BY REVEREND WENDELL E. METTEY
THE VALLEY OF ELAH
WHERE THE GIANTS ROAM
Copyright © 2015 by Reverend Wendell E. Mettey
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All direct quotes made by Jesus or other characters are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
In the Old Testament in the Book of Samuel we are told that the Philistines came looking for a fight. The Israelites were there to oblige. Of equal size and strength, neither wanted to take the fight to the other. Both armies took up defensive positions on the opposing hills, which were separated by the valley called Elah. Not wanting to give up any of the military advantages the hills offered them, they both dug in, anticipating a protracted stalemate. There is some indication in the written record that a few scrimmages did occur but no real battle ensued.
Then one day, HE emerged from the Philistines’ encampment. Gargantuan … colossal … gigantic. Words failed to adequately describe either the size of this warrior or the fear that struck at the heart of every Israelite soldier as the giant took up his position in the Valley of Elah. The Philistines chanted his name … Goliath … Goliath … Goliath. When he waved his sword in the air, the Philistines began hitting their spears against their shields. It was a mighty sound, heard for a great distance.
Goliath came from the city of Goth, a city known for producing large warriors. None other, however, was the size of Goliath. He stood approximately nine and one-half feet tall. His coat of armor tipped the scales at 150 pounds and the tip of his spear came in at a whopping 25 pounds. And did I mention he also had a nasty disposition?
Each day this bellicose giant would swagger into the Valley and mercilessly taunt the Israelites. He’d shout demeaning remarks about their manhood, or lack thereof. Worst of all, he made derogatory comments about their invisible God. After all, in the end it came down to a battle between the Philistines’ many gods and the one true God of Israel called Yahweh. Each day, Goliath would come and make the same proposal under the transparent guise of saving lives. The proposed plan was simple and honorable. The Israelites would send out their champion to meet Goliath and then in the Valley of Elah, they would fight to the death. The defeated army would lay down their weapons and would be subjugated to the winner.
Goliath was a killing machine. His offer was not driven by any concern for human life. No Israelite soldier stood a chance against an opponent of this size, one who possessed such strength. However, if they ran they would lose their advantageous position on the hill. The Philistines would attack them from behind, descending on the disorganized, fleeing Israelites with killing swords. If the Israelites all charged down the hill, they could kill Goliath, but the Philistines would then have the advantage of the high ground and could descend upon the Israelites in the Valley. All hope would be lost.
Day after day, for 40 days (one day for every year the Israelites had wandered in the Wilderness), Goliath walked into the Valley of Elah. Facing the Israelites who were cowering behind anything they could find, Goliath would bellow out his same proposal. The battle had not yet begun and already the Israelites were losing because of the psychological warfare Goliath was waging. He was demoralizing the Israelites and trying to bring shame upon their God. The Israelites were terrified by Goliath. In their eyes, he was growing a foot taller each day. Saul, the King of the Israelites, went among his soldiers offering great riches to the soldier who would go into the Valley and strike down this blasphemous beast. There were no takers.
On the 40th day, a small shadowy figure appeared in the Valley of Elah and began hurrying toward the giant. Both armies rushed forward to get a better look. Goliath shaded his eyes with his massive hand. He couldn’t believe what he saw. It was a boy, completely armorless. He wore the clothing of a shepherd. Some of the Israelites called his name, shouting “David, David” while the Philistines laughed. Goliath did not see this as a laughing matter. A hush fell upon the Philistines when Goliath went into a hysterical tirade. He was deeply insulted that the Israelites would send such an unworthy opponent. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he said he was being treated like a dog and that after killing the shepherd, he would feed his flesh to the birds of the air and the scavengers of the field.
All during the giant’s ranting and raving, David continued to close the gap between himself and Goliath. David, the little shepherd boy, was carrying only his staff, a sling and a few stones. He moved with confidence and purpose, never taking his eyes off the massive target or becoming distracted by his seemingly impossible mission. Running now at full speed, he took one of his five smooth stones from his shepherd’s pouch. He placed the stone in the sling and began whirling it over his head. At precisely the right moment, he released the stone, striking the giant on the only unprotected part of his body – his forehead. The stone hit Goliath’s forehead with such force that it sank into his head. Goliath fell to the ground face forward with such force that the sound echoed throughout the Valley and surrounding hills. Goliath collapsed on the very spot where he had stood for 40 days dishonoring the God of the Israelites. The shepherd boy then took the giant’s massive sword from its scabbard and severed Goliath’s head from his body.
Seeing the drama unfold before them in the Valley of Elah, the Philistines turned and ran with the Israelites in hot pursuit.
What you are about to read is certainly the story of a modern day David and Goliath. It was the era of the Great Depression when food and money were scarce. Opportunities were even scarcer and men seized those opportunities with both hands.
Boxing during this period was America’s second most popular sport after baseball, although much of its appeal had to do with the heavy gambling that often accompanied bouts. Boxing was so popular in the 30’s that they increased the sale of radios so people could listen to the matches. During this Depression period when money was scarce, thousands of youngsters took up boxing as means of potential employment.
The David in this story stood no more than 5’ 7”. In his youth, he was known in boxing circles as the undefeated Kid Keller. He fought in the Bantam division – 112 to 118 pounds. He had a great bounce-step, a sharp jab, a swift hook, and a knockout uppercut. He loved to fish. He played the ukulele and sang.
During one of Kid Keller’s boxing matches, a lethal combination of his signature punches sent his opponent to the hospital. He visited his opponent in the hospital every day until the man was discharged. This incident and the resulting time spent at the hospital caused Kid Keller to ponder more deeply about the cost of winning and the lasting consequences one of his knockout punches could inflict on his opponent. Fortunately, his defeated opponent in that boxing match made a complete recovery. However, concerned that he might seriously injure a future opponent, Kid Keller hung up his gloves, never to prize fight again. Well, at least not in the boxing ring.
Many years later, Kid Keller’s biggest fight took place in the hospital and in the operating room. A description of the surgical procedure ultimately needed to save his life is still met with disbelief when his story is told. His fight was brutal, historic … he was knocked to the mat again and again. No one would have blamed him if he had stayed down for the count. Amazingly, he kept getting up. It was a fight he did not start, an opponent he did not choose … and it took him to a place he had never been. But he believed, as did David, that while terrifying giants roamed the Valley of Elah, that same valley is where those giants are slain.
For 16 years he fought the good fight in his personal Valley of Elah. Here is his story…
DECEMBER 28, 1989
He looked so peaceful. It looked as if he had just fallen to sleep. His covers weren’t even wrinkled.
We stood motionless at his bedside. It was around 2:00 in the morning and the moonlight pouring through the window reflected crystalline silhouettes of ice-laden trees. The silence in the room was deafening. The whooshing sound of his oxygen machine had ceased. His gasping for every breath had ended. Mr. Keller’s incredible will to live had finally yielded to the inescapable forces of illnesses and age.
Exhausted from months of caring for her bedridden father, Mickey leaned over and straightened his blanket as she brushed back his hair. “If only I had been here,” Mickey whispered as she wiped the tears from her tired eyes. “I didn’t want him to go alone.”
“Honey, don’t do this to yourself,” I told her.
“I had just gone back to bed,” she continued, “and something woke me up. It wasn’t his calling for me … no, that’s it … he had stopped calling for me, that’s what woke me up. I knew then he was gone.”
A few weeks before, as his health deteriorated and his discomfort increased, Mickey’s father began constantly calling for her, no one else. We all pitched in during the day, but during the night he only wanted her. Every ten minutes, his weakened voice echoed throughout the house. Mickey would rush into his room, afraid he’d wake our children. She’d often find him half asleep, confused or incoherent. No one was sleeping well at night, especially Mickey.
“I think we should let the kids sleep,” I said.
“Yes, let them sleep,” she agreed. She paused. “Not like Mom,” she added.
Reflecting on Mrs. Keller, she was a wonderful woman who never complained. She led her life in a quiet, selfless manner and was utterly devoted to her husband. As a result, her health silently deteriorated while she cared nonstop for his needs. She suffered a heart attack and experienced complications from her bypass surgery, just as Mr. Keller had. She remained in the hospital for several months. During this time Mr. Keller came to stay with us so that we could care for him and also take him to the hospital to visit with Mrs. Keller.
When Mrs. Keller finally came home from the hospital, she also came to our house since she needed constant attention. Mickey’s brothers came on the weekends to help care for them so that we could tend to normal family responsibilities. Mrs. Keller had only been home with us for twelve days when she suffered a fatal massive heart attack. We called 911 immediately and she was taken to the hospital as our children were literally walking out of the door to go to school. Our children loved their grandparents and were very devoted to them so seeing the paramedics working on their Grandma and then being taken out of the house was extremely upsetting for them. Now with the death of their Grandpa, we did not want to further compound that anxiety for them so I quickly called the funeral home.
“I hope the funeral home will come before the kids get up,” Mickey said.
“The Funeral Director said he would be here in less than an hour. Don’t worry,” I reassured her.
Mickey had moved a chair over to her father’s bedside. As she held her father’s hand, I stood in the doorway, thinking back to all that had transpired. Mr. Keller had come back from so many near death experiences but this time we had sensed that his death was near. It was a few days before Christmas and his body functions had slowly been shutting down, yet he still would not give up. We felt that he had held on to this life to see his last Christmas and also to see his grandson, who was a U.S. Marine and had been serving in Kuwait during Desert Storm. He had finally come home on leave and came to see him. He died a couple of days after Christmas and the funeral was held on a snowy, blustery day with my good friend, also a pastor, presiding. He was finally laid to rest in the Mt. Moriah cemetery.
Sitting one evening soon afterward, I began reflecting on Mr. Keller’s fight with his giant in the Valley of Elah.
[This book is dedicated to
all who enter the Valley
of Elah and fight bravely
the Giants who roam there.]
MR. AND MRS. KELLER
I Was a Stranger and You Invited Me In
From the first time I met Mickey’s parents, it was always Mr. and Mrs. Keller. This might sound formal or imply that we were not close. Quite the contrary. They were like a mother and father to me. However, I began dating Mickey when we were 15 and 16. At that time, I felt it would be disrespectful to call them by their first names and I wanted to make a good impression on them, so Mr. and Mrs. Keller it was and will be throughout this story.
Mr. Keller was an exceptional man. He was in the restaurant business and opened and managed several successful restaurants over the years. One of the restaurants that Mr. Keller opened in 1957 and managed for quite a few years is the Hathaway’s Restaurant in the Carew Tower. In its time it was one of the most popular and most frequented restaurants in downtown.
Mr. Keller was a child of the Great Depression. The Depression was a decade long period of desperate need that shaped a generation. Families suffered a dramatic loss of income during Herbert Hoover’s term as president (1929 – 1933), when income dropped by 35%. By 1933, the unemployment rate was close to 25%. This period was horrendous on families. Traditional family roles changed during the 1930s. Often, men who found themselves unemployed had to rely upon their wives and children to work to help make ends meet.
Mr. and Mrs. Keller lived through the Depression and were forged by these adversities into the stalwart individuals I knew. They were examples of the tempering that comes from hardship, and most impressive to me was Mr. Keller’s indomitable work ethic and devotion to his family. Because of the struggles they endured, these men and women were often tougher, more resilient. They were hardworking and determined, willing and grateful to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Ingrained rules of survival included “don’t spend money you don’t already have in your pocket.”
As tough and indomitable as Mr. Keller was, like most of us, he wasn’t perfect and he would have been the first to admit it. He suffered from stress and anxiety as did many during that era. The most common form of stress relief at that time was alcohol, and Mr. Keller did avail sometimes himself of that solution. While it sometimes made him difficult to be around, it never interfered with his commitment to his family.
A TRIP AND A FALL
Sometimes the Answer is Right In Front of You
Mickey and I attended the same high school and rode the same city bus home each afternoon, but we had never noticed each other until “that day”. Sometimes my friends and I were late getting out of school so we had to hurry to catch a later bus. One day, after baseball practice, my buddies and I crowded onto the last bus. Just as it was pulling away from the bus stop, I turned to say something to my friend, Bobby, as Mickey was coming down the aisle. She was wearing a light raincoat, a scarf, tennis shoes with white socks and was loaded down with an armful of books. As she was making her way to one of the empty seats in the back, she tripped over my foot and fell to the floor, her books flying everywhere.
I picked up a few of the books and handed them to her. She looked at me and I looked at her. She was embarrassed and I was love-struck. I watched her all the way to her seat. I turned to my friend and said with a sense of urgency in my voice, “Do you know who that girl is?”
“Yes, she’s in my third bell social studies class. Why do you want to know?” he asked.
“I’m in love,” I said. We began to date and five months later we were going steady.
My father had died shortly before I met Mickey and there were a lot of disruptions in my home. Mickey was like a gift from God. I was desperately in need of someone who cared, someone who would be there when I needed a friend. She helped me overcome my grief and make it through those difficult years. I could always count on her and did.
I had grown up in a large house in the inner-city. Inside that house was a large, happy, secure family. I was the youngest of four children and as a young child I was sickly. To take my mind off of the illness and pain, I would often sit on my mother’s lap and she would tell me the great stories of the Bible. David and Goliath was my favorite story. I imagined myself to be the little shepherd boy and my illnesses were the great giant, Goliath. I learned during those back porch lap sessions that no problem was bigger than me and God together. I outlived my family’s fear of my early demise and experienced some of the happiest, most carefree years of my life. I was “Gene” (my middle name was Eugene) to my family when I was young, since my uncle’s name was also Wendell. But I remember so clearly sitting at my desk on the first day of kindergarten. Our teacher asked us to write our names on a piece of cardboard and attach it to the front of our desks so everyone would know who we were. I proudly wrote “Wendell” on my sign. When my mother asked me why I would do that, since everyone knew me as Gene, I responded that I thought Wendell was the more grown up name, and I was a grown up person now.
When I turned fifteen, my life took a series of dramatic turns. Within several months that large, people-filled home became a house of grief and loneliness. First, in the spring, my grandmother died suddenly of a heart attack. Gone was the only grandparent I ever really knew, whose love was unconditional and whose large, cushiony granny lap and large sagging arms were a refuge from all of life’s troubles.
Within months of her death, my father developed stomach cancer and died that autumn. He was a hard-working man who was always there for his family and friends. Dad’s family was his first priority and the joy of his life. Although botched back surgeries and the crude surgical instruments of his day had caused him endless pain, I never heard him complain. He was my hero.
By the time Dad died, my brothers and sister were already married and starting their own families. Mom and I were alone in that big, now empty house. My mother was completely consumed with grief and she never recovered emotionally from his passing. She became depressed and desperately unhappy, and turned an already ghostly home into a miserable, cheerless house. Although we buried Mom nineteen years later, emotionally she died with my father. As a fifteen year old boy, I found it intolerably lonely, overwhelming and suffocating. The only things that sustained me during this difficult time were my high-school sweetheart, Mickey; playing baseball; and my faith in God.
THE DATING GAME
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Dating was something of a logistical challenge for Mickey and me. Our connection was instantaneous and we began dating almost at once. However, Mickey and I only had one year of school together. The summer after Mickey’s freshman year, the Keller family moved from the East End down by the Ohio River to Mt. Carmel, a rural suburb on the very eastern edges of Cincinnati. The Kellers were part of the great suburban “boom” in the 1950s and early 60s.
Once the Kellers moved, I mostly saw Mickey on the weekends. In order for that to happen, I would have to take the bus home from school, then take a bus downtown to Hathaway’s Restaurant and drive with Mr. Keller to their home in Mt. Carmel (20 miles) where I would often stay for the weekend. Then, on Monday morning, I would drive back into downtown with Mr. Keller, take the bus back to my house and then take a bus from my house to school. Needless to say, this was a bit of a hassle. Although my mother had used some of my dad’s insurance money to buy me a car after I turned 16, the car was old and was constantly breaking down. I replaced the first car with another old car and the cycle continued. When the cars were functioning, it made the logistics a lot easier to manage, but they were certainly not a consistent solution to my problems.
Whatever the challenges involved in dating Mickey, they were worth it. During these high school years, the Keller’s home became a refuge for me. My home life was nonexistent. When Dad was alive he took care of our family but when he died there was a vacuum and then money ran out and Mom had to go to work. Mom had always been a wonderful mother to us, providing a very loving home environment. She was the consummate housewife and mother of the 50’s. But then, life changed and Mom was so unhappy and lonely. She suffered from depression and suffered needlessly because medicines at that time were not available. Alcohol became her crutch and no one was able to help her through her long nineteen years of mourning. My sister was married and had small children and helped Mom as often as she could. One of my brothers was away in the Navy and my other brother was married and working three jobs in order to raise his family. I was only sixteen and there was no one there for me to help me cope with these changes in my home life. I was desperate to restore some kind of normalcy to my life, and the Kellers welcomed me with open arms. Although they were very private and wouldn’t think of interfering, they did open their home to me and surrounded me with a feeling of comfort, love and unconditional support.
As I mentioned, dating required a lot of travel time for me. As a result, once I got to the Kellers, I was eager to spend as much time as I could with Mickey before setting out on my journey home. The Kellers had an extra bedroom and allowed me to spend many weekends at their house. They got to know and trust me and realized not only how much I cared for their daughter but how desperate I was to regain a sense of family in my life.
Mickey had two married brothers with families who always did a lot together and they were kind enough to include me in their activities, treating me like a member of the family. We camped and fished on the Ohio River – for me, it was like recapturing that happy life I had enjoyed before my father died. I knew that Mr. Keller had accepted me as one of the family the first time he said to me, “Gene, hand me that screwdriver.” I had found a home.
Mickey and I continued dating all through high school, our relationship deepening and maturing. I still remember our first prom, which we attended in 10 inches of snow along with my good friend and his date. I was a good athlete, playing both football and baseball and a good student, a member of an honor fraternity, and President of my senior class.
In 1964, I graduated from high school and began attending the University of Cincinnati. Due to Mom’s depression and her mood swings, by the time I started college I was staying with friends. Although I was attending college on baseball and academic scholarships, which covered tuition and books, it did not cover room and board. Eventually, I became aware of a social security program for which I was eligible as a child survivor because of my father’s death and was able to secure money to rent a sleeping room near campus ($40 a month!). At first I hated living alone since I had always lived in an environment surrounded by people I knew and now I was living in a shoebox-sized room with only a bed, dresser, and radio in a house occupied by strangers. I spent as little time during the day in that small room as possible. But it turned out to be the time that I felt God’s love and presence in my life during those evening hours. As I would lay there at night either listening to the Reds’ game, listening to Billy Graham, or to a soft music program called Moon River, my spiritual life changed. I gave myself to God and I knew there was nothing that God and I together could not conquer.
There was never any serious doubt that at some point Mickey and I would get married, but, of course, it was important to me that we follow the expected procedure and that I present her with a ring. I had no money for things like that, but my mother had a ring that was something of a family heirloom and she “loaned” the ring to me so that I could make a formal proposal. On the day I decided to propose, I picked Mickey up from work with the intent of taking her to Eden Park so that I could ask her to marry me. But I was so excited that I couldn’t wait and popped the question while driving in the car. We almost had an accident while driving, her acceptance was so enthusiastic. We then went immediately to Mickey’s house and made our announcement. While no one was surprised, they were all very happy for us.
Mickey and I were married in the summer of 1966, while I was still in college. We knew God had brought us together and we were preparing for our future together by my going to school, working summers and Mickey working full-time. We were young and in love and we did not regret it. We had been together five years before we married and had already dealt with many problems together so this seemed to be a logical step for us. After graduation, I took a job with the Hamilton County Welfare Department as a caseworker, which I enjoyed but I felt God was calling me to something else. I wanted to help the whole person not just be the government liaison in people’s lives. After discussing the situation with the pastor of my church, he raised the suggestion of me going to seminary. A few months later, Mickey and I moved into seminary housing in Louisville and I began a three-year Master of Divinity program. After graduation we returned to Walnut Hills Baptist Church in Cincinnati where I had been a youth pastor prior to leaving for seminary. I became the associate pastor with an emphasis on community work at my home church. My pastor, who had been at the church for thirty-five years, was my mentor.
While deeply in love, Mickey and I did not have much opportunity to enjoy a young, carefree married life. We had many responsibilities and there were many giants marching toward us that needed to be faced and fought. We could not have faced these giants without each other. We were able to share our strength and fight together battles that, individually, would have been overwhelming. The giants Mr. Keller was about to encounter forced us to become caregivers almost before we became husband and wife. Mickey tripping over my foot was not an accident but an act of God, who knew the battles we would face and knew we would need each other’s strength to get through them.
LIFE SOMETIMES TAKES UNEXPECTED TURNS
I Will Go, Lord, If You Lead Me
The Kellers were very representative of families of their generation. Mr. Keller was in the Navy during WWII and, as with most servicemen, it played a large part in shaping the rest of his life. Post war, Mrs. Keller worked at Baldwin Piano, helping to manufacture airplane components for military aircraft. In fact, she walked by my family’s house every day on her way to and from work. After their move to the suburbs, Mrs. Keller embraced her role as a “traditional” mom. She was a fantastic cook, an immaculate housekeeper and took wonderful care of her family.
Mr. Keller was also a traditional role model. He never forgot those life lessons he learned growing up in the Depression. He was a meticulous man, detailed and precise. He wore a suit, white shirt and tie six days a week and worked long hours. He was a good businessman and a good employer – he inspired great loyalty from his employees. At home, he was busy with one project after another. Mr. Keller could do anything with his hands – he was always fixing or fixing up something either at home or in the restaurant. He loved to fish – he fished the lakes of Greater Cincinnati dry during his free time. Mr. Keller came from a very musical family and was himself a talented musician. Mr. Keller was honest, generous, spiritual but not “churchy.” He was definitely the dominant presence in his house.
However, Mr. Keller also struggled with stress and the pressures of providing for his family. After many years and too many long hours, he left his job at Hathaway’s, and began working in Dayton and commuted daily from Mt. Carmel (60 miles). I asked him once, “How can you drive that distance back and forth every day just to go to work?” and he simply responded, “You just don’t think about those things – that’s just what you have to do.” That practical, no nonsense, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” outlook on life was about to become the rock to which he would cling during his battle with the giant. The Kellers eventually moved from Cincinnati to Dayton after they sold their home.
I had returned to Walnut Hills Baptist Church fresh from seminary as the Assistant Pastor but within a few months, I had taken over as Senior Pastor upon the death of my mentor and pastor. Needless to say, we were all shocked by his death. Before he died, he dictated his last wish to the church he loved. In his deathbed dictations, he expressed his desire that the church call me to succeed him as pastor. A week after his funeral the church extended to me an invitation to be the pastor, which I accepted.
“What in the world am I doing here?” I asked myself countless times during that first year. The challenges were almost overwhelming to a recent seminary graduate. Not only did I take on all the rigors of pastoring – the preaching, the complicated dynamics of church life and personalities, the daily realities of an aging and declining inner-city church. I was also struggling to deal with my personal grief over the loss of a dearly beloved pastor friend, and the enormous challenge of trying to fill his shoes. All of the above filled me with tremendous stress and anxiety and drove me to work long exhausting hours in an effort to meet the needs and expectations of my congregation.
Despite the distance involved, and my growing responsibilities as Pastor, Mickey and I remained very close with Mr. and Mrs. Keller. We had Sunday dinner with them every week and we visited one another as often as possible. We vacationed together most summers, visiting relatives in New Orleans and Texas. Things seemed to be going along great, and then the “Giant” raised its ugly head.
You Are About to Enter Another Dimension
It was 1973 and Mickey and I were taking our yearly vacation to New Orleans, but this year we were going without Mr. and Mrs. Keller. A month before, Mr. Keller had seen a cardiologist regarding pains he was experiencing in his chest and arm. The news was not good. He had several arteries to his heart that were clogged and unless he had an operation called heart bypass surgery he could have a heart attack or stroke. Mr. Keller was a product of his time, a time when smoking was considered both acceptable and a passage into manhood. People were bombarded with images of role models smoking. So many of these iconic figures ended up dying of cancer or smoking related causes. John Wayne died from stomach cancer, Lana Turner from throat cancer, and Betty Grable and Robert Taylor from lung cancer, just to name a few. I had a friend who was a close friend of John Wayne – I had noticed a picture of “The Duke” hanging on his office wall. Wayne had signed it with a very personal note shortly before he died. John Wayne was a six pack a day chain smoker starting as a young adult, and had his left lung removed in 1964 due to cancer. Although he recovered from that cancer scare, fifteen years later, he succumbed to stomach cancer. My friend said that he could remember so clearly that for months prior to his diagnosis, Wayne would complain to him about pains in his stomach – never connecting that to his years of smoking.
At that time, the long-term effects of smoking were just beginning to be published. Smoking was generally regarded as innocuous; commercials that promoted smoking were everywhere. Almost every television show from the forties through the early-sixties had a primary sponsor each week, many of which were cigarette companies. The Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964 started a campaign of awareness about the dangers of smoking and on January 1, 1971 the last cigarette commercial was aired on television. However, for many people who grew up in previous decades, the damage was already done.
Mr. Keller was a three-pack a day cigarette smoker. Now, of course, we know that people who smoke are far more likely to develop lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and emphysema but in 1973, that was still new information. Mr. Keller’s surgeon said that Mr. Keller needed bypass surgery as soon as possible. However, he said he wouldn’t even consider surgery unless Mr. Keller quit smoking for three months. He also said he didn’t want Mr. Keller taking any long trips until after the operation.
Mr. Keller’s response to this declaration was typical of his incredible stamina and willpower. As we are now aware, the nicotine in cigarettes causes an addiction that is similar to the one produced by drugs. People who stop smoking are subject to physical symptoms and intense cravings. For many people, there’s also the challenge of breaking the habit of smoking. Mr. Keller simply stopped cold turkey. Faced with a decision that could mean the difference between life and death, he made his choice and stuck to it. He and Mrs. Keller quit smoking and never looked back.
While today in the U.S. over 500,000 bypass surgeries are performed each year, in 1973 the procedure was just gaining attention. In the 60’s, when it was first introduced, bypass surgery seemed like Sci-Fi material. There was high mortality among cardiac patients. The doctor who pioneered the use of Dacron grafts to replace or repair blood vessels, the technique still used today, was Michael deBakey, MD. He was called the Father of Bypass Surgery. Dr. DeBakey was a true innovator. He helped develop the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War. He was one of the first to perform coronary artery bypass surgery and was a pioneer in the development of the artificial heart. He was chairman of the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke during the Johnson Administration. DeBakey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. He was a recipient of The United Nations Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction.
Bypass surgery made use of the heart-lung machine, which mechanically circulates and oxygenates blood for the body while bypassing the heart and lungs. While the patient is literally being kept alive by this machine, an artery (or arteries) is taken from the patient’s chest or leg. The surgeon selects the healthiest section of the artery and then attaches the harvested artery to the affected area, replacing the clogged artery and allowing the blood to flow again, this time through the healthy or “unclogged” artery. Back then, we weren’t as knowledgeable regarding what causes arteries to clog as we are today. In addition to his smoking, Mr. Keller’s eating habits included a diet rich in saturated fats, dietary cholesterol, fried foods, etc., which caused a buildup of plaque. Plaque begins in artery walls and grows over time. The increase of plaque slowly blocks blood flow in the arteries. Because of this buildup in Mr. Keller’s arteries, his artery walls were weakened, restricting his blood flow .
We all walked on pins and needles until the three months came and went. Finally, the day of the surgery arrived. We all gathered around Mr. Keller’s hospital bed along with several people who had recovered from successful heart bypass surgery. Mr. Keller’s hospital had a program that worked with cardiac patients post-surgery (today, we’d call it a support group) and these individuals often came to offer encouragement. We held hands and prayed. We could see from the look in Mr. Keller’s eyes that he was uneasy by the attention. He was a religious person but didn’t attend church services regularly. He was also a very private person and did not like to draw attention to himself. We were asked to leave the room and the nurse wheeled Mr. Keller to the operating room. A nurse looked at Mrs. Keller, mouthing the words “he’ll be alright.” They told us he should be in recovery in about three hours. Five hours later, we had not heard a word!
SOMETHING WENT VERY WRONG
It’s Not Supposed to Happen This Way
We knew something was wrong when the chaplain, a nurse and the surgeon came out to meet us. We crowded into a small conference room. For some unexplainable reason, Mr. Keller’s vital organs had shut down. His kidneys had stopped functioning, he was having difficulty breathing and they had a difficult time starting his heart during several unsuccessful attempts to take him off the heart-lung machine. We said we wanted to see him. They said we could see him after they got him into ICU, but one of Mr. Keller’s sons said, “NOW.”
Overwhelmed by our insistence, they reluctantly took us to his bed in the Recovery ward. When we saw him, we were horrified. There was blood splattered all over his mattress and sheets. He kept partially waking up, obviously frightened, disoriented and in pain. He was fussing with his tubes and bandages and pulling frantically at the side rails of his bed. It was terrible to watch. After a few minutes, they firmly escorted us out and rushed him over to ICU.
We had been told ahead of time that there was risk, that about 1 in 100 patients had complications as a result of the surgery. We understood this intellectually, but we simply didn’t believe anything would go wrong. The medical staff was just as bewildered as we were. None of the patients who had complications with similar procedures at this hospital had ever reacted to the surgery in this way. The medical staff had no protocol or guidelines to tell them how to proceed.
We were all struggling with total disbelief. The medical staff broke the news to us that they didn’t expect Mr. Keller to live. And so we began our 24/7 death watch.
What made matters even more difficult for many family members, including Mickey and me, was that Mr. and Mrs. Keller lived in Dayton, OH and we all lived in Cincinnati, about 45 miles away. While most of us came and went as we were able, Mrs. Keller lived at the hospital. Mickey quit her job so that she could stay with her mom. They would sit for hours on the couch in the ICU waiting room, watching the TV or leafing through books and magazines. I drove there as often as I could to be with them, but as Senior Pastor for an active church, and one still settling into my expanded role and responsibilities, I had to spend some time with my congregation.
For five minutes each hour, the staff allowed us to go in and see Mr. Keller. He was on a ventilator since he was unable to breathe on his own. He was hooked up to all types of machines and seemed to have tubes and monitors attached to every part of his body. His skin was gray, his lips were dry and cracked. He had deep circles under his eyes and he stared without blinking at the ceiling. I was certain he felt that if he closed his eyes, he’d never open them again. Mr. Keller was in great physical discomfort and was rarely coherent. The nursing staff had to tie his hands to the railings of his bed to keep him from plucking at his bandages and pulling out his IVs.
Mr. Keller had stepped into the Valley of Elah. His giant loomed menacingly before him. Just as David had stood so unevenly matched before Goliath, the only weapon Mr. Keller possessed as he faced off against death was his incredible will to live. He was engaged in the fight of his life and he clung resolutely to the belief that it was not his time.
Shortly after Mr. Keller was placed in ICU, a contract disagreement erupted between the hospital administration and the emergency department nurses at the hospital. A number of the nurses went on strike to protest conditions in the emergency area. The nurses claimed that “patient and employee safety was jeopardized by unsafe conditions in the emergency room.” They cited housekeeping problems, potential hazards of infection and doctors who were unresponsive to calls about worsening patients. The nurses requested a federal investigation of the conditions. The strike resulted in a severely reduced ICU staff, augmented by “other hospital personnel” all trying to care for too many patients. The newspapers reported at the time that the emergency room was continuing to function normally “with one exception”, which involved emergency rescue squads. The strike forced the hospital to reroute incoming emergency rescue vehicles to other hospitals. However, as a result of the walk-off, which involved somewhere between eleven and twenty-one nurses, Mr. Keller’s care was seriously neglected during his critical first few days of recovery.
During this crucial time period, Mr. Keller’s dressing repeatedly went unchanged, which caused a large mass of infection to develop in his sternum and around his heart. He had been in ICU for several days, with no improvement in his condition and diminishing hopes for any better news. We were very concerned about the lack of care he was getting and we demanded that he be transferred to a different facility. The staff told us in no uncertain terms that Mr. Keller had a massive infection behind his heart and if we tried to move him, it would burst and he would die.
We were filled with despair. We were mentally and physically exhausted and all seemed lost. We didn’t know what to do … what we could do. We did not have the experience to question the hospital on their statements regarding Mr. Keller’s welfare or condition. Mr. Keller’s cardiologist was a referral from his primary doctor so we felt we should have confidence in him. The Keller family was reluctant to question the cardiologist too sharply – after all, he was the specialist.
Sometimes, fate takes a hand and provides a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. One afternoon, while going into the cafeteria to grab a quick bite to eat, we ran into Mr. Keller’s primary doctor. He was aware, of course, that Mr. Keller had been scheduled for surgery but had not received an update from the cardiologist. “How’s Harry doing?” he asked Mrs. Keller. When we told him about what was happening – the surgical complications, the post-operative challenges, the nurses’ strike and the onset of massive, post-operative infection, he couldn’t believe it. He immediately went to see Mr. Keller and ordered him moved to another hospital. We were naturally apprehensive, since his cardiology team had told us that a move would very likely kill Mr. Keller. However, we felt strongly that if he was going to live, we had to do something quickly. We felt he was certain to die in his present circumstances but that he might have a chance of improving in a different environment if the move did not kill him first.
We were overwhelmed with apprehension – what should we do? What would Mr. Keller want us to do? We all felt a tremendous sense of obligation, of responsibility, to Mr. Keller and to his wishes. After a great deal of discussion, we nervously gave our consent for what could be a life-ending decision. We followed the ambulance to the new hospital and waited tensely until we were told that Mr. Keller had survived the trip, was settled into his new room and that we could see him. It was with the greatest sense of relief that we realized our decision had been the right one – Mr. Keller was alive and had a chance of recovering! At this new facility, he was now under the care of a specialist in whom we felt real confidence. Nevertheless, Mr. Keller’s condition worsened before it got better. He remained unconscious. His kidneys weren’t functioning so they put a shunt in his arm and took him to dialysis twice a week. His infection was so bad his temperature rose to frightening levels, forcing the medical team to pack him in ice. This went on for a couple of weeks. Then finally his condition stabilized and he began to improve. It seemed our David had picked up a stone and put it in his sling, prepared to do battle with his giant again.
Soon, Mr. Keller was able to communicate with us if only through gestures or notes on a pad of paper because of his tracheotomy (a surgical procedure on the neck to open a direct airway through an incision in the trachea or windpipe). The infection seemed to be under control and his condition was improving. It was a real “Eureka!” moment for us. One giant had bit the dust, however another, much bigger giant was entering the Valley of Elah. Mr. Keller did not retreat.
THREE TIMES SHE SAID MY NAME
My Time Is Not Yet Come
Mr. Keller was finally moved out of ICU into a private room. He stayed in that room for three months. Mickey and her mom took up residence at his bedside. Mickey’s brothers visited as often as they could with their work and family obligations pulling on them. I, also, had many obligations as a Pastor and could not spend all of my time in Dayton. I traveled back and forth from Cincinnati to the hospital in Dayton several times a week. While my church was sympathetic to my situation and their prayers were helping to keep us going and to keep Mr. Keller alive, the work of the church had to go on and I was ultimately responsible for ensuring that the many activities and ministries continued functioning.
Mr. Keller was in tremendous pain. One day when I arrived at the hospital, they had Mr. Keller sitting on the side of the bed. Although he was not a large man, he was solidly built and as a result of his years boxing, he was physically very strong. However, the battle he had fought had certainly taken a toll on him. He’d lost a good 20 – 25 pounds. His patient gown drooped over his skeleton-like frame. His eyes were sunken and darkly circled. He looked up, smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “What are ya going to do?” he mouthed to me. I knew the answer to that question, “Keep on fighting or you die.” The word “bantam”, which described his weight class while boxing, was also a perfect description of his personal courage and determination. A Bantam is a bird characterized by very small size, but feisty and relentless. That was Mr. Keller. In the midst of all this discomfort he could smile.
His inability to speak bothered him most. He couldn’t communicate verbally because of the tracheotomy that was enabling him to breathe. The nurse tried to show him how to talk with the trach tube in. We’d given him a little pad of paper and a pen. He’d still get agitated and on a few occasions, he’d throw the pad of paper across the room. I took his frustration and impatience as a sign of improvement. “Good for you, Mr. Keller, show them you have the will to live … fight, Mr. Keller, fight,” I said under my breath.
After a few weeks they removed the trach tube, which was a great relief to all of us. He was still receiving massive amounts of antibiotics and a lot of pain medication. He was in constant pain but he never complained. Some of the medication was causing him to hallucinate. He eventually became dependent upon the pain medication, but as soon as he could tolerate it, with his usual determination, he just stopped cold turkey.
One day, while I was relieving Mickey and Mrs. Keller, we began talking. Abruptly, Mr. Keller started commenting that he just couldn’t understand why those trucks in the hallway couldn’t find another interstate to drive on, they were so loud. His ramblings were very disconcerting – you’d think you were carrying on a normal conversation and then he’d say something completely incoherent.
Another day, while we were alone, he asked me to come closer to his bed. He said he wanted to ask me something and he requested that I not share this with anyone “because,” he said, looking around the room, “they might think I’m crazy.” Okay, I thought as I pulled a chair closer, here we go on another story.
He told me that he wasn’t a religious man and that his beliefs were a private matter between him and God. I was aware of that, and was touched that he was willing to discuss something confidential with me. I reassured him that he could ask me whatever he wanted to. He told me that when he was going through one of those death things…
“You mean a near death experience?” I interrupted.
“Yes,” he said. “What do they mean?”
“Well, they mean different things to different people,” I replied slowly.
He then asked me a whole series of questions about such experiences. Mr. Keller and I had many extended conversations about subjects but never about something as private as his beliefs. As a pastor, I already knew about Near Death Experiences and had discussed and analyzed similar manifestations with others, but Mr. Keller had never spoken so frankly to me about matters like these. Many people, across the world and across cultures have reported having near-death experiences. Research indicates that approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population says they have had a near-death experience. They are usually associated with a life threatening event. Many people have come forward and talked about their near death experiences. However, near death experiences cannot be wholly explained by science – like Mr. Keller’s, they transcend straightforward biological explanations and I believe we must look deeper to understand the true impact and meaning of these experiences.
Mr. Keller leaned close to me and said “I … had one of those. I can’t remember much over the last two months … but this happened when I was … was dying.”
“When you were in lCU?” I asked. That was the time he was closest to dying. “Do you want to share it with me?” I continued.
“Yes… but don’t tell anyone, OK? All I remember was people… in green clothes… gathered around me. I kept hearing them say… ‘we’re losing him!’ I… I was on the bed but not on the bed…I was totally separated from everything, even myself. The room was filled with the brightest white light I had ever seen and … yes … ‘felt.’ I could see and feel the light.” He continued, “I was not in pain. I looked down and could see me lying on the bed. I… could tell my body was in great pain, but I couldn’t feel it. I knew I was… dying… but that was okay. I was at peace. My only concern was leaving Kate (Mrs. Keller) but I knew she wouldn’t want me to suffer. So I started walking toward the light.” He paused and took a deep breath. “It was so … so peaceful. I felt something warm surround me …” He hesitated. “Then … I stopped. I felt that I now had to make a choice … turn and go back or take just one more step and then I’d never go back and I’d never have pain again. Just as I was going to take the step, I heard my sister, Jane’s voice … she said ‘Harry …’ I felt myself being pulled back … I resisted, knowing I only had to take one more step and she said again … ‘Harry … Harry … not yet’… I heard her … I heard her say my name three times … and I was back in my body.” His head drooped and he spoke softly.
“Am I crazy?” he asked. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Well,” I said. “I think it proves the existence of God and that we should not fear death. So many people have had experiences similar to this. If it has happened to you and to countless others, then I believe it proves there is a God and we’ll someday be with Him. These experiences reassure us that there is something beyond our lives on earth, but they also give us the opportunity to make a decision to fulfill a need God may still have for us. Some people say it’s just the result of our brains trying to make our passing less fearful. But I have to question how the brain could instinctively program itself to do this at a time when the person has to be in an extremely critical situation when we cannot even program our brains to stop the desire to smoke when we bend all out conscious effort toward it. No, this is not our doing. It is the work of God.”
My answer seemed to reassure him that he was not in fact “crazy”, that he had been the recipient of a profound spiritual experience and that he had also received reassurance of the presence of God in his life and the promise of heaven in his future.
THE GIANT STIRS
Courage is Fear Holding On a Minute Longer
Almost three months after moving to another hospital, Mr. Keller finally came home. It was a day of indescribable joy for all of us – a day that we had often been afraid would never come. Surely, he was now truly on the road to recovery. As I mentioned, he had lost considerable weight. None of his clothes fit him properly. He had lost much of his strength from being bedridden for so long. He could only get up from a chair with assistance. Visiting the bathroom to wash up and change his clothes was an all morning event. However, no matter what the activity, he always pushed himself to do a little more each day. His determination to do more than just exist was driven by his tenacious will to survive … and to live.
None of this would have been possible without 24/7 assistance from his petite wife, Mrs. Keller. She was the caregiver who took him on her shoulders, literally getting Mr. Keller from the kitchen to the bedroom and back again several times a day. She made sure he got his medicine and meals on time and had the unenviable task of changing his dressing several times a day. Cook, nurse, caregiver, maid etc., she was a lovely human being who asked nothing for herself. Without her, he would not have made it out of the Valley of Elah. The whole family loved her dearly.
Mrs. Keller’s mother’s maiden name was Lightfoot and she was part Cherokee Indian. Mrs. Keller was one of seventeen siblings. Being one of the older siblings, a sense of responsibility was engrained in her. She was a wonderful person – strong in body and character. She was a great and non-judgmental listener and I never heard her speak about others in a negative way. She loved to laugh. As a lost and hurting young teen, I was received with a loving heart, welcomed as a member of the family. Mrs. Keller’s whole life was a testament to serving. Her happiness certainly came from dedicating her life to the care of others – her husband, her children and grandchildren. She was Mr. Keller’s life companion and they did everything together. They loved to travel and they loved to just sit together quietly, companionable in their silence. They loved to fish together and made a perfect team.
Unfortunately, her commitment to Mr. Keller and her dedication to keeping him alive, nursing him back to health and helping him to have the most normal life possible after his surgeries prevented her from taking time to pay enough attention to herself. She never complained and that wonderful spirit of self-sacrifice was her undoing. Mrs. Keller proved to be sadly representative of what often happens with caregivers. They experience high levels of stress … they lack sleep … they minimize self-care … they have a slower recovery time from illness … they suffer emotional exhaustion … they often find themselves in the Valley of Elah.
Mr. Keller was making a miraculous recovery. He was gaining weight and strength. Mrs. Keller was taking care of his surgical site, changing his dressing often throughout the day. He was still taking pain medication because the surgical site in the sternum was painful and because of the pain in his leg where they had harvested the arteries for the triple bypass surgery. A month or so after coming home, he began to have severe localized pain and redness in the sternum area. During a trip to the doctor’s office another giant appeared – we were told that infection in the sternum had significantly increased and more aggressive treatment was needed. They needed to go back into the surgical area, clean it up and then put in a tube so it could drain. Our last experience with surgery had left us very apprehensive and we were all nervous and frightened about this new operation. However straightforward and commonplace we were told the procedure was, Mr. Keller’s reaction to the original surgery had left us all with haunting memories we were not eager to revisit. Additionally, we all felt some resentment that he had to go through this again, since he was considerably weaker now than he was at the time of the original surgery – by this time he had lost 25 – 30 pounds and he had been fighting unending pain now for months. We were much less confident in his ability to rebound from the shock of surgery than we had been initially. We were all anxious and fearful until the doctor came out and said the surgery was completed and Mr. Keller was in recovery.
After the surgery, they put him on massive doses of yet another antibiotic. The surgeon complimented Mrs. Keller on her scrupulous care and told her to keep up the good work. It was now more important than ever that the wound be properly taken care of.
The dressing needed to be changed every two hours by Mrs. Keller. This procedure was not for those with a queasy stomach. It was impossible for us to be anything less than fully supportive since Mr. Keller never demonstrated any self-pity. As I watched him stoically endure the discomfort of having his dressing repeatedly changed, I recalled our conversation from years ago, when he said, “That’s just what you have to do.”
Every few weeks, he would go to the doctor to have the surgical site lanced and the infection drained. The doctors were constantly trying new and stronger antibiotics. The soreness and redness should have been disappearing, but it wasn’t. Just as soon as we felt a new antibiotic was working, Mr. Keller would find another sore spot. These discoveries were taking a tremendous toll on Mr. Keller’s overall well-being. Three times I watched him endure this procedure, each time leaving him weaker and less able to recover. I have never seen someone take so much and keep fighting his giant.
Mr. Keller simply would not think about such things. He was relentless about concentrating on the things he could still control. He’d focus on getting his parking ticket validated when he visited his doctors or marking the grocery list with little notes or making sure the shopper, who was usually Mickey, got a certain type of product.
Mr. Keller found it difficult to sleep. He was still in pain all of the time. Sleep disturbances are one of the most common effects of chronic pain. He had determined to wean himself off of the pain medications, so his nights were even longer, with discomfort his only companion. He also suffered from fevers, swelling and redness at the infection site, swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs, lack of energy and an overall feeling of illness. We later discovered that these were all symptoms of the infection entering his bones.
He started building wooden ships and collecting postage stamps to pass the time. Both of these were ideal activities for his level of health and were perfect for his meticulous personality. One of my most vivid memories is of Mr. Keller working on a detailed recreation of the USS Constitution. He spent hours upon hours carefully recreating the inside of the vessel – installing the various decks, crafting the bunks, the storage areas, the mess areas, mounting the guns. When he had finished with the interior, he called me over to take a look. Then, he placed the deck on the ship and completely covered up all of his hard work. No one would ever know what lay under that deck and all of the time and effort he had put into it unless they had seen it beforehand. I thought how utterly amazing and unbelievable that someone would work that hard on something hidden. He would work throughout the night, painstakingly stringing each tiny bit of rope, hanging each miniature sail and meticulously gluing every little spar. He was justly proud of the finished products – they were beautifully crafted pieces of art well worth displaying on shelves and coffee tables.
He would also work for entire nights organizing, cataloguing and mounting his stamps in his collector’s albums. I can still see Mr. Keller with his magnifying glass and stamp tongs poring over his albums or examining a new find. He would send me to the coin and stamp store located downtown to purchase a specific stamp for him and his detailed philatelic knowledge was such that he often stumped the professionals. I still have his albums of collected stamps at my house, and they are not only a wonderful source of memories but a testament to Mr. Keller’s precision, attention to detail and meticulousness.
Mr. Keller would focus all his energies on his work and use his activities as a strategy of mind to eliminate his awareness of pain and his need for medications, using these hours of minutely focused attention to pass the lonely nights. At one of his follow-up appointments, we received the news we had been dreading. We heard for the first time that the infection had gotten into the bone. Infection in the bone, we were told, is almost impossible to eradicate. Bone infections often require heavy doses of IV antibiotics, and may require surgical removal of the infected bone. Chronic bone infection like Mr. Keller’s can cause pain, fatigue, general discomfort, a feeling of overall illness and recurring infections in the area surrounding the infected bone. Mr. Keller suffered from all these things. If untreated, bone infection can trigger the spread of the infection to other areas of the body.
Mr. Keller would have to go again into the Valley of Elah. Or, he could just throw in the towel. After everything he had gone through in the last few months, it seemed a terrible thing to ask of him and his poor, battered body. He had slain his giant only to find another, bigger giant entering the valley. But quitting was not in Mr. Keller’s makeup. His will to live was as formidable as any combatant’s. Like any good soldier, Mr. Keller kept thinking through his battle plans to the smallest detail. Discouraged, yes … ready to concede the match – definitely not. Mr. Keller was prepared to go back into the Valley. Once again, his comment from years ago echoed in my ears, “You just can’t think of those things. That’s just what you have to do.”
Patton, George S. N.d. Chapter Subtitle.
PLAN LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO LOSE
Live Like You’re Going to Win
Mr. Keller’s doctors were doing the best they could, but without much success. Mr. Keller’s condition didn’t improve, and Mr. Keller was becoming weaker and weaker as the battle continued. Then, fate stepped in once again. In 1975, I was getting my yearly physical with my doctor in Cincinnati. I told him about Mr. Keller and the infection he was battling, and how concerned we were that none of the antibiotics were having any effect and none of the treatments seemed to be working. He told me about a doctor named William Altemeier. I discovered that Dr. Altemeier was the Chairman of the UC Medical School Department of Surgery. Dr. Altemeier had published more than 300 publications about surgical infections. His studies focused on antibiotic therapy and postoperative wound infections among other things. In addition, he was a shrewd diagnostician and an accomplished surgeon. Dr. Altemeier was at various times the President of the American Surgical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Surgical Infection Society, the University of Cincinnati Graduate Surgical Society and several other prestigious organizations. He received many honors including the Great Living Cincinnatian Award.
Dr. Altemeier’s specialty was hospital acquired infections. We had hit the jackpot! We called immediately for an appointment and two days later we all met with Dr. Altemeier. Mr. Keller was readmitted to the hospital that same day. He’d be in the hospital for a week or more while they ran tests and identified the type of bacteria Mr. Keller was fighting.
We learned two very important things as a result of these events. First, you must be your own health care advocate. Mr. Keller was just 45 minutes away from the man who was THE doctor he needed to see (the family was less than a half hour away) and yet, we hadn’t known about him. If I hadn’t mentioned our situation to my doctor, we would never have found him. Secondly, you must educate yourself as thoroughly as possible on your situation. Of course, back then it was much more difficult and time-consuming to research information than it is today. In the 1970s, one acquired information from books, magazines and periodicals along with tedious research at the local library. Today, with the Internet, it is much easier to gain access to huge amounts of information quickly. While sifting through that information can also be time-consuming, the more information you glean the better questions you can ask and the better the chance that you are getting the right group of people together.
Jesus said “seek and you will find.” You can’t give up. The advice I give to those like Mr. Keller is “plan like you’re going to lose – live like you’re going to win.”
VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED
It Always Seems Impossible… Until It’s Done
Eight days passed while we all waited anxiously for the results of the tests. On the ninth day, we were told by one of the nurses taking care of Mr. Keller that Dr. Altemeier had finally gotten the lab reports he was waiting for. We were both fearful and hopeful. What would he have to say? We felt like this man was our last chance to find a solution to Mr. Keller’s escalating problems. Dr. Altemeier came into Mr. Keller’s room with his chart and a stack of reports. After flipping through them he looked up and said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been living in the jungle.” We looked at each other with puzzled expressions on our faces.
He then said, “We were able to cultivate seven different strains of bacterium.” He looked back at Mr. Keller’s chart.
We spoke up, “What are we going to do?”
“Take them out,” he said briskly, looking over his glasses which were resting on the end of his nose. We were so confused we didn’t know what to say.
“Uh … uh … take what out?” we asked.
“Well, basically, we are going to take out all the infected bones … plain English, we are going to remove his breast bone and a large portion of his ribs.” We were stunned. It was impossible to wrap our heads around what he was describing.
Dr. Altemeier put his chart under his arm. He took his two index fingers and pointed to the very top of the sternum and breast bone. “We’ll keep it attached at the top, right under your Adam’s apple and cut away down below the two breasts.” Medically, this surgery is called a sternectomy.
Infections of the bone are always a serious concern and have to be dealt with aggressively. Bones tend to resist infection but once an infection sets in, it is very difficult to treat successfully. Our months of struggling to control Mr. Keller’s infection certainly proved that. When the sternum becomes infected, doctors will typically try intravenous antibiotics first. However, antibiotics used for long periods can make patients susceptible to other infections and extended use can damage organs. However, as in the case of Mr. Keller, antibiotics alone are sometimes not enough. The body’s blood flow, which carries antibiotics into an infected area, is weaker in bones than in most other kinds of tissues. Bone marrow also has many nooks and crannies that hide bacteria and that prevent antibiotics from being completely effective. When antibiotics are not enough to resolve the problem, the infected bone has to be removed. This is called “debridement”. Debridement is done to the point where the remaining bone seems healthy. Debriding or removing the sternum creates a large empty area in the chest which then needs to be filled with material that has good blood flow, such as muscle, in order to prevent infection. In addition to the muscle having the capability of bringing antibiotics to the surgical area, it is pliable and will shape itself to the open area. Nowadays, removing the infected bone, reconstructing with muscle and adding supporting materials have a high success rate in curing Mr. Keller’s kinds of infection. However, this was definitely not a common procedure in the ‘70s and we had never heard of such a thing – especially not on the scale intended – until Dr. Altemeier described the procedure.
Well … we heard him speak, but we didn’t understand; we were speechless and dumbfounded. He wanted to remove Mr. Keller’s rib cage and his sternum!
Mickey asked, “Can you do that?”
“I can,” Dr. Altemeier was not known for his modesty.
“Has anyone ever done this?” we asked.
“A few have,” he replied. “We have no choice. The infection has to be cut away.”
We pursued with questions. “Will he be able to sit or walk? What about his organs? What will protect them?”
“We will cut away all the muscles and then once the bone is cut away we’ll bring the muscle flaps back over the opening. Following that we’ll put a mesh-like material over the muscles and graft skin over that. That should give him more stability. I’d like to schedule the surgery for tomorrow,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
We were speechless, our minds fumbling with this overwhelming information.
Then Mr. Keller spoke up, “That’s fine, Dr. Altemeier. We all know I can’t continue on like this.” And that was that!
It is a testament both to Mr. Keller’s strength of will and determination as well as his ability to accept and react to adversity that the decision to proceed was quick and definitive. I recall that he turned his head, looked at us, smiled slightly and said, “I have no choice.”
As stunned as we all were by the overwhelming description of what Dr. Altemeier planned and as horrified as we all felt about the incredible stress and suffering this was likely to place on Mr. Keller, his word was final. We all just sat there numbly, trying to understand the changes that were about to occur, while he seemed serene. His decision had been made. He was now completely focused on marshalling his weapons and preparing to enter the Valley for his next battle with the giant. His call-to-arms was, “Don’t think – just do.”
BACK INTO THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Bravery Is Being The Only One Who Knows You’re Afraid
The next morning, the family arrived at the hospital at 5:00 a.m. When we got to Mr. Keller’s room, he was already prepped for surgery. His room was a beehive of activity. One of the nurses said to Mrs. Keller, “Your husband has certainly drawn a crowd.” Later, we were told that over 50 doctors watched or actually participated in his historic surgery. All day long doctors came and went from the operating room.
At 6:00 a.m., they said it was time. We leaned over and hugged Mr. Keller, giving him words of encouragement. He just flashed a smile. He was so much weaker than his first battle with the giant. He looked so frail and exhausted. How could he have the strength to face such a radical surgery, such a drastic blow to the body? Again, this was the 1970’s. There was not a worldwide computer network where we could type the medical name for this surgery – sternectomy – and find out tons of information. All the questions we wanted to ask the doctors about Mr. Keller’s prognosis, they didn’t know the answers to. This was pioneer surgery and the best they could offer was, “It should work.” That’s all Dr. Altemeier would say. The only thing we knew for certain was that the alternative was even worse.
Twelve hours later, Dr. Altemeier came out to see us. A nurse and several doctors accompanied him. “Everything went very well. We took out all the infected bones, just as we discussed. One rib looked a little suspicious … we can deal with that later. I didn’t want for Harry to be under anesthetic any longer.”
“What’s next?” we asked.
“We’re going to keep him sedated for a few days and gradually wake him up. We don’t know how Harry and his body will rebound from this shock. As you know,” said Dr. Altemeier, “we are in uncharted waters. From a surgical side, this was a most successful procedure. But we cannot predict how Harry’s already weakened body will respond to this new trauma.” Those with him nodded their heads affirmatively. “Go home now and get some rest. The nurse will give you the number of the ICU. Call as many times as you like throughout the night to see how Harry is doing. Remember, we are in a marathon, not a hundred yard dash. Everything will be OK,” he said reassuringly. Looking at the family, he said, “You take care of your mom. I’ll take care of your dad.” He turned and walked back into the recovery area for one last look at Mr. Keller.
Shortly, a nurse came in and told us we could see Mr. Keller and explained what we should expect. We all vividly remembered the recovery room situation from the other hospital. This time, it was different. Mr. Keller just looked as though he was asleep except for the tubes, IV bags and machines making all kinds of noises. Since they had his midsection covered with so many layers of gauze and pads, we couldn’t see any difference at all. That would come later. We were satisfied that he was receiving the best of care.
Except for the pain, Mr. Keller was doing amazingly well. After three days in isolated ICU, he was transferred to a private room. Anyone who wanted to see him had to wear a mask and gown. In Mr. Keller’s weakened state, they wanted to take every precaution to be sure he didn’t get another infection. Over the next few days, he was assisted to sit up on the side of his bed, then helped to sit in a chair. He looked like a survivor from a concentration camp – grey, emaciated, hollow eyed, arms bony and covered with bruises.
He seemed to be sitting up better and regaining some small measure of strength and then … the main event. They wanted him to walk to the nurses’ station and back. This was the moment we had been waiting for – and dreading. All of our concerns about his physical limitations were about to be answered. Would he be able to stand upright? Would his body collapse under its own weight without the supporting structure of partial ribs and sternum? Was he going to be able to live anything close to a “normal” life? I could hear Jesus say to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Luke 5:24 and just like the paralytic, Mr. Keller did. He was understandably stiff, tense from pain and anticipation, weak and needing support. But after a heavily assisted, obviously painful rise from his chair, we watched in breathless anticipation as he placed one trembling foot in front of another and slowly paced the length of the hall. His chest was still covered with bandages; he was still attached to a battery of tubes and solution bags, but the removal of his partial ribs and sternum did not seem to be causing any structural problems. His face was intently focused on the physical challenges of remaining upright and moving forward, but he glanced at us with a small smile of triumph. This was truly a miracle. Perhaps his fight with the giant was actually drawing to an end. We were all excited and optimistic for the first time since his initial surgery.
When the dressing was removed, we could see the results of the surgery for the first time. While he was lying on his back, we could see his pectoral muscles, all stitched back together, laid over his internal organs – his lungs, stomach, even his beating heart. We could watch the heart pound, see his lungs inflate and deflate, see the pulsing of the arteries. The area looked like a huge crater caused by an asteroid but on a smaller scale. We were utterly amazed and more than a little overwhelmed with the reality.
Not long after, the nurse said, “He’ll be going back to the operating room to place the mesh and then for skin grafting. They’ve decided to take the grafting skin from his legs, but it is such a large area that they will need to grow the grafts.”
His doctors decided that it was time to put in the mesh to hold his organs in place and give them protection. Once again, Dr. Altemeier was making decisions based on what he thought was needed and when it was needed, making his best medical decisions with little or no research data. His confidence was both frightening and reassuring. By this time, we had stopped asking “has anyone done this before?”
When he had healed enough from the surgery that inserted the mesh, his skin grafting began. He was in the hospital for six months undergoing lots of surgeries. One day, one of the nurses taking Mr. Keller to the operating room looked at his chart and noticed that he had been in the OR seventy times. The last time he went, they discovered another rib was infected. They simply cut the rib out. Finally, all the infection was gone and now the task was to get the area healed.
Of course, there were other complications during his recovery. Mr. Keller’s condition prior to the start of the grafting process was fragile and his recovery was further slowed by continuous returns to the OR and repeated invasive procedures. At one point during the grafting process, Mr. Keller’s kidneys shut down again so he began dialysis. At another point, his heart stopped during a grafting surgery and there was an ongoing concern from that point forward about putting him under for the skin grafts.
Mr. Keller’s recovery from these procedures was slow. Everything was healing up to a point, although he still wasn’t ready to go home. The giant was retreating, but still wasn’t totally defeated.
Then, something happened I’ll never forget.
Jones, Franklin P. N.d. Chapter Subtitle.
HEALING HANDS OF JESUS
His Eyes Were Opened and He Saw Everything Clearly
Mr. Keller’s wound still had a red cast to it. Dr. Altemeier said it needed to have more of a pinkish look. Days went by as we continued waiting for the change in color so Mr. Keller could finally go home. The giant was down but still moving. This could be the final blow, slaying the giant forever.
We were taking Mrs. Keller to the hospital every day to be with Mr. Keller. On this particular day, it was hot and I was exhausted. I asked Mrs. Keller if I could wait in the car. She said she’d shorten her visit. After she left, I put the seat back and closed my eyes. All the noise was muffled by the hospital’s air compressors, which made sleeping even more attractive. I was almost asleep when, in my mind, I saw two hands. I slowly opened my eyes and they drifted shut again. I was so sleep deprived I could not keep my eyes open. Drifting off again, I saw the same hands … I gave up on my attempts to open my eyes to see them and allowed myself to concentrate on the hands themselves and to ascertain their message. They could merely be my tired brain duplicating images I had seen somewhere previously … or the hands could be a vision. I relaxed and fell deeper and deeper into the experience.
The two hands were side by side with the back of the hands facing towards me. Slowly they began to pass over the top of each other. Back and forth … back and forth … the palms of the hands always facing away from me. I felt so at peace and knew it was more than a dream … it was a vision but what did it mean? I immediately thought of Jesus and how He laid His hands on the troubled and they became well. The Gospel writer Luke said, “At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness and laying His hands on them, He healed them.” Luke 4:40
Just then Mrs. Keller tapped on the window and started getting into the car. I raised my head trying to wake up. Mrs. Keller laughed and said, “Boy, you were really sleeping! I’m sorry I took so long, but Harry wanted to talk and Dr. Altemeier stopped by … time kind of got away from me.”
Mrs. Keller … Dr. Altemeier … I was still trying to wake up. “Gone long? You weren’t gone long …”
“Boy, you must be tired! I was in there for over two hours,” she said.
“Two hours!” I said, looking at my watch. As we drove off I whispered “it was just a dream.”
“What did Dr. Altemeier have to say?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s got the whole hospital looking for a jar of some kind of cream that he made up himself. He swears it has great healing powers. He wants to put that cream on Harry … you know, to get that pinkish color.”
The next day Mrs. Keller got into the car with the news that Mr. Keller was going home. “They found that ointment or salve or whatever and they put it on and you should see it. The wound is changing colors right before your eyes. The staff said they had never seen anything like it. Dr. Altemeier is taking all the credit and is lecturing the medical team on the miraculous benefits of his healing salve.” I remembered the vision of the hands. Did the vision have something to do with the healing? Did the visit of the hands give power to the salve? Was this a case where science and faith worked together to bring about healing? I think the latter. God has given us both faith and science so they can work together to bring about healing or what is needed to endure afterwards. Now, as a Pastor, when praying for the sick or troubled, I close my eyes and envision these hands and pray that, if it be God’s will, healing may occur.
Mr. Keller was finally released – it had been six long months. His fight was far from over, but the battle was finally beginning to swing his way. He would have to make weekly visits to the doctors at the hospital to check on the healing, but he was going home! The only permanent side effect was the little wire-like pieces from the mesh that would occasionally work their way out from under the skin over the years. Mrs. Keller would take eyebrow tweezers and pull them out. Nevertheless, the mesh and the skin grafts were considered a success.
THE GIANT IS SLAIN
With God, Nothing Is Impossible
Today, removal of the sternum is not common, but not as rare as in Mr. Keller’s day. While Dr. Altemeier considered Mr. Keller’s procedure a success, I think even he was astonished at Mr. Keller’s recovery. Mr. Keller lived for sixteen years after the surgery that removed his sternum and partial ribs. Dr. Altemeier said he had heard of several occasions where the sternum was removed but he had heard of no one who lived as long as Mr. Keller did afterwards or who had such a large section of sternum and ribs removed, especially no one who at the same time battled breathing problems and had to be on oxygen 24/7. Although Mr. Keller stopped smoking prior to his first surgery and stayed a non-smoker for the rest of his life, his years of smoking coupled with the physical cost his body had paid over the course of his treatment kept him on oxygen for the rest of his life.
Mr. Keller was gradually able to return to some of his pre-surgical activities. Over the course of time, there were improvements in the treatment of his breathing and in oxygen therapy. While initially, the tanks were clumpy and awkward to transport, they eventually became more portable. Mr. Keller began fishing again and we were able to organize some family fishing trips that have become frozen in my mind as miracles of precious moments in time. One particular moment I recall was fishing on the banks of the Ohio River with Mr. Keller… watching him standing there, casting his rod and reel, content and at peace. It was a snapshot in time that I will never forget. How far he had come! We spent some time searching out the best place for Mr. Keller to fish, since there were always concerns about his mobility and strength. Eventually, he and Mrs. Keller settled on Caesar Creek State Park, northeast of Cincinnati and resumed their comfortable fishing companionship, driving up on weekends and refusing to be deterred by cold or rain. I can still see Mrs. Keller standing on the dock at Caesar’s Creek, wrapped in a coat but still dignified, baiting the line for Mr. Keller. We were eventually able to vacation together as we used to before his surgeries.
With his usual precision, Mr. Keller’s life became focused on a series of daily challenges that began with “How will I …” and ended with a well-organized, carefully planned set of steps that would allow him to accomplish each of these small triumphs over pain and suffering. In addition to fishing, he was eventually able to drive his car, do some grocery shopping and participate in other daily household tasks. He also continued his stamp collecting and model construction.
Unbeknownst to us, Mrs. Keller’s health had been quietly declining for some time even though she had routine doctor visits. The strain of Mr. Keller’s long battle with illness and infection had taken a serious toll on her, weakening her until it was too late to do anything. After Mrs. Keller’s heart attack, she made it through the initial heart bypass operation, but she never really recovered from the surgery. She died in my arms in February, 1987 – twelve days after her release from the hospital.
Mr. Keller lived 22 months after the death of Mrs. Keller. After her death, once he was well enough, we took him back to his home. He strove to be as independent as he could and did not want to be a bother to anyone. With the help of his children, Larry, Paul and Mickey he was able to stay in his home for a number of months. He was unable to drive so they took him to the store, to doctor’s appointments, and helped him with meals so that he had minimal preparation. His condition deteriorated over time, he developed pneumonia several times and was hospitalized on a couple of occasions. After those hospitalizations, he came to our house to get well. But, he was always anxious to get back to his own home. He said that he felt Mrs. Keller’s presence there.
After his last hospital visit, we kept him in our home. He became bedridden, was often confused and became very demanding. It was a difficult time for our family but we would not have had it any other way. Mickey and I were able to cope with the help of her brothers, who visited as often as they could, with our children being there and helping, and with a caregiver coming two times a week to bathe him. During those last days of his life, he changed. It was as if he knew he was making his last trip into the Valley of Elah and knew that this time he would not return. As his body slowly shut down, he still remained a fighter until the very end. He became more alert and we felt he held on to this life so that he could have his last Christmas with his children and grandchildren. It seemed that once he was able to see his grandson, Paul, who was home on leave, that he was finally able to let go. He died two days later. He was a courageous man who fought the good fight until the end. We must all journey into the Valley and face our Giant. Mr. Keller’s journey was monumental and heroic, requiring extraordinary courage and determination, but for most people, their battles are not the stuff of legends but the challenges of coping with everyday life.
Giants come in all shapes and sizes – some advance slowly and some arrive unexpectedly. Some batter their opponents physically and some attack emotionally, financially or psychologically. Some giants are easy to identify and plan a counterattack while some are elusive and difficult to grasp.
Looking back from my adult perspective on the giants my mother fought after my father’s death, her years of depression, alcohol use and neglectfulness become much more understandable and the reconciliation that we were able to have before she passed was a gift from God for me and I believe for her. After years of isolation, rejection and occasional stiff, cold conversations on the phone, I invited her for what seemed like the hundredth time to join me and my children (who were then 4, 3 and not quite 1) on a trip to Coney Island. To my shock and amazement she said yes. We had a lovely time, we talked and rode rides, ate hot dogs and cotton candy. It felt like she was a part of the family. When I took her home, she hugged me with the sincerity of a loving, caring mother. We began inviting her to more things and she began accepting. One time, after I invited her to our house for a picnic, I thought it would be fun to let the kids go swimming, so I bought an above ground pool, brought it home and tried to assemble it. How we laughed when the side of the pool collapsed and water began pouring out of the pool into our yard and the yard next door. On the drive back to her home, there was a serious accident on Columbia Parkway and we were stuck in traffic for about an hour and a half. Sometimes, God places us in situations we need to experience in order to help us grow or change. Such was the case with this traffic jam. My mother and I talked the entire time, about my dad and my grandmother, about her grief and depression, about those years of separation, about how wonderful it was to have her back in our lives. I still don’t know what happened – what caused her to find the courage to change and to begin rebuilding some of the bridges that had crumbled over the years, but I believe God placed us in that traffic jam for a purpose. Those few months of companionship were a gift from God. Two weeks after our pool party, Mom suffered a brain aneurism and died. But for me, and I believe for her as well, those happy months brought us closer together and gave us the opportunity to become mother and son once again.
What is it that endows ordinary people with extraordinary courage? What inspires some people with an almost super-human will to live? The genetic traits that make up an individual’s inherent personality are certainly key. The examples and guidance provided by parents and other role models are also important. The environment and circumstances in which an individual is raised can also have a tremendous impact.
Mr. Keller’s natural sense of loyalty, responsibility and family values were forged by the fires of the Great Depression into a passionate commitment to support, security and survival. His meticulousness and precision, developed in response to the demand for him to be everything to everyone allowed him to accept the trials that lay ahead, arm himself for battle with the skills and determination he had honed in life combats and charge into the fray with courage and determination. His ability to compartmentalize, to focus on what he could control and manage was also a contributing factor. Like David, who refused to be encumbered by fancy tunics, coats of armor and cumbersome swords, Mr. Keller chose weapons with which he was comfortable and familiar and on which he could rely – his own courage, strength and fortitude.
Faith in God bolsters that inner core of strength and Mr. Keller had a firm belief in God, although his faith was a very private matter and was not expressed in traditional ways. That faith was a balm to his spirit during times of intense struggle, providing shade for the soul like the terebinth tree in the Valley of Elah. The terebinth tree in the story was described as “a very large and ancient tree of this kind, 55 feet in height, its trunk 17 feet in circumference, and the breadth of its shade no less than 75 feet.” Because of its size, the tree was a cherished object and a landmark for the area. Just as the tree provided comfort and shade for weary travelers, so Mr. Keller’s faith provided him with the strength to continue, confident that God would not send him challenges he didn’t have the strength to meet.
But Mr. Keller also knew that God helps those who help themselves. Like David, he did not pick up just one stone, but armed himself with every weapon at his command. David selected five smooth stones from the stream in order to give himself the best possible chance of success, understanding that his own capabilities were far from perfect. Like David, Mr. Keller drew on all his considerable resources to fight his battle with the giant, reaching into the cool, refreshing stream of his spiritual strength and drawing out the weapons he needed to face his trials with determination.
Mr. Keller was an ordinary man, honed by adversity into an example of extraordinary courage. His courage was not always ostentatious, his battles were private rather than public, but his quiet strength of character as he fought his way through every day and each daily challenge stands as a shining example of taking the gifts God gave him and forging them into a sword of courage that helped him face daily pain and hardship with gratitude for the simple gifts that day would bring.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reverend Wendell Mettey grew up in Cincinnati, OH. After obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Cincinnati, he spent several years as a social worker.
When he felt God calling him to the ministry, he enrolled at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a Master of Divinity Degree (M.Div.). Reverend Mettey has served as Pastor for several churches in the Cincinnati area. In 1991, after visiting war-torn Nicaragua and witnessing the poverty and devastation, he felt called by God to resign from his church and begin Matthew 25: Ministries.
Matthew 25: Ministries, a top-ranked international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization, rescues and reuses 15,000,000 pounds of excess corporate products each year and redistributes them to people in need throughout the US and the world. Matthew 25: Ministries celebrated twenty years of service and the shipment of their 100,000,000th pound of aid in 2011. For more information go to their website at www.m25m.org.
Reverend Mettey and his wife Mickey (Michelle) have three children; Tim, Clare and Aaron. They are also the proud grandparents of Olivia, Ethan, Cora, Noel, Sidney, and Ashlyn.
Reverend Mettey is the author of numerous devotional & inspirational publications. These include “Are Not My People Worthy? The Story of Matthew 25: Ministries” (released in 2004); “What God Desires The Story of the Center for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief” (released in the 2008); “On Which Side of the Road Do the Flowers Grow?” (released in 2009), “Meet Those Who Met the Master” (released in 2012) and “Lost and Found, Stories of Christmas” (released in 2014). In addition to these books, Reverend Mettey has published several compilations of stories, sermons and reflections.
In June of 2003, Reverend Mettey received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service from the American Institute for Public Service and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting the Local Community.
ABOUT MATTHEW 25: MINISTRIES
Matthew 25: Ministries, an international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization headquartered in Cincinnati, OH is the vision of Founder and President Reverend Wendell Mettey. The mission of Matthew 25: Ministries is to fulfill Matthew 25:34-40 of the New Testament by providing nutritional food to the hungry, clean water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, affordable shelter to the homeless, medical care to the ill and humanitarian supplies to those in need (the “least of these”). Additionally, Matthew 25: Ministries is committed to fulfilling Matthew 25:40 by educating the public on the conditions and needs of the “least of these” and by providing resources for action. Matthew 25: Ministries rescues and reuses excess products from corporations and manufacturers and distributes them to the poorest of the poor and disaster victims in their local community, throughout the US and in more than 40 countries around the world.
Matthew 25: Ministries began as the result of a trip Founder and President Reverend Wendell Mettey made with a group of doctors and nurses to Nicaragua in 1990. Upon leaving, Pastor Mettey made a promise to himself that he would find a way to help the people of Nicaragua. Over the years, Matthew 25 has grown from a small group of dedicated individuals carrying supplies in suitcases to an international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization distributing over 15,000,000 pounds of products and helping more than 16,000,000 people each year.
Matthew 25 seeks to address the comprehensive problems of severe poverty worldwide by fostering an environment where individuals can utilize assistance to take steps toward a more sustainable future for themselves and their communities.
More than 99% of Matthew 25: Ministries’ cash and in-kind donations go toward programs. Matthew 25 is highly ranked on Forbes’ list of the Most Efficient Large Charities in the US. Matthew 25 is also ranked among the top four-star charities on Charity Navigator. Matthew 25 is accredited by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Standards and is listed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 400.
Additional Works by
REV. WENDELL E. METTEY
[Are Not My People Worthy?
The Story of Matthew 25: Ministries]
What God Desires: The Story of the Center for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief
On Which Side of the Road Do the Flowers Grow?
Meet Those Who Met the Master
Lost and Found: Stories of Christmas
The above titles are available at major online book retailers and at:
Matthew 25: Ministries
11060 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242
Interested in more inspirational works by Reverend Mettey?
Visit for a collection of his devotions, books and sermons.
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The Valley of Elah chronicles the incredible journey of Harry Keller, a man who beat the odds again and again, endured and survived an unbelievable medical procedure, taking down his giant in his own personal Valley of Elah. A description of the surgical procedure ultimately needed to save his life is still met with disbelief when his story is told. For 16 years he fought the good fight. This is his story...