Just being run over by a dump truck.
And the intercession of two angels.
“I had a new bike for Christmas,” he remembers, “but I looked the wrong way. My pelvis was crushed, my bladder was injured and so were both my legs,” he relates in a voice so quiet it almost is a whisper.
“I was slipping in and out of consciousness. Then two men, both Methodists, started praying over me. I knew right then that I was going to be all right, and that I wanted to go into the ministry.”
He was and he did.
That was in Greensboro, N.C., when he was but 8 years old.
Today, at 61, he walks in an unnatural gait, the result of the accident. But he has never forgotten the two strangers. “When I get to heaven, they’re some of the first people I intend to look up.”
The accident was one of two pivotal moments in his life that led to his chaplaincy at Christus Spohn.
The second, eight years later, was when he was homeless, living on the streets.
“At that time, my father abused my mother terribly. One night I pulled a gun on him to make him stop beating up my mother. After that, I left home.”
He ended up renting a one-room apartment.
“The best part was that I could sign my own report cards,” he says, and laughs.
To break the suspense, he says that later in life his father completely changed. “He became a loving husband and a loving father.” When he died, Styers officiated at his funeral.
“When I announced that I wanted to go into the ministry,” Styers smiles, “My father said ‘You can go to any school you want — just not Baptist.’”
Styers was graduated with a B.S. in pastoral ministry in 1976, from Arlington Bible College — a Baptist institution.
While at Arlington, he was the yearbook editor and a photographer.
“I was covering a basketball game when I met Barbara. I asked her if she would hold the tripod. She held it during the entire game. You may not believe this, but the moment I saw her, I knew she was to be my wife.”
His faithful tripod bearer in tow, Styers then earned a ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary.
Each chapter of his life, he says, better prepared him for what he is doing now.
First there was a dozen years of pastoring churches in Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia and, finally, Cleburne, Texas.
“My wife is the best minister’s wife,” he declares, his voice growing even softer. “I couldn’t do what I do without her. That’s her ministry.”
While in Cleburne, he volunteered to be a prison chaplain in Fort Worth.
That led to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s hiring him for the Garza East Unit in Beeville.
His homeless days in Greensboro gave him an edge.
“I have lived where they, the inmates, had lived. I could read between the lines.”
Every week for the next five years, he conducted two church services and taught five Bible classes.
“Prison ministry is mostly preaching and teaching,” he says.
But almost everything in a prison, he says, is negative. “People put in the least of what is expected to get something done. They’re not motivated”
His ministry in such a harsh environment “was wonderful. To be there when you are needed.
“There are men there who God has changed. They’ve gotten out, gotten jobs and gotten good marriages.”
Still, he shakes his head, “the recidivism rate there is 80 percent.”
“But,” he admits, “I do miss it. I keep thinking about going back as a volunteer.”
Switching to hospital ministry involved some adjustment.
“Here, this is a ministry of listening and comfort, just like the two guys when I was eight.”
While 66 percent of the county’s hospitals provide the services of a chaplain, jobs remain scarce, despite research conducted by the Borgess Medical Center in Michigan that indicates patients visited by chaplains are less anxious and experience shorter hospital stays. No fewer than six similar studies are underway at New York’s Health Care Chaplaincy.
Sitting in the tranquil, first-floor hospital chapel, Styers says that while services are conducted there by Roman Catholic priests, the Christus Spohn Hospital system does not require its chaplains to be Roman Catholic.
“One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is ‘What is a good Baptist like you doing in a Roman Catholic hospital?’”
The answer, he tells them, is that “ministry is ministry. When people are hurting, they need prayer.
“The best part of being here is working with the employees who are so motivated, and I feel blessed for being able to minister beside them.”
On a bulletin board in his office is posted what he considers his mission statement:
Hope – everyone needs something in life that keeps them looking forward to another day.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.