I remember the night I asked God to bring me back to Him. At just 18 years old, I was on tour with an indie rock band, but this night seemed different from any of the others before. Unlike the lively bars, venues, and festivals that had become our normal, my band played the show at a youth drop-in centre. Five teenagers sat on the floor watching us, blinking behind thick mascara, their faces expressionless as they hugged their own legs. I nailed every note, pulled the same moves, and struck every pose. Yet something about the vacancy in their eyes was humbling. I never expected—with my proud showmanship—that people would respond with such quiet vulnerability. I don’t know what made me do it, but after the show I decided to climb to the roof of the venue.
There, alone for the first time on our month-long tour, I prayed. It was probably the first time I had prayed that whole summer. As I looked down upon the street lights, suddenly I had no idea what to say. Awkwardly, I thanked God for my graduation from high school months before and for my band’s tour, a dream come true for an 18-year-old. I paused. Then I asked God why I was so alone. My striving and dreaming had led me here, to a youth drop-in centre. These children were probably close to my own age. I imagined them living near or at the poverty line. I imagined their families broken up by alcoholism or some other tragedy. Yet all I had to give them was a skinny little dance with my bass guitar. I thought of a cuckoo bird twitterpated with his own feathers. I knew that I was made for more. That’s when I asked God to bring me back to Him. It’s hard to say exactly at what point my story fully formed, in the grand narrative of creation, but nonetheless I believe that prayer changed my life.
I was born the son of two incredibly faithful and God-loving parents. As I child I loved Sunday school, especially worship. I relished in the opportunity to dance, sing, and make people smile. Yet, as I grew older, I slowly became jaded and disillusioned with the faith. I went to a private Christian high school, where indulgent families lavished excess on their self-assured children. Where I once felt enabled to dance and sing in worship, I now felt judged and ostracized by my peers. Therefore, with a touch of bitterness, I joined my band. We had amazing opportunities, more than I can describe in this article. My band was my family. They were the ones who loved, valued and accepted me. Imagine how disappointed I was, then, on tour when I saw the wake of my performance and showmanship being overwhelmed by emptiness and loneliness.
After that prayer on tour, I would never be the same. Something terrible happened. We got into a car accident on our way home to B.C. after our last show in Alberta, and a helicopter picked me up from the crash site. I was taken to a hospital in Vancouver, where I went into a coma. I stayed in the coma for a month and a half and awoke with severe brain damage. Honestly, those early memories are very cloudy for me. My brain had reset itself, and I became like a baby all over again. I couldn’t walk, I could barely talk, my memory was severely damaged, I weighed under 100 pounds, I had lost my sense of music and rhythm, I could barely maintain a conversation, and any sense of social awareness went out the door for me. I barely even recognized my own brother at first. My talents and gifts had passed away. Everything about me had changed, and I felt like I was left to mourn my own death.
Recovery was long and hard. Actually, it seemed that all I could think about during that time was myself. I deeply felt the lack of my own talents. I obsessed over practicing songs and scales, as if I could fix my brain by recovering the musicality I’d lost. I was embarrassed by my slurred speech. It was hard to contribute to relationships when I could barely remember meeting with that person the week before. I felt worthless with my inability to make people smile like I did when I was a child. Out of deep self-loathing, I committed myself to recovery, motivated mostly by guilt. Life like this carried on for roughly a year back home from the hospital before I finally came to an impasse.
I thought recovery was the answer to all my problems, the key to my salvation. Everything depended on me and my performance. One night I had failed especially badly, and I felt the altar I had built for myself crumble. In my idolatry, I realized that recovery was an unforgiving god, one I gave more power the longer I served it. I realized I had nothing, just like that night at the youth drop-in centre. So I asked God to bring me back to Him just as I had on tour long ago. I needed Him to heal me if my life was going to amount to anything.
I came to Summit Pacific College later that same year, two years after the initial accident. Bible college was incredibly lonely and difficult at first because I was still very in much in recovery. Nonetheless, God has built victory into my life, layer by layer, to this day. I’ve learned to hope in the future because the battle is already won. I’ve also learned to stand by God in humility whenever I face my greatest challenges. My life is a gift and an adventure that I get to share with others. While residual tendencies from my injury remain, they are a part of my brokenness that reminds me how dependent I am on His grace. Having been through four years of college, I plan to graduate next spring. Following graduation, I hope to join campus ministries at UBC and begin studying for my MDiv at Regent University. My God heals the broken. He has healed me for the sake of His love and His calling over my life. My testimony is witness to this.
Paul Engels lives in Abbotsford, B.C., on campus at Summit Pacific College. He expects to graduate in 2020 from the pastoral theology program with a certificate in church audio and media. Currently he serves on the worship team at Christian Life Community Church in Abbotsford. This article appeared in the October/November/December 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.