Minister recounts a trip to 'hell'
by Michael H. Brown
This is the account of a minister, Howard Storm, from Ohio, who "died" in 1985 from a perforation in his intestines and returned with an account of hell. While he's a minister now (at Zion United Church of Christ in Norwood), at the time he was an atheistic professor, chairman of the art department at North Kentucky University.
Storm describes himself as a selfish man who not only didn't believe but detested those who did.
Then came the crisis on June 1, 1985, while he was leading students on a trip to museums in Paris.
"I needed surgery immediately but unfortunately when I got to the surgery hospital there wasn't a surgeon available," says Storm. "It was excruciating. I was in real agony for hours. I said to my wife that it was time to say good-bye. I couldn't hang on any longer. We said our good-byes and I closed my eyes, knowing full well that I was going to die and that when you die it's like an electric switch, the end of you. I knew that as certainly as anyone knows anything. I was waiting for the big zero, the big blackout, the one we never wake up from, the end of existence.
"I went unconscious and I don't know how long it lasted. I felt real strange, so I opened my eyes, and to my surprise I was standing up next to the bed looking down at my body in the bed. I tried to communicate with my wife but she was ignoring me. I tried to communicate with another man in the room, but he ignored me.
"Then I heard people outside the room calling my name in English. I went over to the doorway and I asked if they had come to take me for my surgery and they said, hurry up, we've been waiting for you a long time. I had bad feelings about them but I went with them. As I journeyed with this group of people beyond the room, down what would have been the hall, I began to be aware that the hall had no features and was just space, that I was traveling through a very hazy, ill-lit space and they were moving me along and we went for a very long journey -- there was no time, it could have been days or weeks -- and they became increasingly rude and abusive and hostile and I was becoming increasingly afraid.
"Now we were in darkness over this very long period of time. I said, 'I'm not going with you any further.' They said, 'We're almost there.' They started pushing and shoving me and I fought with them and there were many of them. A wild orgy of frenzied taunting, screaming, and hitting ensured. They had very sharp, hard fingernails. My impression was also that their teeth were longer than normal. I tried to defend myself but with this huge horde of people it was impossible. What they were doing was playing with me, initially scratching and biting, punching and slapping, pushing and taunting, very vulgar.
"Then it got much worse than that. That part's censored. They were playing with me as a cat plays with a mouse. Every new assault brought howls of cacophony. Then at some point, they began to tear off pieces of my flesh. To my horror I realized I was being taken apart and eaten alive, slowly, so that their entertainment would last as long as possible. I want to reiterate that what was happening was extremely real.
"After they had humiliated me to the best of their ability, I was lying on the floor of that place and I had been all kinds of ripped up and broken, outside and inside. I was devastated, having been stripped of any worth. I heard a voice that said, 'Pray to God.' I thought, I don't believe in God, it's a stupid idea. I heard it a second and third time and I was thinking, what did I say when I was a kid? I was 38 and had probably said my last prayer when I was 15 years old. And in my attempt to remember I muttered a few phrases [of old prayers] and with that the people who were around me became very angry and they were saying to me in obscene language which is unimaginable -- nobody has ever spoken like this in this world -- in essence, `There is no God. Nobody can hear you. And if you don't stop we're going to really hurt you.'
"But because the mention of God made them so angry, I tried to remember phrases about God -- anything from my childhood. As I did that I was aware it was driving them away from me, as if the mention of God repelled them. It was as if I was throwing boiling oil on them. And eventually I was all alone in that place. My sense was that they were way, way off in the darkness somewhere. I was left alone there for a time without measure and thought about my life. The bottom-line conclusion was that I had led a bad life. My god was my art career. That's what I worshipped.
"I thought of how cold-hearted and cruel and manipulative I was. I felt where I had ended up was where I belonged, and that the people who had come and picked me up and taken me to this place were people who had lived lives like mine. We were people who hadn't loved God and hadn't loved fellow human beings.
"Now in this place there was nothing left but to tear and gnaw on one another, which was essentially what we had done on earth. I was also aware that this was just the beginning, and that it was going to get worse. Much, much worse. I knew the only way to survive in this place was to be crueler than the people who were around you. There was no kindness, no compassion, no hope.
"I had no hope of seeing the world or getting back to life but I didn't want to be part of their world. I had gone down the sewer pipe of the universe to the cesspool and was still on the top of the cesspool. A memory from my childhood came very vividly of me as a small child sitting in a Sunday school classroom singing 'Jesus loves Me' and the memory was so simple and innocent and pure, believing in something good, and that Jesus cared about me and was good and powerful.
"I didn't believe in Him but I wanted to believe what I had believed as a child.
"So as an act of desperation I called out to the darkness, 'Jesus, please save me.'
"Off in the darkness I saw a pinpoint of light like the faintest star in the sky. I wondered why I hadn't seen it before. The star was getting brighter and brighter. At first I thought it might be some phenomenon like a meteor. Then it dawned on me that it was moving toward me at what apparently was an enormous rate of speed. As it closed in I realized that I was right in its path and I might be run over. But I couldn't take my eyes off it, because emanating from the light was more intensity and more beauty that I had ever seen before in my life. Almost immediately the light was very close. I realized then that while it was indescribably brilliant, it wasn't light at all. It was a living entity, a luminous being approximately eight feet in diameter and oval in shape. Its brilliance and intensity penetrated my body. In a very vivid and beautiful experience I slowly rose up with no effort into the light.
"As I was being picked up I saw all my gore blown away like dust and I was restored physically, and emotionally I was in ecstasy and I knew this person Who had come was Jesus and I knew instantly that He was very intelligent, very strong, and I knew that He was very good, and most importantly I knew that He had loved me more than any concept I had ever had of what love was. If I had taken all my experiences of love and compacted them into a moment, it would have exceeded that.
"And I knew that He knew absolutely everything about me. He knew my thoughts. He knew every moment of my life, even things I didn't remember. And He held me and I cried and cried and cried out of joy and He began to carry me directly straight up, like a helicopter. We started leaving that place.
"Fairly soon we were entering into a world full of light and off to the distance was a great center of brightness.
"The goodness and the love and the holiness were permeating through me, and I thought to myself, I'm a piece of garbage. They've made a terrible mistake, because I don't belong here. I was so ashamed.
With that we stopped our movement and He spoke to me for the first time and He said, `You do belong here, and we don't make mistakes."
A few snippets were inserted from an account of Storm in other sources, especially The Near-Death Experience by Judith Cressy (Christopher Publishing House)
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