Tragedy or Triumph?

by Fred Goebert

It began as a gorgeous Michigan Sunday in October. David Kaniewski prepared to celebrate his 58th birthday by harvesting the field of corn on his family's farm. With the corn picker running, David began to oil the chain as he always did before starting. But the oil can slipped from his grasp and fell to the ground below. As he reached to retrieve it, his right leg slipped, and the gathering chain caught his pant leg and began to pull it into the machine.  Instinctively he threw his hands forward to brace himself, but both arms were also pulled into the machine.  His arms and leg were not only trapped, but they were being pulled further and further into the picker. 

David's first impulse was to cry out to God for help. Thankfully, because the mechanism jammed, the tractor stalled. The cessation of motion and the silence were great—but he was helpless and alone.

His first fear was bleeding to death. He was unable to see the damage and didn't realize all the pressure had actually prevented bleeding.  In fact, he had no way of determining how serious his injuries were.

David was approximately two miles from his home and nearly a mile through the woods and over a hill, from his brother's home. The chances of making him hear were slim at best—and there was an intermittent breeze that muffled his calls for help. Between puffs of wind, he called out for help. An hour passed, and then another, with no response. No one was aware of his terrible predicament.

David's wife, Pat enjoyed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that David did not understand, nor seek to understand. They had been married almost 40 years, and Pat had been praying for David's salvation for a long time.

Now, David began to cry out to Godnot once or twice, but over and over again.  He pledged repeatedly: "if you get me out of thisI will belong to you forever."  With each passing moment his prayers became more fervent and sincere.  Another hour passed without assistance—and still, God in His mercy and grace did not allow him to lose consciousness. These hours became precious and valuable moments with God.

Finally after three hours of calling out, his brother, Dennis, heard his cries for help. Knowing David had planned to pick corn, Dennis and his son in law prepared for an emergency and quickly left for the field.  David had never been so glad to see anyone in his life—but they could not free him. 

A phone call was placed, and the rescue process began to unfold.  Denny's wife called Pat and said, "David's been in an accident.  I think you better get over here!"  Praying all the way, she was soon at his side.  Release would not occur for nearly two more hours.  The "jaws-of-life" were necessary to cut David free from his tormentor. There was no feeling left in his arms and leg as rescue workers airlifted him to the hospital emergency trauma unit.

Thirty years of prayers were about to reach fruition. Pat's church was notified of the accident while their Sunday evening service was in progress. The service was stopped while corporate prayer was made for David and Pat. Many of the congregation continued to pray and enlisted others to pray as the night progressed.

While Pat waited at the hospital, along with her son, Todd, and other family and friends, including her pastor, God was actively pursuing her son. Todd, now 37, had attended church with his mother when he was younger, but it had been a long time since he had given God much thought.  Now God was again making Himself known to both father and son.

While waiting for surgery, David assured Pat he had had "lots of help" when she commented on his bravery.  He quickly assented when she asked if she could pray with him and as responded, "Amen!" as she finished. Pat realized God indeed had been working in David's heart that afternoon and she felt a sense of encouragement that she had never experienced before. Seeing her husband broken and humbled created a supreme expectation in her soul. Through the entire experience, without asking, God gave her a strength, peace, and grace that she had never known before.

After hours of emergency surgery to remove skin, muscles, and ligaments from David's left arm, the doctor informed Pat and the family that David would probably survive, but the outlook for saving his left arm was not good. He was kept sedated in the trauma unit for nearly a week to allow the healing process to begin.

Just one week after the accident, his son Todd walked through the doors of his mother's church. "I'm not going to church for youI'm going for me," he had told his family. And he wept and prayed from the time he sat down. A warning was shared that Sunday: "If you don't respond to the light when you have the opportunity you may find yourself lost in the darkness." This was followed by a clear presentation of God's plan of salvation, and when the invitation was given, Todd immediately responded. He later shared that as a child he had made a decision for Christ with friends, but really he was just following the crowd. He felt that he had failed to listen to God so many times in the past that he did not want this opportunity to slip past.  Now with his heart broken, he received Christ as his Savior.

The outpouring of God's grace and joy were just beginning for the Kaniewski household. One month after the accident, the family, including David—wheelchair and all—entered Pat's church.  As his son before him, David wept throughout the service, and responded immediately to God's call of salvation. "When I was trapped in the corn picker, I made a deal with God," he said. "Now I want to accept Him, no strings attached.  I just want to make sure of my salvation," he told the pastor. What a Thanksgiving followed for the Kaniewski household!

As time passes, Pat continues in euphoria. "If God blesses me any more I don't think I'll be able to stand it!" she commented. Todd is growing in his relationship with the Lord, present at every Sunday morning service.  David is walking with little or no assistance, and the arm, that was just supposed to be merely a helping arm, is well past 50 percent and still improving.  The medical obligations, which exceeded $200,000, have all been met without any insurance. David continues to grow in his relationship with the Lord, reading his Bible daily and is faithful in attendance at "his" church each Sunday. He has a thirst for the knowledge of God. He seems to be trying to make up for lost time.  Every person that knew the old David, praises God for the new David.

Every person who has been praying for years for the salvation of friends or loved ones are now encouraged to never give up.

That fall day in October, 2002: was it a horrible tragedy or a hallelujah triumph?  You decide!

The author is pastor of Factoryville Bible Church, where the Kaniewski family worships.

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