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“He was like a dog panting. And I kept telling him, ‘If you don’t stop breathing like that I’m going to take you to the ER,’ you know, slow down, take deep breaths. And he just couldn’t,” Stephanie Stryker says.
In September of 2020, Russ Stryker got what he thought was a cold. After several days, his symptoms got worse and his wife, Stephanie, rushed him to the hospital. “He just kept saying, 'I feel like my body’s shutting down.' He was panting, just wasn’t breathing normally,” she says. "I wheeled him in myself. They immediately took him in, intubated him and tested him.”
Russ tested positive for Covid-19. Before Stephanie could even process the night’s events, Russ was put on a ventilator. “They basically were saying he, you know, he was dying and there was nothing they could do.”
Russ was a beloved high school football coach and teacher in Kingman Arizona. He and Stephanie had three children together. She began reaching out to the school, family, and friends for prayer. Stephanie says, “I got on Facebook and I just briefly let everybody know. He probably had thousands of people praying for him. My cousin lives in Nashville, for example, and she has a church and she has a prayer chain and she’s like, ‘We’ve got him on there.’ You know, and just so many people that did that."
Dianah recalls, “I got this call from Stephanie and she said that she had taken Russell to the hospital and at that time the doctors said that they did not think Russell would make it through the night.”
Due to Covid restrictions, Stephanie was not even allowed to be with her husband as his condition deteriorated quickly. “He was in a room. Then there was another room outside of that that the hospital staff would go in and, you know, trade out. We went to a room and prayed and prayed and prayed.”
Stephanie clung to her faith, but also began to consider a worse-case scenario. “I had my Abraham and Isaac moment where I had to tell God, ‘If you want to take him, I lay him down. What I want is perfect healing. I want him to come out of this, but, you know, I relinquish to your will, whatever it is.”
Russ spent the next month in a coma and on a ventilator. In the middle of the night on October 26, Russ coded. He was revived but doctors held out little hope for him. “The doctor calls me again at about 5:30, or 6 that morning and said, ‘His blood pressure is extremely low. We’ve thrown everything at it and we just can’t keep it up. You should come down.’”
That morning, Stephanie, her sister, and her friend, Dianah, arrived at Kingman hospital and started a prayer vigil outside his room. “We stayed there for, I believe it was, about seven hours, and we prayed the whole time,” Dianah recalls.
Then something miraculous happened. “I’d put that worship music on and we’d just-- I can’t tell you what it is to look at that monitor thing and see that his blood pressure started out at like 50 over 30, and even lower,” Stephanie says. “And as we prayed and sang, his blood pressure began to climb, and climb, and climb. And that was the – like the first time that I just witnessed, you know, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’”
Russ eventually stabilized and was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, where he spent another month on the ventilator. In mid-December, he finally began to regain consciousness.
“I had no idea of what the time frame was at all,” Russ says. “I had a feeling that I had missed my football season, but I wasn’t sure, you know, like if Christmas had already come and gone. I just didn’t know how much – how much time had elapsed. Seventy-seven days on a ventilator.”
Russ went home on December 17. It was the best Christmas gift Stephanie ever had. “We all spend Christmas Eve together at my parents. And you know, part of the festivities that we always do is we say what you're thankful for through the year. So many things God did through that experience, both for us and people close to us, and people we’ve never even met. He still performs miracles just as big as they were in the Bible, and my husband is one of them.”
Today Russ is nearly fully recovered and is back to coaching. He loves telling the story of his healing every chance he gets. “There is no medical explanation. I’ve talked to several of my nursing friends,” he says. “It was 100% a God thing and no reason I should be alive other than that God decided that I was going to be alive.”
“As I get older, I just believe in the power of prayer,” Dianah adds, “more than I ever have.”
“I just believed God would bring him through it. And He did,” Stephanie adds.
“I don’t know why God did it. I have no idea why,” Russ says. “I don’t deserve it any more than anyone else. It’s no different than Biblical times. It’s no different. He was the same then as He is now, you know. He could heal people then. He raised people from the dead then. And he did the same with me.”
Growing up, the Yang twins were always sick.
Their mother explains, “They often caught colds and had fevers, so we took them to a small clinic to get injections and medicine.”
Their father adds, “We fed them nutritious foods to make their bodies strong and thought they’d get better as they got older.”
Yet, they only got worse. And one day, Xin collapsed while the boys were playing basketball.
“He was sweating, and his face was white,” his brother recalls. “He put his hand over his heart and was panting the whole way home. He said, ‘I’m afraid. I don't want to die.’”
“His words filled me with terror,” Mrs. Yang shares. “So, I borrowed money from a neighbor and took Xin to the hospital right away.”
Doctors discovered that Xin had a large hole in his heart that had been growing since he was a baby. When they checked his brother’s heart, they found the same thing.
Mrs. Yang says, “My boys’ health got worse and worse. They could barely walk. My sons asked me, ‘Mom, will we die if we don't have the surgery?’”
“We had to stay home and read or watch TV or just sleep,” Xin shares. “I was so sad. My brother read me stories about Superman. He said, ‘Brother, you’re my hero. You’re going to recover!’”
His twin adds, “When I was sick, Xin told me we’d get through it together.”
The couple was poor and couldn’t afford surgery. Then, a friend told them about Operation Blessing, and you made it possible for both boys to get operations.
“Now they’re energetic and they never get tired,” exclaims Mr. Yang.
“Once we played basketball from two-o-clock to ten,” says Xin’s twin.
Xin adds, “My classmates say I'm like a new person.”
“My boys are healed,” concludes Mrs. Yang. “We are happy from the bottom of our hearts. I really appreciate the Operation Blessing donors for helping us. We don't know what we would’ve done without you.”
THE GREATEST GIFT
When Sheila was a spry seven-year-old, she spotted a baby doll in their town’s only toy store, and was smitten. That’s all she wanted for Christmas. When the big morning finally arrived, she was almost afraid to look at her pile of gifts. Taking a quick scan, she started to panic. No baby doll. Not wanting to hurt her beloved mum’s feelings, she feigned a smile and started opening her gifts. The various games and puzzles did little to comfort her. Then her mum asked about the other gift. “What other gift?” she asked. “The one at your feet,” her mum said. Tucked under the chair that held the other gifts was the baby doll in a cradle! She’d missed the best gift as her focus remained on the lesser ones.
Sheila uses that story to illustrate how since the days of Jesus’ birth, people have always missed the greatest gift. No wonder people missed Him, she says. “He wasn’t what they were looking for. I wonder if we’ve changed much since then. It’s easy to become so familiar with the Christmas story that we forget it’s the gift we desperately need, the one we can’t live without.” The miracle born in Bethlehem that night is the one that changed the world forever, she reminds us. “You have a Savior! You are loved! Let’s celebrate Christ, the greatest gift of all.”
Expectations often lead to disappointment, Sheila acknowledges, as life turns out differently than we’d hoped, even prayed. She urges us to trust in the God who alone can make all things work together for good. “You may have been hurt or disappointed, you may have stopped looking for miracles, but pause for a moment and remember. No matter what you are waiting for, the greatest gift has already been given. He was given for you. He is with you now even though He was once wrapped in the most fragile, unexpected wrapping of all.”
While expectations may leave us feeling empty at Christmas, she says living with a sense of expectancy will not. “Whether you are surrounded by family and friends this season or facing the first Christmas without a loved one, I invite you to pray this prayer with the psalmist, David:
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you
and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3
Sheila recounts the wondrous news the angel Gabriel was charged to deliver, first to Zechariah about his elderly wife, Elizabeth, bearing a son, John. Next, he came to the teenage virgin, Mary, revealing that she would bear the long-expected Messiah, the Savior of the world. Finally, Gabriel spoke to her fiancé, Joseph, in a dream, reassuring him that the baby in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Sheila reminds us of the heavenly chorus of angels rejoicing over God’s unfolding plan.
It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen. 1 Peter 1:12
“Notice how Peter writes the angels are watching, not that they were watching on that night alone,” Sheila points out. “They are watching now. The angels are watching when you walk through heartache and still get down on your knees and worship. They are watching when it feels as if your prayers are not being answered but you still trust God. This is not an old story that we remember once a year. We are part of God’s ongoing celebration with the angels until Christ returns in triumph to take us home. Let’s join our voices with theirs and give glory to God. Let’s still our hearts and receive His peace.”
LOST AND LONELY
Many years ago, Sheila herself was feeling lost and quite lonely when a special person lifted her spirits. “I had just spent a month in a psychiatric hospital diagnosed with severe clinical depression.” Sadly, a number of people expressed very unkind words to her. “I felt so alone and afraid,” Sheila says. “It was as if I had let down God and the community of faith and there was no way home for me. That was when Ruth (Graham) called and asked me to come to Montreat. Ruth read her a story one night about a Scottish father who had unjustly condemned his daughter, leaving her feeling utterly unloved. When someone pointed out his egregious error, he repented and welcomed his daughter home with loving arms. “The truth is, God is always at work, even when we can’t see His plan. As she finished the story that night, Ruth reminded me that we all get a little lost at times. We disappoint each other, we fail each other, but that’s why Jesus came. If you feel a little lost or forgotten this Christmas, lift up your head because Christ, the Light of the World, has come. Remember these words from Isaiah:
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness a light will shine. Isaiah 9:2
Purchase your copy of Sheila Walsh's The Gifts of Christmas at SheilaWalsh.com and be encouraged in this season of wonder and celebration.
When John was five years old, he remembers seeing a figure in his bedroom. He raced downstairs to tell his mom and dad. Frustrated that he kept getting out of bed, they told John no one was in his room and to go back to bed. When he returned to his room, he saw the figure again and these words came into his mind, “You need to give your heart to Jesus.” In his bedroom that night John gave his heart to Jesus. His life changed when Jesus became his Savior and his boss.
During his teenage years, John entered some of the hardest and loneliest years of his life when his mom, the spiritual leader of their family, died after a three-year battle with cancer. John prayed to God and asked Him to take away the hurt and loneliness he felt, but nothing changed. Then one day he asked Jesus if he could know Him differently. He asked to know Jesus as his friend. In that moment he felt God became not only his friend but his dad. Through the years, John has grown to understand God more and know Him better which has kept his faith strong while being in the entertainment industry.
In 2011, before Skillet had sold 12 million albums, they were on tour as the opening act for some very successful bands. After a show one night, John was approached by a man who was a mover and shaker in the music industry. He recognized how good Skillet was and how they could even become the biggest rock band in the world if John stopped talking about Jesus, stopped playing Christian shows, and did Christian radio interviews. "The Jesus stuff hurts your brand," said the man. He reminded John how many poor people he could help in the world if he was rich and famous. His lie sounded almost like the truth. John and his wife, Korey, discussed it but decided that not talking about Jesus was not an option.
When John called God his boss it was his way of saying he would trust and obey whatever He says. God calls us to obey Him and the truth He gave us through Jesus. Unfortunately, today there is much confusion in the world, “Lies have become truth, truth has become emotion, and emotion has become God and God has become whatever one desires (self-worship, sexual desire, dreams of fame and fortune),” shares John. Twenty years ago, those who did not believe in Christianity would not claim to have their own version of truth. They didn’t believe in the God of the Bible but held a different truth claim. Sadly, today our society has moved away from a belief in absolute objective truth based on the following philosophies of our culture:
• Post-Modernism – Philosophical stew, a little bit of this, a little dash of that. The belief that reality is nothing more than a conceptual construct. Postmodernists believe there is no absolute truth, no absolute morality, and no absolute reality.
• Relativism – Although similar to post-modernism the main difference is that according to relativists truth is not absolute, but it can be true for now or truer than something else. Many churches have adopted the relativistic thoughts of the day. For example, some believe morality is subjective.
WIMPY, WEAK AND WOKE
John says that Critical race theory, gender identity, statism, anti-Americanism, D.E.I., socialism, Marxism, the attack on civil liberties and religion, and progressive Christianity… all of this is sometimes referred to as merely “culture war” issues, and it is wildly incorrect. All these destructive philosophies are born out of an atheistic religion: utopianism.
As he writes in Wimpy, Weak, and Woke, “What we are witnessing is an age-old war between gods. It’s a winner-takes-all battle between the living God and the false god of Man.”
The West was built on the belief in objective truth, objective reality, and absolutes, all of which are being destroyed as we speak. In his book, John further explains where these destructive philosophies come from; why they won’t work; how they differ from the Christian worldview that built America and the West; and how a revival of the truth of the Bible can save us from far-left humanistic fantasies run amok. He says conforming to objective reality leads to human flourishing and meaning.
John shares, "I have written this book because I have been forced to. Apparently, I am not allowed to stay silent. I will be bullied if I do not conform to the secular Leftists, and I will be a coward and a liar if I do. Christians have adopted and made use of the lies and unrealities of the current age… All I wanted to do was play music in peace. But since that is no longer an option, I will play music in war. Ours is not a war against flesh and blood, of bullets or bombs. It is spiritual, theological, and philosophical. There is no such thing as utopia. It is a lie. It denies the sinful nature of man, the existence of a transcendent God, and it denies God’s created order. We must burn utopia to save the world.”
To purchase John's book, "Wimpy, Weak, and Woke," please visit John Cooper's website: www.JohnLCooper.com.
CBN’s impact around the world
Daily prayers for people across the country
CBN’s prayer team prayed with over 1.2 million callers in 2022 alone, while also praying with people through email, social media channels, live chat on the website, and written correspondence.
Highlighting testimonies of God’s faithfulness
Vida Dura or “Hard Life” stories are sourced throughout Latin America and produced in Spanish to reach a region with testimonies of people who hit rock bottom and turn to God for change. CBN has a prayer center in Latin America to support people through prayer and faith resources.
Serving in the wake of natural disasters
CBN's Operation Blessing was on the ground quickly in the wake of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey, providing much-needed food, relief supplies, and medical aid. After large-scale natural disasters, Operation Blessing strives to be the first to arrive, and the last to leave, tending to the needs long after the news cameras leave.
Ukraine and Poland
For 30 years, CBN has been serving the people of Ukraine
Through CBN’s Orphan’s Promise and Operation Blessing, we were able to quickly provide valuable resources soon after the conflict began, and we continue to support Ukrainian refugees.
Projected 135 million* watched a CBN program in 2022
CBN partners are reaching children around the world with the Gospel of Jesus through Superbook, a Bible-based animation series. In 2022 alone, children in 139 countries watched at least one episode of Superbook.
Bible Reading for the Day
Read or listen to today's Old and New Testament Bible readings. Each day is portioned to give the entire Bible to you in a year. Start anytime. Scroll forward or backward if you miss any days or want to get ahead.