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Back on Track

Brain aneurysm doesn’t derail AG missionary from Eastern European mileposts.

If there was a right time and place to have a brain aneurysm, Joel VanBriggle figures the Lord allowed one to happen to him.

On Nov. 20, VanBriggle spoke at Continental Theological Seminary in Brussels, Belgium. As Eastern Europe regional director for Convoy of Hope, VanBriggle — several minutes into a talk explaining the organization’s mission — felt faint and collapsed behind a podium, lying unconscious for more than five minutes.

Within 20 minutes, VanBriggle arrived at the emergency room of Erasme Hospital, one of the leading European hospitals in diagnosing and repairing brain aneurysms. Just an hour after crumpling to the floor, VanBriggle underwent an emergency surgery called endovascular coiling.

Two weeks earlier, the 38-year-old VanBriggle wrapped up a 5,600-mile driving tour throughout Eastern Europe meeting with Assemblies of God personnel. Had the aneurysm occurred in a remote region while he drove, VanBriggle likely would have suffered either permanent physical or mental damage — or death.

“It was miraculous that it occurred at the very moment I was speaking at CTS,” says VanBriggle, a missionary with Assemblies of God World Missions. “I was so grateful to be in God’s hands.”

The medical team at the hospital mended the ruptured blood vessel that bridged the right and left sides of VanBriggle’s brain. Despite the successful surgery, doctors couldn’t predict the length or the extent of the recovery process.

VanBriggle spent four days in the hospital’s intensive care unit, and an additional 17 days of hospital bed rest. Despite physical therapy while hospitalized and afterwards on an outpatient basis, the left-handed VanBriggle lost mobility in his arm and strength in his legs.

Then, on New Year’s Day, he regained full use of his arm and complete balance in his legs.

“It’s an absolutely miraculous recovery,” VanBriggle says. “There is no other way to characterize it.”

VanBriggle’s wife, Gail, believes God orchestrated the healing process.

Gail, who home-schools the couple’s two children, 12-year-old Anthony and 9-year-old Emily, received a phone call from AGWM missionary and Convoy of Hope Europe President Michael McNamee soon after Joel collapsed. She rushed to the hospital and saw her awake husband of 18 years just before the surgery.

“I expressed to the doctor that we were people of prayer and asked if my friends and I could pray with Joel before they took him into the procedure,” Gail says. “The doctor indicated he would allow us the time.” 

Gail mobilized a network of her gregarious husband’s friends on Facebook to seek the Lord for his recovery.

“We immediately received an overwhelming outpouring of people and churches around the world responding in prayer,” says Gail, who, like her husband, is a Central Bible College graduate and ordained AG minister. “At no time did I feel like I was walking through this alone.”

A physician told VanBriggle that he had a genetic disposition toward an aneurysm, but that it won’t rupture again. He is slowly easing back to his COH duties, which he assumed 10 months ago. VanBriggle already has visited two dozen nations during that span, focusing on church planting and community revitalization where there is no Pentecostal presence.

McNamee notes that the experience has only convinced VanBriggle that God has much in store for the continent.

“Joel feels like many who have a brush with death: get into the center of God’s will and stay there,” McNamee says, “Joel feels, more than ever, that he has been called to work with Convoy of Hope Europe.”

Gail is in agreement.

“We look at what is happening in Europe around us: the influx of refugees, the recent attack in Paris — with the perpetrators basing in Belgium — and the palpable need for the gospel of hope and peace,” she says. “We know that Christ has us in Europe for this season, and we are excited to see what He will do, and how He will use Joel's story for His glory.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.