March 19, 2022

Confessions of a COVID Meme Lord

An Adventist pastor shares his fight against COVID and thanks God for a second chance.

Rajmund Dabrowski and Jon Roberts, Mid-America Union Conference Outlook

COVID has taken so much from the lives of so many, from missed celebrations to children losing their parents because of this deadly virus. But through it all we should never underestimate the presence and work of the divine Spirit. 

For one pastor in central Wyoming, United States, COVID changed his life, and his experience has given him a renewed love for the Lord and a deeper desire for knowing His presence. 

Like most pastors, Shayne Vincent, who serves in the Casper district, has been dealing with the harsh realities of the pandemic for two years. Shayne explains how trying to prevent the deadly virus caused him to catch it.

“After a long year and a half of protecting our church family from COVID by setting up sanitizing stations, providing masks, and social distancing pews (with humorous signs like ‘You will find Me when you seek Me… just not in this pew; keep seeking’) with only a few mild cases, we thought we dodged the bullet. We only had to shut down for two months during the pandemic. The effects appeared so minimal, I must confess my indulgence in the steady stream of COVID memes making their way around the internet,” Shayne says. 

 “When the Delta wave was rising this past fall,” he adds, “with a roll of the eyes, we decided to create an isolated ‘mask-only’ section. And, ironically, that’s how I caught COVID. During a surprise birthday party, the person who blew out the candles didn’t know they had COVID. Well, everyone ate the cake. There were nearly 30 of us who got sick. And a handful of us ended up in the hospital. And I was the worst of them all,” he says.

‘I Am Not Going to Make It’

As Shayne’s battle with COVID continued going downhill, his wife, Gabriela, saw how the early days of the virus began taking a toll on routine life. After his hospital stay, Shayne’s oxygen levels dropped to the 60s at home, causing Gabriela to face her fears and want to take immediate action. But Shayne didn’t want her to call 911.

Gabriela recalls Shayne’s fever, endless coughing, exhaustion, and how he slept for days at a time. “We tried every natural remedy available at the house, even Ivermectin, but Shayne was only nominally better,” she says. “After an overnight emergency room visit and a long week of failed treatments, his symptoms worsened. I had adjusted his oxygen to the maximum of 5 LPM (liters per minute), but his oxygen saturation was still dropping to the mid-60s.” 

Finally, through tears, Shayne told Gabriela that he didn’t think he would make it — yet he still didn’t want to go to the ER. “So, I snuck into our living room and called 911 against his will,” Gabriela states. “The ambulance showed up a few minutes later, and Shayne was placed on full-blast, 100 percent oxygen on his way to the hospital. It was a move that he later thanked me for, as it likely saved his life.”

In that moment of desperation, Gabriela found her refuge in the Lord. “As I witnessed my husband being taken away in the ambulance, I got in my car and began to cry uncontrollably. I followed the ambulance to the hospital, even knowing that I would not be able to join him due to COVID protocols. When I finally returned home, I went down on my knees, and prayed louder and harder than I have ever prayed before.”

The answers to Gabriela’s questions about Shayne’s condition arrived slowly. “His lungs were 85 percent filled with COVID pneumonia. And because I was only able to get updates from his nurses twice a day, the days were long, and the nights were even longer. And there was no good news. There were times that I didn’t even know if he was still alive.”

The deadly aspect of COVID is that you can’t breathe. “It feels like having a plastic bag over your head with only a pinhole to breathe through,” Shayne recalls. “And my response to slowly suffocating to death was not faith. It was anxiety and fear. I was truly dying. And I couldn’t see past the nothingness.”

Shayne states that over the years he has had a hard time trusting God because it felt like every time he lowered his guard and handed God the steering wheel, He would veer off the road into a tree! “You see, I had come into the church from the world — a world that abused me — only to be abused again by fanaticism in the church.”

For Shayne, it took more than a decade to learn his way out of the hopelessness of perfection doctrine through to the true gospel. “And still there are always those nagging doubts that eat away at your sins,” Shayne says. “It’s one thing to attempt to believe in salvation through grace; it’s completely another world to step out into the pitch-black nothingness of death based only upon the promises of mercy from God for sinners.”

Drinking Every Last Drop

With Shayne’s condition worsening, he was transferred to ICU. And in his desperation, Shayne cried out to God at the top of his voice from his secluded ICU bed. He was still calling on the Lord to save him when an unexpected visitor arrived with a message. He recalls the story in his own words: “‘Where are you? I cannot sense you!’ I cried out through the coughing spasms, barely breathing through suffocating attack after attack. ‘Help me, Jesus’ (gasping, tears flowing). ‘Help me, I’m dying!’ And He came! Oh, He came! And when I knew that He had not abandoned me in my darkest hour, I was at rest. I no longer cared if I lived or died. Because He was there; that was all that ever mattered. It was then that the Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Shayne, you’re not going to die. But I’m not going to pull the punches at all. You’re going to drink every last drop of this cup.’ I said to Him, ‘Thy will be done, Lord,’ with a deep sigh of relief. ‘I’m just happy You’re here! Please stay with me tonight.’ And He did. The following morning, the Lord answered me directly by pointing me to Psalm 116.”

After days of his condition worsening and being on a CPAP machine, Shayne’s condition improved enough for him to be moved out of ICU. Within a week, he was well enough to allow a conference-wide anointing service to be held through Zoom. And that was the turning point of his recovery. 

Within a month, the moment Shayne, Gabriela, and their family were waiting for happened: the doctors discharged him from the hospital.

Yet several weeks after his discharge, Shayne still could not breathe into his lower lungs. They were shut off like a wall. And he would often wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air and coughing endlessly. That’s when another unexpected visitor arrived.

Shayne says: “It was midnight, and my wife was there helping me in spite of having to work at 4 a.m. I felt terrible for her. She went into the kitchen to make me some hot tea. Just then, I felt a presence enter my room. A heavenly one. He walked up to my side of the bed and reached out and touched my lungs. And with a pop like a soda can, my lower lungs began to open! I could breathe again! I symbolically grabbed His hand and cried tears of joy! ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’”

From Nothing to Everything

The COVID experience is one Shayne never dreamed he would go through. Now, as someone who often downplayed the pandemic, his viewpoints have changed.

“I have never been of the mind that this was a fake disease. We all know it is real. But based upon percentages, it’s easy to minimize just how seriously deadly it can be,” Shayne admits.

Regarding vaccinations, he adds, “While I would not tell anyone what to do concerning COVID, what I can say is that everyone who had been fully vaccinated in our church had mild symptoms. The statistics from our Advent hospitals say that only 20 percent of the serious hospitalizations are coming from the vaccinated. So, regardless of the complexities of the politicization, vaccination is still more effective than not.”

Shayne explains how he currently views the pandemic: “As far as would have, should have, that point is moot. But in the now, I’ve been humbled by God. And I have repented; I am no longer a COVID meme lord. COVID truly can be a life and death issue among multiple age groups. And we need to approach it with empathy, not mockery.”

In addition, he believes there is an important reason God is having him drink this cup to its last drop. “The epiphany is that when you are dying, the illusions of this world fade away. Life becomes superfluous, like a vapor; there is nothing left. Your mind, your adventures, your achievements, even the people you love — they’re all gone. And if you don’t have the Lord, you literally have nothing. But if you have the Lord, you truly still have everything!”

Spending Time in God’s Heart

Shayne Vincent believes that God isn’t done with him yet; God is giving him a second chance at life and ministry.

“The Spirit showed me one last thing after I was out of the hospital. It comes from a revivalist by the name of Dennis Readier. He says, ‘God isn’t just wanting us to hear His voice through our spiritual gift; He wants us to spend time in His heart.’ This took me a minute. God isn’t interested in our being ‘spiritual’ as much as He is in us knowing Him.”

Shayne would like everyone to consider one thing: “It isn’t in the miracles. It isn’t in the gifts. It isn’t in the material success. And it certainly isn’t in political solutions. The only safe place at the end of life is in the cleft of the Rock, listening to His voice, looking upon His goodness as He passes by, for He knows us all by name. And in His presence, we find rest.”

The original version of this story was posted on Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.

Rajmund Dabrowski and Jon Roberts, Mid-America Union Conference Outlook
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