Zachary Abblitt Testimony
Zachary Abblitt Testimony

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Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Family Responds to Adversity with Joy and Hope

Story by Trinity Grau
Photos by Kristi Abblitt

November 20, 2020, began normally for Kristi Abblitt. But when her husband, Pastor Rich Abblitt of Calvary Heritage in Brookings, OR, rushed into the house with bad news, she could not have known that it would be the last time she would stand in her home for probably three and a half months. She rushed out the door without even her phone in hand. In her own words, Kristi remembered “an intense feeling of shock and panic” upon hearing the news that their 18-year-old son Zachary, a recent homeschool graduate, had been injured in a surfing accident on the beach.

Rich, Zac, and Kristi

Pastor Rich Abblitt of Calvary Heritage in Brookings, OR, and his wife, Kristi visit with their 18-year-old son Zachary December 10 at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA. Zac was paralyzed in a November 20, 2020, surfing accident.

It has been two months since the accident fractured Zachary’s C5 and C6 vertebrae, paralyzing him. Zachary and his mother now make their primary residence at Craig Hospital in Englewood, CO, a non-profit neurorehabilitation hospital, where a team of specialists work every day to help repair his body and get it back into working condition. This is the second hospital where Zachary and Kristi have found treatment following their immediate departure from Oregon, leaving Pastor Rich to manage the household. Speaking with Zachary and Kristi, it is almost hard to believe anything devastating has occurred. Zachary smiles widely from ear to ear, and Kristi looks at her son with love and joy at his recovery. But their outlook was not quite as hopeful just after the accident took place, they admitted.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Leaning back in wheelchair smiling

On December 9, Kristi Abblitt and Zachary catch some fresh air at Mercy Medical Center. Kristi is tipping him backwards for a “weight shift.” This was his first day back wearing a regular shirt.

The Accident and Its Aftermath

Zachary and his friend Daniel took the afternoon of November 20 to spend surfing time together. It was one of the first times they’d gone together; though for Zachary, surfing was a regular part of his downtime when not at church. Before going into the water, they both decided to stop for prayer. Kristi described that moment as a direct result of a work God had been doing in Zachary’s heart to make his life count for the Lord. Zachary shared, “We were just hoping to witness about Jesus to others on the beach, if we could.” He laughed as he recalled that day. “I mean, we definitely did—just not in the way I think either of us could have thought.” As the day went on, they noticed one of their inflatable kayaks drifting out into the water. Zachary went to retrieve it, diving into the surf and hitting head-first into a shallow wall of sand. He heard a crack and knew instantly that he was paralyzed. A wave rolled him onto his back. He was still able to breathe, though small waves were lapping at his face and he was sucking in salt water. Daniel pulled him from the water. Others on the beach, having noticed what occurred, hurried to help put him in the kayak before rushing him to the boardwalk to await emergency aid.

Zac at gym

Zachary, for the first time since his accident, works out his triceps and shoulders on the Dip Rickshaw at Craig Hospital in Englewood, CO.

Pastor Rich, Kristi, and their three other children arrived almost immediately. As Kristi pushed her way through the crowd to see her son, she saw his face and knew almost immediately that he would be OK. Though the situation seemed tragic, Kristi believed that this was not the last for her son. Zachary similarly remembered the moment he realized that the situation would not be his end. In the hours between the accident and his neck surgery at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA, both trusted in the promise that God had His hands on the situation. “He’s been the foundation through what could have been a much worse circumstance,” Zachary confirmed.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil.
Hebrews 6:19

At Mercy Medical Center, doctors performed surgery on his vertebrae in order to stabilize points on his neck and relieve pressure. For Pastor Rich, seeing his healthy son’s condition change so rapidly was nothing short of a lesson from the Lord “to lay [God’s] hands upon Zachary for delivery to his generation,” Rich wrote. For Kristi, it was a new challenge and an opportunity for them to grow and learn what the Lord was trying to impress upon their hearts.

Rich feeding Zac

Pastor Rich feeds his son on December 3. Rich has been holding down the home front since the November 20 accident so that his wife Kristi can stay with Zachary. Kristi has not returned home since she received news of his accident.

Watching Zachary train with his team of therapists every day was a humbling experience that brought many a Scripture to Kristi’s mind. God’s Word had never been more powerful to her: “It’s new and alive every day. Jesus’ name is magnified, but even more mind-boggling is that His Word is magnified—and I’m seeing that like I never have before!” She was reminded of Jeremiah 32:27: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” Kristi pondered, “We have a God who delights in impossibilities and who asks, ‘Is anything too hard for Me?’ ”

Continuing Progress

As he regained control over his arms, Zachary no longer needed his neck brace. After treatment and therapy that moved his paralysis from the neck down to his chest, on December 16 Zachary left Mercy Hospital and California behind. It was an emotional day for many on staff who had been his only company due to COVID-19 restrictions, and for many who had witnessed God’s work on his behalf. Kristi and her son journeyed this time to the Craig rehabilitation hospital in Englewood, CO. Craig Hospital presented a hope that Zachary might be able to do more, with God’s grace. Since his arrival, the young man has regained more feeling in his body and has driven himself to challenge the paralysis that might have emotionally kept him down. He praises God for the motivation that has kept him driven.

Zac smiling for camera

Zachary always greets his mom with a huge smile. The family is praying—and believing—for a complete recovery. Members of Calvary Heritage have rallied around Zachary and his family, and through FaceTime, he participates in Bible studies. The family believes that the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10b)

Pastor Rich related that it has been a blessing to be able to share Zachary’s journey of recovery with the church family. “Everybody wants what Zachary found, joy in the Spirit and freedom in Christ … God has allowed Zachary to teach me, a teacher, that I know nothing until I choose to know only the deep fellowship of suffering in faithful expectation of a good God doing a good thing.”

Brethren, I [Paul] do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. Philippians 3:13

Joyful Witnesses

Zachary has been blessed by the witness of others on his behalf. He smiled widely as he recounted how his friend Daniel witnessed to those watching on the beach after the accident, leading several to visit Calvary Heritage. Zachary’s siblings, Charis, Spencer, and Everest, have also been sharing with those they serve, live with, and share time with. One of the highlights of his week is getting to share Apple FaceTime visits with his siblings, two of whom are home from the Bible College he had hoped to attend in Israel after his graduation in 2020. Zachary smiled with gratitude as he explained how others have been touched by his story.

Zac using bike

On January 11, Zachary uses a Functional Electric Stimulation bike, which gives his leg muscles electrical pulses, causing them to contract and allowing him to pedal a stationary bike. Kristi wrote in her journal that day: “I quietly cheered for God to turn those electric-stimulations into God-stimulations. Take over those muscles, Lord.”

Calvary Heritage has given Zachary the ability to join a small group study over FaceTime, and devotionals are sent to his mother by loving members of the church body. Much has changed, but the love of Calvary Heritage in Brookings has not. Through their Facebook group, Zachary Abblitt Recovery (also at calvaryheritage.org/zac), the church has raised funds through the sale of “zacGear” merchandise and events such as a free concert during which donations were accepted. Overwhelming morale support comes from those who have watched his recovery via Kristi’s journal entries and others sharing photos of their “zacGear.” Though they are very far from Oregon, the mother and son duo are not alone.

“It’s so odd to think that it was the last time I’d be home [for a while], running out the door with my son’s shoes,” Kristi laughed, looking at Zachary affectionately. “I’ve been incredibly blessed through this season of what could have been an incredibly painful time,” she emphasized. Her journal, shared on the Calvary Heritage website, details how many times her momentary sorrow was turned to joy. “Coming into his room every day, he never fails to just have this huge smile on his face. I see God’s strength when I look at him and it just, yeah, it makes me smile.”

Zac in bed raising leg

Kristi helps Zachary work his hamstrings during evening stretches.

As they go into 2021, the entire family is praying that Zachary will continue to recover and that more people will hear his story and be inspired. Zachary is working hard as he faces a future in which he will have to adapt. Yet, he doesn’t display a spirit of fear as he discusses what’s to come. “It’s like God gave me a reset,” he confided. Zachary’s expected date of release from Craig Hospital is March 4, with a possible four weeks of outpatient therapy through Craig. He and his mother understand that things will have to change when they leave. Still, Zachary keeps up a good spirit, as does his family. His community is behind him and, most importantly, they have set their eyes on God. Zachary explained, “It’s incredible to see that through the fire, He’s been there the entire time. And I’ll say that I’d rather be through the fire with God than in the world alone without Him.”

calvaryheritage.org
calvaryheritage.org/zac

Craig Hospital
Attn: Zachary Abblitt
3425 S Clarkson St
Englewood, CO 80113
Give Financially @ GiveButter.com/ZacsHope

Zac laying in vehicle

Three hours after the accident, Zachary lies in the ambulance waiting for flight to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA.

 

Zac being moved laying down

Emergency medical workers gently carry Zachary to the ambulance after his surfing accident at Sporthaven Beach in Brookings, OR. He was flown almost immediately to Mercy Medical Center for neck surgery.

 

Zac at graduation

Zachary, who was homeschooled, graduated from high school in 2020 at the beach in Brookings, OR.

 

Zac and his brothers holding surfboards

Zachary (center) with his brothers Everest (left) and Spencer surfing in Tel Aviv, Israel, in February 2020.

 

Family photo

The Abblitt family with their dog Chloe on Mother’s Day 2020. Back row: Kristi and Rich. Front row: Everest, Zachary, Spencer, and Charis.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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