by Ulysses S. King, Jr.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “This could never happen to me,” until it actually did. I’m not necessarily referring to any one specific thing. It could be anything or any experience you may have had in life.
None of us are exempt from the day-to-day realities of life—good and bad. I think most of our lives we read about tragedies, hardships, stuff that happened to other people, and breathe a sigh of relief that it didn’t happen to us or that it will never happen to us. It’s easy to think that we’re immune from those crazy events and those things that only happen to dummies, and yet, on Friday, April 26, 2019 around 10:00 a.m., I became one of those dummies. What I assumed could not or would not ever happen to me, happened. The truth is accidents, and bizarre and strange things, can happen to anyone.
I had just completed a project at my office and had gone to the post office to mail out a group of letters to friends and supporters to our church. Everything had gone smoothly until I got back into my car heading back to my office. The weather was good, mostly cloudy, and 61 degrees. There was no rain in the forecast; however a personal storm of a different type was about to come.
Our church, Memorial Tabernacle, is located on the corner of 58thStreet and Telegraph Avenue. There are a number of traffic lights between where the post office is located on 51stStreet and the church that I had to drive through before reaching the church. Looking back: I wish I had never left my office.
I have taken this same route nearly every day for years as my daily routine: After I have my morning coffee at my favorite coffee café, I then stop at the post office to retrieve the churches and my personal mail, and my final and last stop is to my office to begin my work day. I usually take this same boring 1.8-mile ride every morning (unless there is a problem in traffic).
All had gone well until I passed 55thStreet and Telegraph Avenue (just three blocks away from the church). I honestly consider myself a good driver. I am not certain what exactly happened after I past the final traffic light just before reaching my office. In a few blocks I knew I had to make a left hand turn onto 58thStreet. Telegraph Avenue is a very busy street. Cars literally speed up and down the avenue—way above the posted 30 mph speed limit—through intersections, traffic lights, and stop signs. Pedestrians have been hit by moving cars failing to yield while walking across the streets. One of our faithful members was struck twice while walking across the street on Telegraph, as she was coming to worship.
Whatever happened next is unclear. The force and impact of multiple cars crashing into one another knocked me unconscious. I couldn’t remember anything. For a short while, I was told, I couldn’t remember my name. I do recall however being awakened by the police and paramedics. I was later told streets had been blocked off for several blocks for nearly two hours. Four cars had been involved in the traffic accident. Three had to be towed away, including mine. The ambulance, fire truck, and police had all arrived. I was still sitting in my car, strapped in by my seatbelt. The airbags in my car did not deploy. Just a note here: Wear your seatbelt. It saved my life!
The police pulled the door open on the driver’s side of my car, and awakened me out of a semi-unconscious state. I sat in the car while they asked me a series of questions in an attempt to determine the severity of my injuries, and whether or not I was hurt. The paramedics determined I was confused and decided to take me to Kaiser Hospital Emergency to be examined. They wanted to be sure that I hadn’t succumbed to an internal or head injury at impact.
Yes, I was very confused. I heard people yelling at one another and trying to determine who was at fault. One man who I didn’t know was attempting to get all the drivers to agree and to collaborate together with him to place the blame and responsibility of the multiple car accident on me.
Another witness said the stop sign located on a median between Racine Street and Telegraph Avenue prevented my car from flipping over. I could have been crushed inside my car he said. All of this happened right in front of our church. Later, when I was more alert and conscious, I begin to wonder and asked God, “Why?”
The paramedics assisted me out of the mangled wreck. Thankfully, no bones were broken, and I could walk. They immediately put me on a gurney and into an ambulance. Then they placed a brace around my neck just in case I might have experienced some type of head or neck injury. They started taking my blood. They asked me a battery of questions about my personal life and medical history. I felt like a criminal bound on a gurney; however, instead of being taken to jail or prison, I was headed to Kaiser Emergency. My wife Tiffany hadn’t received the news yet, and neither had any of my immediate family. I needed and wanted her there with me so badly. I started to cry out of control.
I thought to myself, where was God? Why and how did all of this happen? The paramedics and police were trying their best to calm me down. They didn’t know what to say to me. Neighbors were yelling in the streets so that others would know, “It’s Pastor King!” “Pastor King was in a car accident!” “Is he hurt? Is he gonna be alright?” “He’s the Pastor of this church!” They were standing literally in the streets pointing to our church on the corner. People were coming out of their homes and businesses to see what had happened, I was told.
As I was lying on that gurney, in an ambulance—surrounded by people I didn’t know—God sent me an angel in the person of Mr. Harold West. Mr. West is 90 years old, and he has been a neighbor and friend to our church for over 40 years. His presence, support, and kindness towards me got me through a very emotional and frightening experience.
(Now, what I am about to share with you, I know some might think—and rightfully so—that I might have had a mild concussion.)
Mr. West started talking and consoling me as I was lying on the gurney in the ambulance. I had broken down and was already crying out in fear and confusion. He began speaking to me in a calm, fatherly, passionate, and spiritual manner. When I opened my eyes and looked into his face I saw what I thought was the face of my late and decease father, Bishop Ulysses S. King, Sr. I thought my dad was standing there speaking to me. I blinked several times to clear the tears from my eyes, and then I saw again that it was Mr. West! I am so thankful that he was there for me through this entire ordeal.
Mr. West assured me that my wife, Tiffany, was coming and was on her way to me. “She’s coming,” he said. It was something about the way he said, “She’s coming,” that I felt at peace and began to calm down a little. What became immediately apparent to me was my community. No, I’m not speaking of those faithful members of my church or even my natural family members. They weren’t able to come to my aid, not because they didn’t or wouldn’t want to or couldn’t, but rather because they just didn’t know what had happened to me. This all happened in the morning when most people are at work. It was, however, those men and women, neighbors and friends that stood by me. William J. Toms once said, “Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people will ever read.”
I learned so many lessons about community that day. Community is more than the person living next door to you or the people living within a 5 to 10 block radius in proximity to where you may live. There are a few members of our congregation that live near or around the church however this alone does not comprise or make up a community entirely. David M. Chavis and Kien Lee commented that, “. . . community is not a place, a building, or an organization; nor is it an exchange of information over the Internet. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs.”I found this to be definitely true about the community in which our church exists.
Chavis and Lee further comments, “Neighborhoods, companies, schools, and places of faith are context and environments for these communities, but they are not communities themselves.” It takes people to make up a community. People like Mr. Harold West who I mentioned earlier in this article who was not necessarily a member of our church.
I was now on my way to the hospital. The ride wasn’t far: less than 3 miles. Kaiser Permanente and its medical facilities dominate the City of Oakland. This was entirely a new experience to me. The last time I remember being in the hospital was when I was a very young man in my mid-twenties. I had taken myself to the hospital because of a ruptured appendix that I had while at work for the Xerox Corporation. It was also during the time when we were having a State Convention at our church in the month on June. A few days after my surgery (with stitches still in my side) I walked into service one evening planning to sing and conduct the State Choir. My father took me out of the service, gave me a verbal chastening, and sent me immediately home, to bed! Wow, I was really dumb in my youth.
The paramedics were so kind and comforting towards me. I don’t know whether or not it was because they discovered I was the pastor of the church or that it even mattered. Regardless, they seemed genuinely concerned about me, and about how I was feeling. Their professionalism and care meant a lot to me. I felt safe.
When I had arrived at the hospital I heard someone shout instructions to paramedics, “Take him to Room 7.” The paramedics wheeled me around past patients who were also lying on gurneys and sitting in wheelchairs waiting to be seen by a doctor. They pushed me down the halls and through corridors, and into an empty room filled with medical instruments that I had only seen on Code Black, a medical drama on television.
From the moment the nurse pulled the curtain closed to the examining room, a medical team of doctors, nurses, technicians, professional counselors and advisors went to work on me. Blood was drawn, urine taken, heart monitors were placed on my chest, a CT scan was taken, and an IV placed in my arm. Once again tears swelled up in my eyes and poured down the sides of my face. I couldn’t hide my humiliation and fears. I was strapped down and connected by needles and tubes running out of my arms and side. I had no control over anything that was happening to me.
As the doctors and technicians were examining me a nurse walked in that immediately took notice of me. My face seemed familiar to her; however her face at that moment was not familiar to me. I noticed she kept looking at me with curious and questioning eyes, like she was trying to remember where she saw me last. Then she asked me my name. When I told her she smiled and laughed with excitement and joy. It was my cousin, Tassie Anna Foston, a distant relative who I hadn’t seen for many years. She was supposed to be off work on this particular day, but Kaiser management called her in to work an extra shift. I was so happy that she was there. Her presence assured me that I was in good and professional care, and more importantly, I felt that God had sent another one of his angels to watch over me.
I can honestly say during those hours after the accident my heart gripped me with fear. I felt alone. Being alone in a hospital examining room was a terrifying experience for me. Was I being tested? Why did God allow or permit this to happen to me, I thought? Suddenly, the curtain opened, and in walked my wife Tiffany. I could see that worried and concerned look on her face shielded behind her love and compassion for me. She didn’t enter the room hysterically, screaming at the doctors and nurses, falling down on her knees yelling, “Jesus! Jesus!” like I’ve seen some do. Rather she walked in quietly and calmly, moving as close to me as she possibly could, showing her sincere love and concern for me. She leaned over and our eyes met. She didn’t say anything at first. Then she touched my head and caressed my face, as if to say, “It’s okay. I’m here.” We kissed, and yes, I broke down in tears again.
Her shear presence was so overwhelming, powerful, and filled with love that I could not contain my emotions. For some unknown reason I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I apologized to her for being in the hospital and for being in a car accident. She looked at me in total disbelief. “What are you apologizing for? You did nothing wrong!” she said. “You could have been seriously hurt and even died,” she reminded me. We talked and shared with one another for as long as we could before I was wheeled off to another test. She couldn’t hold me in her arms, which I wanted so badly to be in near her and to feel her warm embrace. She held my right hand that was free of needles and rubber tubes, and stood as close to me as she possibly could. Then we prayed silently together.
After several hours and being thoroughly examined, the attending Physician consulted with Tiffany and me over my tests and his medical recommendations. He determined that I could go home, following his instructions. We were happy and excited to here the news. God is good! I got dressed and Tiffany and I walked slowly and thankfully out of the hospital to her car, and then home.
The following week after the accident during our Tuesday Shepherd’s Bible Study, one of our members and neighbors came to class, and said, “Pastor, Satan tried to kill you!” There was anger in her voice against the enemy, the devil. She declared with authority and conviction that, “The devil is a liar, and we rebuke him in the name Jesus Christ.”
I was in awe and amazement to hear her speak with such power and authority. I never heard her speak like this before. She further stated, “I am sick and tired of Satan coming up against us, and attacking our church.” “We bind and take authority over Satan, and command him to take his hand off this church, in Jesus’ name, right now!” she invoked. I am so proud of the awesome work and ministry our church and its members does in our community.
Everyone that attended Bible Study that evening was filled with joy, thanksgiving, and praise to Jesus Christ our Lord! We all declared victory in the name of Jesus! I declare victory over Satan and his attack against our ministry and me, even as I write this article. I am an overcomer.
Finally, the prophet Isaiah summed it up for me: “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me, says the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17).
- Chavis, D.M.L., Kien What Is Community Anyway? (2015).
- Seitzman, M., Code Black. 2015.