DIBOLL—On Oct. 9, 2007, Pastor Gary Fannon was in one of his favorite places doing one of his favorite things—in a deer blind with bow in hand.
In an instant, though, everything changed. The blind collapsed, and Fannon plunged to the ground. The impact broke four vertebrae and five ribs. A compression fracture of the T-12 vertebrae left him unable to move his legs.
Fannon had expected to spend a couple of relaxing hours in the deer blind and then go home, so he had not told anyone he where he was going. He also was without his cell phone.
|Pastor Gary Fannon, with church secretary Norma Watts, outside First Baptist Church in Diboll. He broke his back in a fall from a deer stand in October 2007. (Joel Andrews/The Lufkin Daily News Photo)|
His wife thought he probably was working all night at First Baptist Church of Diboll, preparing financial records for an upcoming church business meeting. She expected him to arrive home after she left for work the next morning and sleep most of the day.
But when she returned home from work and found his bed undisturbed, she began calling around. She found out he had not been at church and had not been seen. Looking around the house, she then noticed his bow was missing and realized he must have gone hunting.
She also knew something must be wrong, since he had been out of communication for so long. Friends soon found him lying on the ground at the base of a tree, covered in fire ant bites. He was rushed to a Lufkin hospital and then was flown to East Texas Medical Center in Tyler.
Returned Easter Sunday
Fannon, 44, was able to return to the pulpit of First Baptist Church Easter Sunday.
“It was a good day for me, a great day to come back as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. The sermon that morning took the resurrection and applied it to my situation—that the resurrection was the symbol of a new beginning,” Fannon said.
Since Easter, he has preached a series titled “The Potter’s Clay,” which can be read at www.fbcdiboll.com.
While he preaches from a wheelchair now instead of standing behind a pulpit, he said the preaching is no different. “It was like riding a bike, once you do it, you can do it,” Fannon said.
He admits, however, that there was a time during his rehabilitation when he wasn’t as sure.
“During my rehab, I was trying to figure out if God had redirected my calling—if he was moving into a different path of ministry,” he said. “I think it’s probably typical when you lose your mobility to question if you can go on and do the things we need to do. But today, compared to six months ago, it’s like night and day. Six months ago, I couldn’t roll over. I couldn’t move.”
Affirmation of ministry
A conversation with Roger Parker of Second Baptist Church in Houston was a turning point for him, he noted.
“I shared with him that I was thinking it might not be fair to the church to stay on as pastor. He pulled his chair up close to me and looked me right in the eye and asked: ‘What can you not do from that chair that you could do standing up? You’ve been called of God to be an example before God’s people and deliver the message he’s given you to deliver. Can you still do that?’ That was a big affirmation to my ministry,” Fannon said.
In some ways, his trial may have made him a better pastor, he said.
“Pastors, we preach about faith all the time, but often our lives are so insulated we don’t really have to live it, but now I have to live it every day. When I talk about enduring and persevering, I’m talking to me, too,” he explained.
A government agency is securing a van for Fannon to drive, but so far it has not been delivered. In the meantime, he rolls the 1.2 miles each way from his home to the church office in his wheelchair. The local newspaper alluded to that fact, and a local family took notice.
“They are usually here Christmas and Easter, and they were here on Easter when I came back. But they were here the next Sunday and the Sunday after that, too. Usually when people have a change in their attendance patterns, God is doing something special in their lives. So I asked the husband, ‘What is God doing in your life that is bringing you to his house more often?’
“He told me, ‘If you can roll that far each day to work, there’s no reason why my family can’t get up and come to church on Sunday morning,’” Fannon related.
"I'm going to find a way…"
For his part, he’s grown used to not having the use of his legs, he said.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Fannon said. “I laid the bricks for my house, and I laid the concrete for my house. I can’t do that now, but I’m going to get back at it. I’m going to find a way, and I’m going to do it.
“While I’ve had to give a lot of stuff up, it’s not that big a deal because of all I can gain. For the years we live here, so many of us get caught in our own comfort. If this is what God has for me, I think I’ll be richly rewarded if I embrace it,” he said.
“I love climbing mountains, and this is another mountain I can climb. God may heal me in six months, but I have the guarantee that I’ll walk again, and when I do, I’ll walk forever.”