Carol Fox hadn’t attended a church for more than 20 years until one day while driving east bound on the 118 freeway when the Shepherd Church sign drew her attention to attend. Pastor Dudley Rutherford’s preaching is what kept Carol returning week after week. She found him humorous but diligent and almost refreshing. As someone who has read the whole bible and has known Christ, Carol felt Pastor Dudley was different as he remained biblical and educational in his teachings also.
Carol became immersed in Shepherd Church; she found herself in regular attendance, tithing routinely, a member of a life group and even helping promote the Passion Play on her own social media platforms. When she first learned Shepherd would be holding a Passion Play she was excited to see it of course but Carol was more excited to bring with her family and friends in hopes that they might see the salvation of Christ through the performance.
Carol purchased 18 tickets to the Passion play.
She also reached out to her son, Justin, who is very social media savvy and asked him to create an online advertisement for the play to help promote it. Her son Justin and his wife Tony were among the list of family members and friends that she intended on bringing to the play.
Justin with his wife Tony and their young girls moved in with Carol after falling into financial troubles and losing their own home. This difficult time was the result of Justin being laid off from his job after it was deemed unsafe by Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Justin worked in construction, for a cement company. His job was to chip away at the buildup of dry concrete from the inside of cement drums. As an asthmatic, Justin sacrificed his health climbing into each concrete drum inhaling toxins daily while trying to avoid falling debris in such a confined space. Because he wasn’t given the proper equipment to execute the job in the first place, this proved as detrimental to his health and incredibly unsafe for any human being, resulting in his position release.
During his time at this job, Justin unknowingly developed substantial lung and internal damage.
It was the night before the Passion Play on Sunday the 25th when Carol, who grew up as a vocalist was performing at a job with a band she had just met. Inspired to share the gospel and excited for the play, Carol invited the few of the band members and their families to the play. Her 18 tickets were assigned to those newly acquainted musicians, her family members from afar and her son and his family.
The morning of the play Carol’s excitement grew as she got ready for the 11am service before the final Passion Play performance. She had loved Shepherd and was eager to bring her family and friends to the campus so they could experience all it had to offer.
Minutes before she was supposed to leave, her husband burst through their door breaking news to Carol that her son Justin had a heart attack this morning.
“I just stood there frozen looking at him because there was just no way,” Carol remembers, “Justin is 30, we don’t have any history heart disease in our family.”
Carol called her daughter-in-law, Justin’s wife, Tony for more details on what happened. Tony explained to her that Justin was having immense heart pain earlier that morning and so they went to the emergency room. Justin was stable and was able to talk so he explained to his mom that they took a blood test and that’s how they determined that he had a heart attack. The hospital would then have to conduct an EKG, take an x-ray and move through many precautionary tests to determine his next steps.
Justin expressed to his mom that he was upset he wouldn’t be able to make the Passion Play but that he still wanted her to go. He actually pressed her to go to church before the play instead of going to see him in the hospital because he knew how much the day meant to her.
After getting off the phone with her son, Carol called her local family members to explain to them what happened to Justin. Many of the them dropped what they were doing and went to see Justin in the hospital. Carol found comfort in this but still felt the weight of fear from the situation on her heart.
She had all this excitement built up to bring many loved ones to the Passion Play— then an emergency with her own son would turn her morning upside down. With 18 tickets in her back pocket, a designated meeting point and time set with everyone before the play for lunch but her son laying in a hospital bed at the same time—Carol felt torn.
“I immediately went into the bathroom and just started crying out to Jesus,” Carol shares, “I was just asking him what I was supposed to do and the Spirit just said ‘Get to the Church.’”
Carol began crying harder. As her husband comforted her and encouraged her to get ready so they could also go to the hospital, Carol explained to him that her emotion wasn’t of grief but of gratitude. Carol was thankful that the Lord had protection over her son. “That could have been a completely different call” she explains, “the Lord has sustained Justin. I have to go to the church.”
Carol got to Shepherd and walked to her usual spot to worship. A seat is routinely saved for her with a Hispanic family that she met through worship at Shepherd. She expressed her distort emotion and the events of her morning with them and immediately they embraced her and began to pray over her.
Through worship and communion Carol continually praised Jesus while praying for her son. “Every song of worship that day felt relevant to my situation,” she shares.
That day Shepherd would have a guest speaker share a sermon as a part of The Great “I Am” series. The guest speaker would be Dr. Sam, Pastor Dudley’s own cardiologist.
Following the service, Carol’s plan was to meet her guests in Pillars Café to deliver their tickets and then leave for the hospital—however, following service Carol felt an urge to try and find Dr. Sam to express her gratitude for the blessing of his sermon. Once the sermon concluded, Carol, assuming she wouldn’t be able to see Dr. Sam, located a family member that he’d brought with him that day and so she shared the story of her morning with this guest.
“After I told her about my son, this woman who was his family member, grabbed my arm and said ‘You have to tell him, come on’.” Dr. Sam’s relative would then lead Carol through the lobby and the large moving crowd to find him. Fortunately that day there was a book signing following service that Dr. Sam would be at. When he arrived, Carol sat down and explained again that her 30-year-old son experienced a heart attack earlier that morning and that God had led her to church even before going to see her son in the hospital.
‘What is your son’s name?’,” Carol shares, “and he grabbed both of my hands and began to pray for Justin in that moment.” Following her prayer with Dr. Sam, Carol, almost in a daze walked in the opposite direction of Pillars Café where she was supposed to meet her guests to hand over the tickets.
She found herself standing in front of the prayer tower when her life group leader ran into her. Carol hugged her and poured out the events of the morning, adding now the prayer with Dr. Sam. Her life group leader immediately embraced her as they sat down to pray for her son.
Carol was brought back to reality when her phone began to ring—it was her sibling who was waiting in Pillars Café. Nerves set in as she walked over- her family members attending the play didn’t know about her son yet. She wanted to tell them but she also didn’t want to worry or distract them from their excitement and focus on the Passion Play.
Her initial intensions were to not tell her Passion Play guests- she would let them enjoy the play and then share the bad news with them after, but when her sister in law directly asked Carol where Justin and Tony were, Carol couldn’t lie. She embraced her sister and shared the news. Immediately the table broke out into emotion.
Carol explained how her son helped her make an advertisement for the passion play to share on Facebook. How he was supposed to be joining them but wouldn’t be as he had a heart attack earlier that morning. She went into the events of the morning and how the Lord led her to the church before the hospital, how several members of the church without hesitation embraced her and offered prayer—how the sermon that day was delivered by a cardiologist who she was able to meet with and who prayed for her son. She shared her heart in bringing them to see the play- including the band members she had just met the night before.
“I told them ‘You guys are supposed to see this play’.” Carol shares, “then one of the band members wife spoke up and said ‘that’s why Satan attacked your son, because he made that advertisement to help bring people to Jesus’ and so I told her ‘I know, but he didn’t get the victory—because you all are here.’”
Carol then led them all in another prayer for Justin before calling him at the hospital so the family and friends there could hear from him. Justin was encouraging on the phone telling them all that he was okay and expressing his want for them all to go and enjoy the play for him.
They all went on to see the passion Play. Carol was overjoyed when her family expressed, just after the performance, that they’d like to come back and start attending Shepherd.
“I just felt this overwhelming feeling of love,” Carol confessed, “that God loved me so much to show me in so many ways—from the worship, to the word, to the prayer from the [doctor], my life group leader, that family that I didn’t even know, my family that came, and the beautiful message of Jesus and the resurrection and the songs—all of it was just so amazing. God loved me so much that he prepared me for this day and that he sustained me and surrounded me with love.”