In 1970 Cheryl and Larry Wilson were a young, married, missionary couple stationed in the little town of Jacnel, Haiti. Today there are modern roads, but in 1970 there were none. It was a rough, day's journey to Port-au-Prince, the only "modern" city.
Life in Jacnel was simple and without modern conveniences. There was no refrigeration - anything that would spoil had to be eaten the day it was brought home from the open-air market. There were no modern medical facilities at all.
Sadly, while they were there, Cheryl suffered a miscarriage. Larry got her to Port-au-Prince, where she was placed under a doctor's care. She returned to Jacnel when it seemed that she had recovered.
But back home in Jacnel, Cheryl began to hemorrhage. Larry and Cheryl's mother, who was visiting, tried their best to care for her. They knew there was no way that she would survive the rough trip back to Port-au-Prince.
By the second day, a Sunday, the hemorrhaging became even more severe. Cheryl didn't want Larry to worry about her because she knew that he had Sunday services to think about. As her condition worsened, she pulled herself out of bed to try to get to the bathroom.
Larry held Cheryl close to him, willing her back to life, but it was too late. She died in his arms. Larry says that he knew the moment her heart and her breathing stopped and her spirit departed, but he continued to cradle her body as it turned cold and ashen gray, crying and praying that God would have mercy and please return her to him. He loved and needed her so much.
Cheryl was having a much different experience.
As she looked up from the bed, she saw a "beautiful glorious" angel in the upper corner of the room. He was bathed in light. He held out his hand to her and said, "Peace I give unto you."
Cheryl felt herself float up, out of her body toward the magnificent being. For a moment she looked back and saw herself lying in her husband's arms, and saw her mother sitting there, begging the Lord to bring her back. Then, with the angel close beside her, she continued floating up beyond the confining bonds of earth, in a radiant, glorious place. There she saw a river - not an earthly river but a heavenly river - pouring from above from the direction the angel was taking her. There were people in the river, and they were shouting and praising and worshiping God in a language unbound by earthly words.
As Cheryl and the angel progressed upward, the light became more and more brilliant, and Cheryl knew that they were approaching the Father's throne. She couldn't see upward because of the blinding light, but below her she could still see the people rejoicing and praising. She was filled to overflowing with joy and love and peace. The radiance that surrounded and filled her was beyond her wildest imagining.
As the words were spoken, Cheryl felt herself jerked back down into her body.
On earth, Cheryl had been gone for many minutes - it seemed to Larry like half an hour although he hadn't watched the clock. Larry and Cheryl's mother were stunned by the miracle of Cheryl's return to life. Their tears of grief turned to joy.
But as much as Cheryl loved her family, she wasn't happy to be back. In fact, she wept for days, not from physical pain but from her intense longing to return to the unspeakable love and joy she had known in the presence of the Lord.
Speaking to the Wilsons today, more than twenty years later, you know that they will never forget that day in Haiti. Larry's voice is still laced with anguish when he speaks of holding his dead wife. And Cheryl's voice is still filled with awe and wonder as she describes her journey to heaven. After her experience she read with joy about "the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God," which the apostle John had also seen and reported in Revelation 22.
Cheryl says that dying has changed her life. She tries to spend every day praising God with her actions and words and has no fear at all of dying. She knows that what Paul said is true: To live is Christ, to die is gain.