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To Hell and Back
A shooting! A near-death experience and a second chance. Matthew Botsford tells the story of how he died.


On March 22, 1992 I was on a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia with two business associates—my brother and his brother-in-law. We had just left a restaurant. While we were waiting for a cab, three men outfitted with 9MM Uzi machine guns opened fire into the crowd of people around us. I took the first of two bullets to my head and dropped to the sidewalk dead. My brother's brother-in-law tried to find safe haven from the gunfire, but he was also shot in the head. He did not survive; but he knew the Lord Jesus and is in heaven with our Daddy on high.

Matthew and Nancy Botsford

I did not know Jesus at the "indestructible" age of 28. I did not go to heaven. I went to hell—a place where I was held captive and immersed into pure, unadulterated fear. It was as though a thick, black ink had been poured over my wide open eyes. I felt icy cold beyond any temperature imaginable. The most frightening aspect of my captivity was that I knew deep inside that I was totally alone—isolated. I also understood that this place was void of all good. This thought only served to clarify that I truly was in hell forever and ever. I suddenly realized the meaning of the word "eternity." To spend eternity there was beyond any experience of fear I had ever known.

Then something happened. Out of the top corner of the darkness I saw a large hand emerge. It was aged and wrinkled, as if it had existed forever, yet it was soft. In slow motion, it descended toward me. As I saw the hand descend, I was flooded with brilliant, dazzling white light that dispelled all the blackness. Slowly, yet with firm gentleness, it wrapped me in its fingers. Next I saw fine, white feathers filling the area around me comforting and warming me.

Then just as it had entered the blackness, it slowly and gently lifted me up and out of hell. Although I didn't know at the time what that meant, I knew I was going to be okay.

I can still feel the warmth of that soft hand on me to this day. I had no idea it was the hand of God, our dear Daddy, coming into hell to take me out. While His hand lifted me up, I heard a voice say clearly, "It's not your time."

At that time I had only been married a short three years to my beautiful wife, Nancy. What happened to me pushed her into a period of unimaginable stress. Back at the scene of the shooting, I flat-lined. It was the first of many times that would happen for the next 27 days as I lay in a coma. I was kept alive by a respirator and a kidney dialysis machine, and was fed through tubes. The doctors informed Nancy that I only had a 30 percent chance of living. If I survived, they said, I would live a life of moment-by-moment emergencies. According to them, I would never walk again. I would be in a vegetative state and would have to be institutionalized.

The doctors handed Nancy the organ donor papers so they could "harvest" what they needed on a moment's notice. That was too much for her to handle, especially since she didn't know Jesus as her Lord and Saviour yet. Faced with the grim prognosis and advice from the family that contradicted her heart, she left the room and walked down a hospital corridor to compose herself.

Suddenly Nancy felt a gentle, firm hand on her shoulder. Expecting to see a news reporter or a member of the family, she turned around to see who it was, but no one was there. She was amazed! She knew then that the hand on her shoulder was the hand of Jesus. She hurried back to my side and made a vow never to leave me. "Whether Matthew is ever able to walk again or not," she prayed, "just bring back who Matthew is. Bring back his personality. Just make him live again."

After this touch from Jesus, Nancy was able to make life and death decisions concerning me and carry the burdens for others too. But she neither chose nor promised to follow Jesus.

While I comatose, I lost more than 60 pounds. When I finally regained consciousness, I was paralyzed on the entire left side of my body, and was incapable of feeding myself or sitting up, much less walking.

For nine months I was in a wheelchair. For the next two years, I underwent the painful rigors of physical, occupational, speech, recreational and cognitive therapy. During this time, I slowly progressed from the wheelchair to walking with a modified ski pole and then to a wooden cane that Nancy's father carved. In spite of the fact that I had survived and endured rehabilitation only with God's help, and as a result of His intervention, we soon forgot what the Lord had done for us.

We lived in Michigan at the time, and realized that the location was not advantageous to my well being. The icy, snowy winters made it very difficult for me to get around. Nancy had to push my wheelchair through the snow and lift me into our car to drive me to the rehabilitation hospital every weekday. She had to give up her job to help me, and I could no longer hold a job. We had been saving her income to purchase a "dream" lake house. Now we had to live on our savings and the generosity of my family whose business provided enough finances that we could keep our home. After two years of rehabilitation in Michigan, the doctors said that my recovery had progressed as far as it could, and they discharged me.

First day out of the coma.

But Nancy and I knew there was more. We had heard of an alternative therapy facility in the North Palm Beach, Florida area, and we decided to move there into a condominium my parents owned not far from it. This was only the first of many Divine setups.

We relocated to Gainesville, Florida in 1994 and I felt much better there. I could move about more easily in Florida's climate. The University of Florida was there too, and I was planning to go back to school—this time graduate school, since I held a B.A. from Michigan State University. Another Divine setup!

One day while we were out on the street in our new neighbourhood, I met a neighbour walking his dog. After the usual introductions and casual talk I said, "Hey … do you know where there's a good church around here?" Until that moment, we had not been looking for a church. Later, when I told Nancy what I had said, it nearly floored her.

The man invited us to his house for a meal and we found out that he was a serious worshipper of God. One of his sons played violin. I love violins. When they told us that their son was going to play at the Easter service, we decided to go and see him. But at the church the Lord touched Nancy and me so deeply and so intimately that we gave our lives to Jesus that very Easter morning in 1995.

I had been accepted to the Rehabilitation Counseling School at the University of Florida under a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act which allowed me to attend school one fourth of the time to earn my M.A. in 1996. Nancy also enrolled in the speech therapy department and earned her B.A. with honours.

The church we were attending—the one where we were saved—decided to plant a church in Boca Raton, Florida. Two years later in 2002, we re-located there. We had heard about the "Toronto Blessing," and went to Toronto to experience it first-hand during the 2003 Catch the Fire conference. We returned to Toronto again for the Pastors and Leaders conference in January 2004, the prophetic conference in June 2004, and ultimately attended the month-long Leaders School in July 2004. We experienced the grace and love of our heavenly Daddy there.

Sometimes people ask, "How did you ever come to the point of forgiving the shooters?"

I am able to forgive the man who shot me only by God's grace. He left a 9MM bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain, rendered me paralyzed on my left side so that I now need a lower leg brace to walk adequately and caused me to have to take anti-seizure medication continually. I respond with apostle Paul's words: "Your grace is sufficient … ."

I also respond saying that I am fully healed because I know the healer, and in Him all my faith rests. I trust that my Daddy knows what He is doing and that He will take care of Nancy and me as He desires and as He needs to. We are thankful for all He has done and for the fact that we're still together. Nancy and I are high school sweethearts and in October 2006 we celebrated 18 glorious years of marriage! Praise the Lord!

The Lord gave me a mandate two years ago to write this series of seven books …

Now we live in northeast Georgia, oddly enough, in the same state where I was shot 14 years ago. I author Christian action adventure books for youth from the ages of about nine to 14, called Johnny Rocket and His Comrades in the Faith. Danger and sabotage follow Captain Johnny and his crew as they go on their intergalactic missions in search of the elusive liquid blue fuel (l.BF). The Lord gave me a mandate two years ago to write this series of seven books to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The books are based on biblically sound morals and principles, and are intended to captivate the God-given creative imaginations of young readers today. Books one and two have been published by Destiny Image Europe. Book three is on the way.

Our desire now is to tell the world that our heavenly Daddy wants to have His kids of all ages back into intimate relationship with Him. That is why we have created a non-profit foundation called Seeds of Love. The purpose of this foundation is to reach those who don't know God's love (or need a reminder) through godly, creative expression, whether through the written or spoken Word, or through painting and prophetic words. Nancy and I are also willing and honoured to share our testimony of God's love and grace both locally and internationally as invited.

Thanks be to God who always leads us in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Matthew Botsford and his wife Nancy are founders of Seeds of Love, a ministry dedicated to spreading the Father's love. Johnny Rocket and His Comrades in the Faithseries for children age 9-14 are available through Amazon.ca or through your local Christian bookstore. For more information, or to arrange speaking engagements, see their website www.seedsoflove.net.

Originally published in Spread the Fire, August 2006.


 

 
 
 
 

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