A two-hour “Holy Ghost revival” was in progress in Jimmy Stewart’s office not long after he returned to work at the Alaska Baptist Convention earlier this year.
Longtime Southern Baptist leader Paul Kim and his wife, Rebekah, from Boston were visiting the director of evangelism and church development. A small group of ministers and friends were praising God for answering their prayers and healing Stewart from a July 2016 gas leak explosion at his rural Alaskan cabin. Physically fit and athletic before the accident, the evangelist was scarred from third-degree burns over 77 percent of his body.
“You know, Brother Jimmy, before the accident you were handsome and strong,” Rebekah Kim said. “But now God is shining through you and you are more beautiful.”
Such statements have encouraged 59-year-old Stewart, who returned to work Jan. 10 and has told his testimony at churches and meetings between follow-up surgeries. His wife Kathryn, a certified personal trainer he describes as an angel, companion and encourager, helps him deal with the physical pain that often accompanies his joy.
“God has used these statements to encourage me, and I don’t mind if it took a little fire to make me more beautiful,” Stewart said in a February testimony at First Baptist Church in Anchorage. “I’ll say this, more people have been drawn to me in a kind, compassionate way, than the opposite. And people walk up to me and ask me about the story, and I get to share Christ as a result.”
Stewart spoke with Baptist Press by telephone May 23, the 10-month anniversary of the accident, while he was at Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle, Wash. It was the day before he was scheduled for an outpatient procedure — the latest of nearly 20 surgeries. Today, doctors are repairing skin grafts that haven’t healed from a March operation that restored mobility in his left arm.
“I was told this was going to be a marathon and as a result I feel I am on about mile 9 of the race to heal,” Stewart said. “I have had many months of wound care and therapy for the scars and wound healing. Except for the top of my head, all of the wounds have healed.”
While checking the source of a gas leak in the crawl space of his family’s rural cabin, Stewart took the brunt of a gas tank explosion that blew open the cabin as his family was inside. He describes the fire as a “flash bang” that miraculously extinguished within seconds.
“Visqueen (plastic sheeting) covered me, melted from the blast, and flesh was hanging from my body,” Stewart said. The fire burned his skin white, took his hair and all but the collar of his shirt, and shredded his pants, he later learned. Powered perhaps by adrenaline, Stewart ran to check on his family.
His son drove him to the nearest road to meet the ambulance that arrived within 10 minutes. He was flown to Harbor View Medical Center where he spent the next four months — two months in Intensive Care, five weeks in acute care and two weeks in rehabilitation — before his discharge from the hospital in November 2016.
Hospital staff called him the “miracle man” for surviving the accident they considered deadly, Stewart said.
His family plastered his hospital room with Scripture, family photos and some of the 900 inspirational cards he received worldwide from Southern Baptists and others who noted their prayers for him. As the Kims learned of his accident, they began a 24-hour prayer chain and “just went to town praying,” Stewart said.
His wife Kathryn relied on “prayer support of dear sisters and brothers in Christ,” and the “encouragement of gracious friends and loving family,” she said. “Thanking the Lord for every detail that we have to be so grateful for every hour” helped sustain the family, she said, noting most of all the comfort found in Scripture.
“‘So do not fear, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,'” she quoted Isaiah 41:10. “Psalm 56:3, ‘When I am afraid I will trust in you….’
“I just always felt He had it in His hands,” Kathryn said of God. “We never had any doubt even in the difficult times.”
God still performs miracles, the Stewarts acknowledge.
“It truly was a miracle that I survived the initial explosion and fire,” Stewart told BP. “The first 48 hours in the hospital were critical. God protected me and sustained me … I believe God did many miracles.”
Since his release from the hospital, Stewart has told his testimony at Antioch Baptist Church in the Boston area where Kim, who serves as Asian-American relations consultant to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, is pastor emeritus. Stewart traveled to North American Mission Board offices in Alpharetta, Ga., to thank NAMB President Kevin Ezell and others for their prayers and financial gifts, and attended a luncheon given in his honor by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He has spoken at college and youth ministry events.
On Dec. 10 in Seattle, he escorted his daughter Katelyn down the aisle for her wedding, officiated the ceremony, and led her in the father-daughter dance. At Christmas, he attended the 70th wedding anniversary of his parents.
Stewart’s wife accompanies him on all of his trips, making sure he gets needed rest and leading him in his daily physical therapy.
Stewart still has nerve pain and skin problems including painful rashes, and sometimes is forced to simply stop and lie down. Kathryn considers everything that would increase his comfort, she said, especially on difficult days.
“Those are the days,” Kathryn said, “when I ask the Lord more, ‘How can I help him?'”
— Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.