brute Wolf, an elder of The Park church.
In his sermon, Wilburn challenged those listening to not only pray for others but to pray over others.
“There is something ultimately powerful when you stop what you are doing … and you decide, like Christ, you will not only pray for them but you will stop right there, lay hands on them and pray over them,” he said before referencing Jesus praying over those he loved in John 17.
The power of prayer is evident in Wilburn’s life.
As he was hospitalized, Shannon shared much of the journey on social media and through a CaringBridge page. People around the world were praying for his healing. After he was moved out of the COVID-19 unit, his brother-in-law Chris Seidman, minister for The Branch Church in Farmers Branch, Texas, came and prayed over him. Another minister friend from Dallas drove up twice to do the same.
Those prayers and the prayers offered by loved ones and others whom they may never meet were and still are a precious gift to this family.
“Even though we have such grateful hearts that he is home, we know his story is not the story of most people that went through getting intubated,” Shannon said. “He is a walking miracle, even though he’s still having some lasting effects of what he went through.”
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