A Marathon Miracle and More
When Pastor Josh Clark crossed the finish line at the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 5, and shot his arms into the air, it marked not only a personal victory for the 34-year-old minister, but a victory for his church, for his community, and for God.
. . . for Pastor Josh Clark shouldn’t have been running the marathon — instead, doctors say he should be dead or, at best, incapable of any kind of sustained movement.
Two years earlier, Nov. 14, 2015, Generation Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, was hosting a Saturday night community worship service. As host pastor, Clark was preparing to conclude the service with an altar call.
He asked the congregation to bow their heads. At that moment, those who were slow to bow saw Clark collapse and tumble down a five-foot flight of cement stairs and strike the cement floor below.
At first, some of the Pentecostals in the audience considered the possibility of a supernatural encounter, but that was far from the truth. Unknown to anyone but God at the time, Clark had suffered a brain aneurysm as a vein had ruptured in his head and blood began hemorrhaging, one strong heart beat at a time, into his brain.
When Clark came to, he was being lifted onto a stretcher. Having no memory of what took place or how long he was out, he was upset by the sudden presence of the EMTs. Then he had frightening realization — he was paralyzed from the neck down.
Amber, Josh’s wife, had been preparing their 18-month-old baby to head home from the church service when someone hurriedly came to tell her Josh had collapsed.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Amber says. “At first, I felt fear — what in the world had just happened, because he was healthy. It was scary.”
During and following the more than one-half dozen 9-1-1 calls emanating from the building, prayer began. Then the supernatural started to become evident.
As a medical doctor, who was a part of the worship team, knelt beside Josh, he told Amber that he thought Josh was trying to say something, but he couldn’t make it out.
“He was completely paralyzed and unconscious,” Amber says, “but when I leaned down to listen, I suddenly realized that he was praying in the Holy Spirit [tongues] — the Spirit was praying on his behalf!”
Josh reflects on that divine moment in time with an even greater appreciation for tongues and the power of the Holy Spirit.
“When my brain was shut down, the Holy Spirit was still interceding through me when I couldn’t pray for myself — it’s one of the things that really amazes me!” Josh says.
For Amber, the moment she heard Josh speaking in tongues, a peace flooded her soul. She knew Josh was going to be okay.
However, while prayer continued at the church, with people reaching out to others across the country to pray, the doctors who first examined Josh at the local hospital weren’t so sure what was going on. Initially, they offered the opinion that perhaps Josh had the flu. But when Amber told them about the fall down the stairs, a CT scan was ordered, where the rupture was identified. Soon afterward, Josh was sent by helicopter to UNC Chapel Hill medical center.
A pair of miracles that could be overlooked in this early part of Josh’s journey is that he did not break any bones, lacerate any internal organs, or suffer additional head trauma from the fall down the cement stairs to the cement floor. The second miracle was, had Josh not fallen down the stairs, a CT scan may have never been ordered and the rupture never identified.
A more obvious miracle also occurred sometime during Josh’s transportation to the hospital. The rupture, on its own, had stopped bleeding. As the pressure of the additional blood in the brain began to ease, the paralysis disappeared.
Josh would be in ICU for 10 days. His doctors put a platinum metal coil in where the stroke had occurred to help insure that it wouldn’t rupture again. Then they let him know just how blessed he was.
“They told me that 50 percent of people who suffer this kind of stroke don’t make it to the hospital,” Josh says. “Of those who do make it to the hospital, 50 percent die within two weeks. Then only 5 percent of those who do survive leave the hospital without any lifelong disabilities. Obviously, my chances were extremely low, but we know the real story — it’s God!”
Josh was also extremely thankful for the unexpected visit of (now retired) District Superintendent Charles Kelly and his wife, Eloise, his first morning at UNC Chapel Hill. “I’m not even sure how they found out I was even there,” he says. “But it meant so much to me for them to visit and pray with me.”
It was three months before Josh returned to the pulpit, but the church didn’t miss a beat as Amber, who normally serves as the children’s pastor, stepped in.
Even though the stroke did not cause any loss of physical abilities and Josh’s memory and verbal skills were still in tack, he did experience an emotional change that proved to be challenging.
From a very even-keeled, emotionally steady personality, Josh suddenly found his emotions pushing the extremes — from tears to anger over things that prior to the stroke, wouldn’t have phased him.
“Amber,” says Josh with a long pause, “I wouldn’t be able to do it without her — she’s a saint. She is with me when I’m at my worst, but she’s been a constant supporter and encourager, a prayer warrior, and God has given her a gift of putting me in my place when I truly need it.”
In order to help him level his emotions, his doctor recommended that Josh start walking, as exercise is known to be an anxiety and stress reducer.
The walking was okay, but over time, Josh realized he needed a significant goal to keep himself motivated to exercise. Josh went big — real big! So, with permission from his doctor, in February, Josh signed up for the New York City Marathon, despite not being a runner.
After nine months of dedicated training, that began with a half-mile jog (as that was as far as he could run), Josh crossed the finish line as a living miracle.
“My first thought was, Thank you, Jesus!” Josh says, then adds with a laugh, “My second thought was, Where is the closest pizza place?”
Although crossing the finish line was a huge accomplishment, Josh’s favorite part of the race came at Mile 8, where a Baptist church had its choir and band singing and playing praise and worship music.
“It was such an encouragement to me. It was my fastest mile,” Josh says. “It also caused me to reflect — my job as a pastor should be the same; give people the atmosphere to encounter God so that He can give them the energy to run their race.”
With multiple churches from the community at the worship service when Josh first suffered the aneurysm, both Josh and Amber agree that God has used this experience to take their and others’ faith to a new level. They’ve also witnessed a new excitement for miracles in the church, open doors to share Christ with others, and people brought to faith in Christ through this entire journey.
As for the future, Josh and Amber are set on allowing God to direct it, including what seems to be a confirmation to continue running. When Josh did a search for nearby half-marathon races, the one he found (and has now signed up for) begins about 100 yards from his home’s front door.
“This has been a victory for all of us — for our church and the churches in the community,” Josh says. “I’m here because they prayed — I’m the result of their interceding.”