Walking Through the Valley Series
Experiencing the Presence of God during Personal Crisis
“Becoming Sick – Facing Death”
Psalm 18.4-6, 16-19
This morning we will begin a five-part sermon series entitled “Walking Thru the Valley –
Experiencing the Presence of God during Personal Crisis.” This series of sermons come out
of my own near-death experience when just over ten years ago I was infected with a severe
case of malaria while doing ministry in Haiti. Since my recovery many have encouraged me
to write about my experience, and more recently there have been several new people in
our church that have asked me about my story. During the past ten years there have been
several occasions when I have shared portions my story with others to help them cope with
personal crisis. All of these things have led me to think that now is a good time to share my
own experience with a broader group of people.
As I reflected on how to share my story, I was determined to use my experience as a
platform to lead to God’s Word. Only Scripture can restore the soul (Ps.19.7) and no
amount of storytelling can replace the comfort, healing, and guidance that comes from
God’s Word. Each week we will look at a portion of Scripture to help us to pursue the
presence of God during times of personal crisis.
Let me begin by sharing some background information.
After ministering in Haiti for ten years in southern Haiti, we eventually purchased our own
property in central Haiti near the town of Mirebalais. We had just begun construction on
our Guesthouse to accommodate mission teams from the United States to assist us in our
ministry in the surrounding area by hosting medical clinics, Vacation Bible Schools, and
construction projects to build orphanages, churches, and schools. Then on January 12,
2010, an earthquake hit the island causing destruction, devastation, and the death of tens
of thousands. Poor construction due to extreme poverty on the island caused the death of
over two-hundred thousand people. The city of Port-au-Prince was in in shambles leaving
the population of one million people without access to food, clean water, and daily supplies.
The airport in the capital city of Port-au-Prince was closed to all travelers and was only
available to international rescue and relief organizations. Port-au-Prince suffered the most
destruction and deaths and we knew that food and supplies would be needed.
Our property was only an hour away from Port-au-Prince, so we quickly built loading docks
to receive shipping containers and started to bring supplies from the United States to Santo
Domingo in Dominican Republic and truck them to our property in Mirebalais. The supplies
were unloaded, sorted, and organized. We hired local truckers to haul the supplies to
distribution areas in Port-au-Prince which we had designated with the assistance of local
ministries. This relief ministry went on for months causing everyone involved to become
exhausted. During this same time, we were also able to finish our Guesthouse to welcome
My personal schedule was crazy. For several months I would travel to Haiti during the
week to oversee the distribution of the supplies and the construction of the Guesthouse. I
would come home for the weekend to be with family and to preach at Christ Covenant. It
was the last week of August and I had returned from Haiti on Wednesday feeling a little
fatigued. By late Saturday evening I started to feel like I had the flu. As the evening
progressed, I began feeling worse, so I called our assistant pastor, Joe Nestor, to preach for
me. That’s how you know that I’m really sick! On Sunday my wife, Barbara, encouraged me
to go to the emergency room, but I was resistant.
On Monday morning even though I still had a high fever and was feeling extremely sick I
reassured my family that I was going to be ok and encouraged them go to work and school.
It wasn’t long after everyone left that I knew I had made a big mistake by not going to the
hospital earlier. I had a massive headache and a high fever, so I called Barbara to let her
know I was going to the hospital. I put on some clothes, a ballcap, and sunglasses and
started driving to Memorial Hospital Miramar just four miles from my house. As I was
driving, I became more and more disoriented, and it became difficult to maintain
consciousness. Thankfully, I finally arrived and walked into the emergency room where the
receptionist asked for my driver’s license. Upon handing my license back to me the
receptionist said, “You don’t feel very good do you Mr. Kelso?” I told him I felt very sick, and
they immediately put me in an examination room.
They started to run some tests and by the time Barbara arrived at the hospital they thought
it was Dengue Fever, a potentially life-threatening disease found in the tropics. This disease
is transmitted by mosquitoes and is sometimes called the “bone-crusher disease” due to the
severe body-aches and soaring fever. But as they continue to do tests, they determined that
I had a severe case of malaria a type of malaria not typically found in the Caribbean, and I
also had double pneumonia. Malaria is one of the world’s most deadly disease responsible
for approximately 1-3 million deaths a year. Left untreated malaria will progress to death
within 24 hours.
By Monday evening my organs started to shut down causing my blood not to reach my
extremities and my skin started to darken on my ears, hands, and feet. Basically, all my vital
organs were shutting down and I was dying. The doctors told Barbara that a person who
has five percent of malaria in their blood were certain to die, and I had twenty percent.
They advised her to consider making funeral arrangements. A member of our church, Dr.
Rick Davis, was a physician at the hospital took a strong interest in my case and determined
with the infectious disease doctor that a complete blood transfer was my only hope. The
blood transfer worked but I wasn’t “out of the woods” so I was given a second blood
transfer. I will always be indebted to Dr. Davis for his love, care, and persistent wisdom.
This morning I want to share with my experiences as I faced death. I want you to
understand that I never physically died. I didn’t die. I did not experience death. I only faced
death. Even though I was surrounded by family and friends, I don’t remember much of the
first few of weeks. The high doses of medicines and my weak conditions led me to
experience wild hallucinations. Trying to figure out where I was and what was happening
to me was close to impossible. My lack of reasoning led me to believe that I was being used
by the Obama Administration for ObamaCare. Basically, I thought I was an ObamaCare lab-
rat, which really frustrated me.
When I would gain consciousness, I remember thinking, “I’m not dead!” I remember
thinking if I was dead, I would be with the Lord because the Bible tells us that to be absent
from the body is to be home with the Lord. (2Cor.5.8) As I drifted in and out of
consciousness, I didn’t always feel the Lord’s intimate presence, but I knew that He was
with me. I knew that He had not forsaken me because God’s Word tells us that even though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me. (Ps.23.4a,
b) Too often we base our relationship with Christ on our feelings. If we don’t feel the Lord’s
presence, then we begin to think that the Lord is not with us – that the Lord has forsaken
us. We begin to say, “I don’t feel the Lord’s presence.” We begin to ask, “Is the Lord with
me?” “Has the Lord abandoned me?” Brothers and sisters, we must grow in our faith and
knowledge of God’s Word to the point that we have confidence that the Lord is with us even
when we go through our darkest hours. We must come to the place of faith that says, “I
believe in God even when He is silent.” The Lord has promised that even when we are
walking through the darkest moments of our lives, He is with us, and we should receive
great comfort from this promise. Often God sends brothers and sisters in Christ, family
members, doctors, and nurses to be representatives of His presence to encourage us and
support us during these times.
The Lord tells us that even though we walk in the midst of trouble He will revive us.
(Ps.138.7a) “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; the Lord declares.
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will
not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of
Israel, your Savior.” (Is.43.2-3a)
I want you to see how gracious the Lord was to me that even in the state of coming in and
out of consciousness and experiencing wild hallucinations the Holy Spirit was reminding
me of God’s Word. Brothers and sisters, knowing the Word of God is a great source of
confidence and assurance especially when you go through difficult times. Please take time
to learn God’s Word. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path, which is
especially helpful when you are walking in fog and confusion. (Ps.119.105)
Psalm eighteen verses four through six is a perfect description of my experience in facing
The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me. (Ps.18.4-5)
Malaria was my powerful enemy (17a), a foe that was too strong for me (17b). Malaria meant
to entangle me (4a), to destroy me (4b), to overwhelm me (4b), to confront me with the
snares of death. (5b) So, In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From
His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears. (Ps.18.6) But the Lord
knew that I was too weak, too beaten down, to cry for help (6b) on my own so He used
many of you and hundreds of others to pray for me. You gathered like the early church and
lifted your voices to God with one accord for my healing (Acts 4). You gathered as God’s
people, humbled yourself, and prayed. You sought God’s face on my behalf and God heard
from heaven and healed your pastor! (adapted from II Chron.7.14) From His temple He
heard your voice; your cry came before Him, into His ears and I will be forever grateful for
the prayers of God’s people.
Faith in the Face of Death
If there is one experience that, throughout history and around the world, binds mankind
together, it is death. Death is something we all must face–no exercise or diet program, no
meditation techniques, no amount of money can avoid it. Death is the great equalizer. My
Grandfather, my Papa, taught me that death is a part of life and the sooner you recognize it
the better things will be for you. The Psalmist prayed for the Lord to make him know the
extent of his days. (Ps.39.4) The Psalmist wasn’t asking to know the exact time he would
die but rather he was asking for the Lord to remind him how short life really is. “Behold,
You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely
every man at his best is a mere breath. Surely every man walks about as a shadow; Surely they
make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them. And
now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (Ps.39.5-7)
The fact is that unless the Lord comes, we all will eventually face death and facing death is
the ultimate test of faith. Faith is needed in all circumstances in life, but it is never needed
more than in the face of death. The Apostle Paul tells us that the last enemy our Lord Jesus
will abolished is death. (ICor.15.26) We know that when the Lord comes, He will abolish
death and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of
things has passed away. (Rev.21.4) But until that glorious day, the last enemy each one of us
will face is death. And I want to ask you, “are you going to face death with faith in the Lord
Jesus Christ?” Jesus told Martha, after the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the
resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives
and believes in Me will never die.” (Jn.11.25-26) Then He asked the very important question,
“Do you believe this?”
Jesus was challenging Martha, and us by God’s providence, to look beyond death with faith.
For example, Abraham lived his life as an alien in the land of promise because he was
looking for a better country, that is a heavenly one (Heb.11.16a) and Moses endured by
looking to Him who is unseen. (Heb.11.27b) When you read the list of those mentioned in
Hebrews chapter eleven you find two things each of them has in common. Faith and death.
Each one listed in the great “Hall of Faith” is recorded as having faith and each one looked
beyond death for a better country and to see Him who is unseen. Therefore, since we have
such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us follow their example and live by faith
looking beyond death desiring the heavenly city to see Him who is unseen, our Lord Jesus
The writer of the book of Hebrews speaks of the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ was
in order that He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the
devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their
lives. (Heb.2.14-15) Christ Jesus defeated death! Christ came in flesh and blood, lived in
perfect obedience to the Father, died in the sinner’s place, to bear the penalty of death. The
Father raised Him from the dead so that we who are in Christ would no longer live in fear
of death. Those who are in Christ are not like the rest who have no hope. (IThes.4.13) For
those who are in Christ for them to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil.1.21) Can you say
with confidence today that Jesus Christ is resurrection and the life? The Bible tells us that if
you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from
the dead, you will be saved. (Rom.10.9) Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved from death and
saved from the fear of death!
When I look back on my experience of becoming sick and facing death, I must say that
having assurance in God’s Word and His presence is what sustained me. As I walked
through the valley of the shadow of death, I feared no evil because the Lord was with me.
His rod and staff comforted me. I knew that the Lord had promised that goodness and
lovingkindness would follow me all the days of my life and that one day I would dwell in
the house of the Lord forever. (Ps.23) And this is my hope for you!