A Deadly Virus … Used by God
Testimony by Harry and Irma Pressley
In this testimony, Harry Pressley, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel South Jersey in West Deptford, NJ, and his wife Irma share their recent journey with COVID-19. They testify about God’s faithfulness to carry them through. You can learn more about their church at ccsouthjersey.org.
For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7, KJV
Shortly after Irma and I returned from a trip, we realized she had contracted the COVID-19 virus. Two days later, I began to feel so disoriented while working in the basement of the church that I came home and literally fell into bed.
I don’t remember much of anything for a few days until my labored breathing got severe, so I went to the emergency room. That Thanksgiving night I tested positive for COVID. They treated me with steroids, waited for my breathing to reach normal levels, and then sent me home in the morning.
I was really improving, but after about three days, I started to rapidly decline, unable to breathe again, turning gray, and with no strength to walk or talk. So my daughter, Katrina, took me back to our local hospital where I was immediately transferred by ambulance to a hospital with a special COVID unit. There I was given “rapid flow” oxygen and “emergency” medicine. I was semi-conscious, taking very shallow breaths. My body felt like it was on fire. The doctors decided to use a medicine from overseas as a last resort, normally used for patients who were much older than I, as I had refused a ventilator.
In the last four years, my health had become so undependable: I had been experiencing seizures and recently some heart issues. That night, I remember becoming so anxious in my spirit because of my physical condition; I knew that unless God touched my body, I probably wasn’t going to make it. The doctors felt the same and told me I had a slim chance—not much assurance in that!
My mind turned to many different memories, and I felt such grief and sadness about leaving my wife, my family, and flock. I really believed God was finished with my [earthly] life. I thought about all my failures and wrong attitudes, about things I should have done but had allowed fear or discouragement to influence my heart. It’s hard to describe that time in your soul, but everything around you seems to fade away, and it’s just you and the Lord in those moments.
In God’s kindness and perfect timing, on my second or third day, I received a phone call from my dear friend and Christian brother, my pastor Joe Focht of Calvary Chapel Philadelphia, PA. I brokenly wept on the phone as Joe poured out his heart for me in prayer. There was such a fellowship between the three of us: Joe, me, and the Holy Spirit. In particular, I remember as Joe prayed passionately for so many people still lost, how “the workers are few and the harvest is so great,” and how he brokenly asked the Lord to spare “this worker’s life” in these Last Days.
Prayer does so much—on so many levels—in our lives and in heaven! I had been receiving texts from my assistant pastors, my family, and my dear friend, Buddy, who were continually praying for me and asking our flock to pray. There were so many people praying for me, even in the countries where we’ve done mission work, especially in Nepal and Mexico. It was like all the ministering that we have done comes back to us through these beautiful gifts of prayer from the Christian saints, when we really need them. This made such a difference to me mentally, spiritually, and emotionally as I was in the hospital.
During that time in the hospital bed, as I thought about my life and ministry, my children and my wife, I felt a deep conviction from the Holy Spirit. God’s presence filled my room, and I began to feel His conviction about some of my [wrong] attitudes towards ministry, people in my life, and people I had given up on. I began to see these relationships and attitudes through God‘s eyes. I wasn’t condemned, but His great love deeply convicted and broke me, as I saw His mercy and love toward those same things. In His grace, He kept revealing to me that my way wasn’t the way of the [Holy] Spirit. He began changing my heart about so many things as He filled me with His powerful love at a time when my physical strength was so weak. He gave me such hope as He poured His grace and forgiveness into my life.
From that point on, I knew that I was going to make it! God still had purpose and a reason for me to be here, to keep working in His power for more souls to come into His Kingdom. I came away from this experience with a renewed sense of passion, especially for the direction of the Holy Spirit in our church and in my life. Instead of feeling the fire of the COVID-19 virus, I really felt the fire of the Holy Spirit working through me.
My messages have changed, and my heart towards this life has been altered—certainly away from slowing down in ministry! Instead of worrying and being fearful about the future, God has renewed my strength to be like an eagle’s and has given me such a spirit of anticipation to see what He’s going to do before He takes me home or He returns! He replaced my weary spirit with a heart of thankfulness and strength for the life He’s given me, with the love He has shown me; He has renewed my love for the people in our fellowship.
No one knows when they will be called home, or when the Lord is going to return to “snatch us away” in the Rapture, so let us take every opportunity to do what He has called us to do through the strength and power of His Holy Spirit!
As my daughter drove out of our driveway to take Harry back to the hospital for the second time, I felt an incredible panic begin in my heart: Would I ever see my husband alive again? It was a hard night, “the dark night of the soul”, as some people say; I knew that this was going to be a night where I needed to feel God’s presence.
Lying down in my room in the dark, I recognized the fear that comes when the enemy is trying to destroy our faith. He doesn’t back off when we’re in trouble but comes full force with his tormenting thoughts. But in that same moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart to say, You can choose peace. Just take it and let Me cover your heart and mind with My presence. And that’s what I chose, instead of the panicking fear. And yet, I don’t even know if I had the strength to vocalize that; but the Lord knew, and as I physically reached out to Him, I felt His peace cover over me like a blanket. As a tender father would put his frightened child to sleep, the Lord watched over me, and I slept like a baby that night. The next morning, I woke up to a phone call from Harry as he said, “Hi, hon, I feel better.”
From that point, my heart was empowered, even though I wasn’t sure how this situation would end; God’s presence stayed with me, giving me faith instead of fear. I was actually living that simple verse, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Hebrews 13:5b, KJV).
My husband came home a few days later, and as the Lord has renewed his strength (in fact, he says he feels better now than he ever did!), God has shown us that it doesn’t matter how sick you become, if it’s not God’s timing to take you, then you’re not going anywhere! And … if it is His timing, it doesn’t matter how healthy you are, He’s going to take you home!
These truths give such peace that as believers, our times are in His hands—even the times that seem sad, evil, or unexplainable. God’s power is actively working through those things, working all things together for good, and for eternity. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, KJV).
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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