Why not me?

77-year-old John Ramsey had devoted his entire life to serving the Lord.

A former pastor who served 45 years in the ministry—27 overseas with the International Mission Board and 18 stateside—Ramsey had led countless people to Christ, bridged cultural boundaries and sacrificed comforts for the sake of the gospel. Still, after retiring, he sensed his faith growing stale and felt a strong conviction to go deeper.

“I felt that I really didn’t love God as I should,” Ramsey recalled with tears. “So I began to pray about it, and while praying remembered the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. I began to pray in more of those terms, that I would love God and love my neighbor.”

At the time, Ramsey had no idea that 10 years later the prayer would lead him to a Vietnamese immigrant, a transplant center and, ultimately, death’s door.

Cuong Manh Tran, a Southern Vietnamese naval officer and reeducation camp survivor, escaped to the U.S. in 1979.

During the seven-day voyage from Vietnam to California, Tran, a Buddhist, surrendered his life to Christ. That commitment led him to Longview, Texas, where he was baptized alongside his family and later became pastor of Mobberly Baptist Church’s small Vietnamese congregation.

Soon after taking the role of lead pastor, Tran’s kidneys began failing. For the next 30 years, he would be in and out of medical appointments, on and off medication and eventually relying on 9-hour dialysis treatments each night.

“I wanted more and more people to know the Lord, so I kept working,” Tran said. “I wanted to find the lost people and bring them back to God.”

When Ramsey met Tran in 2012, he was still pastoring but losing strength daily. By 2016, he could no longer work, and doctors placed him on a kidney transplant list.

Ramsey remembers praying for Tran during a daily devotional.

“I was praying for Brother Tran, and it was as if the Lord said, ‘What’s wrong with your kidney? You give him yours.’ And I just knew I had to do this.”

Tran accepted the proposition, but struggled to comprehend his friend’s decision.

“I couldn’t imagine someone giving a part of their body to me,” Tran said. “We had prayed for a kidney, but I thought it would come from someone who had already gone to be with the Lord. God had other plans for me, and he had other plans for John Ramsey—for us to be used for his glory.”

The two began the six-month process to prepare for a transplant. Every two weeks, Ramsey made the trip to Tyler to see different doctors, have more tests and verify the procedure was safe. Aware of the risks, Ramsey still never worried.

“I had the understanding that Lord would close the door if he needed to,” he said.

The morning of the procedure dawned with hopeful certainty. Both surgeries ran smoothly. Tran’s new kidney went to work just as a kidney should. Ramsey even got to go home early.

“Everything went well,” remembers Tran. “Mr. John came by before he went home, and I was very happy to see him. In my mind, everything was good.”

One week after the surgery, however, Ramsey developed serious stomach pains. Emergency room doctors diagnosed him with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rare condition from which only two percent of patients survive. Even after an emergency surgery, his body began to shut down. Family and friends prepared for the worst.

Tran, still recovering from his own surgery and under doctor’s orders to stay home, was distraught. Helpless, he begged God for his friend’s healing.

“I didn’t know what to do except pray to God for a chance to see each other again, a chance to get on with our lives,” Tran said.

Their prayers were answered, and two weeks later Ramsey was released from intensive care. He had to relearn everything from walking to swallowing during months of physical therapy, but his wife, Ann, said she knew this was all part of God’s plan.

“God didn’t want to just heal one man,” she said with a tearful smile. “He wanted to heal two. He multiplied the miracle.”

Today, both Ramsey and Tran are healthy. Tran is back working at the church occasionally. Ramsey is back enjoying resident activities at Westminster Place. They even spent Thanksgiving together.

“To me, he’s more than a friend,” Tran said. “Before this we were brothers in Christ, but now he’s my brother in life by blood too.”

As the two pastors sat inside the simple double-wide trailer that is the Vietnamese church and shared their story, a red banner with gold-threaded Vietnamese lettering stood behind them.

The words on the banner? “From morning to night, we remember what The Lord gives us.”

Hargett named executive director of Baptist Retirement Community

Buckner Retirement Services named Aaron Hargett as executive director of Baptist Retirement Community, effective Sept. 1.

Hargett has served Baptist Retirement since 2007, first as administrator of home health and hospice and then as director of independent living. As executive director, he will be responsible for overseeing the daily operations and future direction of the nonprofit senior living community.

“I am thrilled to bring Aaron onto our executive leadership team,” said Charlie Wilson, senior vice president of Buckner Retirement Services. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen that he is servant-hearted, passion-driven and more than capable of managing such a large community. There’s really no one better for the job.”

Baptist Retirement Community is a thriving 100-acre senior living community located in the heart of West Texas’ Concho Valley. Home to more than 500 senior adults, the Life Plan community offers a full continuum of living and care, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, long-term and skilled nursing.

Hargett comes to the executive director position with nearly 30 years of experience in medical and social services, including director of San Angelo’s Shannon Rehab Center. He is active in the San Angelo community and currently serves on the board of the Rotary Club of San Angelo. Hargett earned both his bachelor’s degree in psychology and his master’s in clinical psychology from Angelo State University.

Hargett thanked leadership from Buckner International, Buckner Retirement Services and Baptist Memorials Ministries for the opportunity to continue serving West Texas senior adults through life-enriching programs and expert health care.

“The staff and residents here at Baptist Retirement have become like family,” Hargett said. “I’m grateful to be part of their lives and look forward to growing this community into San Angelo’s leading senior living provider.”

Choosing to move on: Flood victim finds new life at Parkway Place

Joan Haggard

86-year-old Joan Haggard arrived at Parkway Place just days after losing everything to Hurricane Harvey. This is her story.

Joan Haggard’s weathered tan journal sits unassumingly atop the kitchen table in her new Parkway Place apartment, next to a neat stack of papers, files and phone numbers—the essentials salvaged from her flooded Houston home. In black ink and perfect cursive, the journal tells pieces of the 86-year-old widow’s Hurricane Harvey experience.

Like many, Haggard lost nearly everything in the historic storm. Family mementos, tokens from her 62-year marriage and items locked inside a “waterproof” safe—all ruined by the four feet of water that sat in her home for more than a week. If Haggard were to stand at the front of her home today, she could see all the way through the back door.

“It’s different,” Haggard said. “You never think of this happening to you.”

During the storm, Haggard stayed with her son’s family in Bellaire. The 40-year-old house had never flooded before, but a few days into Harvey it began taking in water. The water, which rose to more than a foot, forced Haggard and her family to move to a neighbor’s second story garage. There, she slept several nights on the floor, underneath the pool table.

“Otherwise, it’s not so easy for an 86-year-old to get off the floor!” she laughed.

Haggard, who grew up in West Texas, has lived in Houston for 48 years. She’s raised three children, buried one son to Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and for 47 years was the sole caregiver for her husband after a plane crash left him paralyzed.

Still, most would characterize Haggard by her unwavering faith and gentle optimism.

“Life is okay,” Haggard said. “You go on. You survive, and here in Houston I think we all come out better. We can choose to.”

Haggard was the first of more than 15 residents to move to Parkway Place as a direct result of Hurricane Harvey. Some stayed at the Houston senior living community only temporarily, others made plans to call it home permanently. Haggard says they share a unique bond.

“When I walked in, I knew it was okay,” she said. “I felt like I was family, like I was right where I belonged.”

Fellow residents, Haggard remembers, joked that living at Parkway Place during Harvey was like living on an island: all the surrounding areas were covered in water.

“They said it must have something to do with the retired missionaries who live at Parkway Place,” laughed Haggard.

Already, Haggard has made herself at home at Parkway Place, jumping in to ongoing Bible studies and activities like Bingo, which she regrettably didn’t win. Her longtime friend, Betty Beard, moved to Parkway Place shortly after Haggard. The two live just two doors down from each other.

“I feel comfortable here,” Haggard said. “I feel loved.”

Since the flood, Haggard has only visited her home once. Even then she had to wear a surgical mask to keep from inhaling dust and debris.

Around her wrist, Haggard wears a white rubber bracelet with the word “hescycha” printed in blue. The word is Greek for stillness. It’s a practice, Haggard says, she clings to now more than ever.

“I’m learning to be still and listen to God,” she said. “We talk to him so much in our prayers, but he says to just be still and know that he is God. I lost things, but they’re just things. I’m very blessed.”

The one thing she made sure to take with her to Parkway Place? A framed photo of her husband that had been hanging in their bedroom. She wanted him to be with her.

“I think he would like it here,” she smiled.

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