It was the 1st June 1985, and I was in France. I was leading a group of students on an art tour. My wife was with me, and it had come to the last day of our trip. In mid-sentence, I fell to the ground, screaming with intense pain in my stomach. An ambulance came and I was rushed to hospital. The doctor told me that I had a hole in my duodenum.
After some time, with the pain getting increasingly worse, a nurse came into the room and told me and my wife that I was going to have an operation. At that point, because I had suffered so much, I was ready to die. I had thought, during the day, that I was going to die but had hung on by my fingernails, as it were, trying to stay alive.
The problem for me was that I was an atheist. As a teenager I was brought up in a liberal Protestant church. I had lost faith at college and had become a scientific atheist. Now, facing death, I felt nothing but hopelessness, depression and despair. I told me wife, who was not an atheist, and did have some faith. She was in tears.
I closed my eyes and went unconscious. I do not know how much time elapsed, but I found myself standing next to my body. I opened my eyes and there was a body in my bed. I could not understand how it was possible to be outside of my body, and yet looking at my body. I was extremely agitated and upset, because I was yelling at my wife to get her attention. She neither saw nor heard me, and did not move at all.
I turned to my roommate but received the same reaction. He too was oblivious of me, and I became more and more angry and agitated. It was at that point that I heard voices calling me by name, from outside the room.
I was afraid, but the voices seemed friendly. When I went to the doorway of my room I could see figures moving around in a haze, and I asked them to come closer. They would not come close enough for me to see them clearly. I was able to make out only their silhouettes and general features. Whether or not I was dead at this point, I do not know. These beings kept asking me to come with them. Although I asked a lot of specific questions, they evaded them all, giving only general, vague answers. They insisted that I went with them. So, with a great deal of reluctance, I did so.
I continued to ask questions, such as, where were we going. They replied that I would see when we arrived. I then asked who they were, and they responded saying they had come to take me. So I followed them, and we went on a journey that I know lasted many, many miles. There was no landscape or architecture, just an ever thickening, ever darkening, haze. Even though they refused to tell me where we were going, they implied they would take care of me, and had something for me. And I wanted it, not knowing what it was.
Gradually they became increasingly cruel, as it began to get even darker. The creatures also started making fun of me. Some would say to others, ‘Hey, be careful, don’t scare him off’, or, ‘Hush up, it’s too soon for that’. What was even worse, they started making vulgar jokes about me. It seemed at first there were about a dozen of these creatures, but later on I thought maybe forty or fifty. Later still it appeared as if there were hundreds or more.
At this point, I said I was not going any further. This was bluff on my part, because I did not know which way was back, or where I was. I could not figure out how I could still be in the hospital, and have walked so far. The creatures responded by pushing and shoving me. At first I fought back well. I was able to hit them in the face and kick them, except I could not inflict any damage to them. They simply laughed. Then they began to pick little pieces off me with their fingernails and teeth. I experienced real physical pain, and this went on for a long time. I was fighting, trying to fend them off. I was in the centre of a huge crowd, hands and teeth all around me. The more I screamed and struggled, the better they liked it.
The noise was terrible, with loud laughter and constant torment. They went further, insulting me, and violating me in other ways to horrible too talk about. Their conversation was fouler than could ever be imagined.
Eventually I no longer had the strength or ability to fight any more, and I fell to the ground. They seemed to lose interest in me. People seemed to be coming by and giving me a kick, but the intense fury had gone. As I lay there I had the strangest experience. It seemed that a voice came from my chest that spoke to my mind. This was an internal conversation. My voice said to my mind, ‘Pray to God’.
I proceeded to argue with my voice. I said that I did not believe in God, so how could I pray to Him? My voice said, ‘Pray to God’, and I thought, ‘But I don’t know how to pray, I don’t know what praying means!’ For a third time my voice said, ‘Pray to God!’, and I thought I had better try. I started to think things like, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; God bless America’. Just little things that I could remember which sounded holy. Soon the thoughts became mutterings. As they did the creatures around me started screaming and yelling at me that there was no God, and that I was the worst of the worst. They said nobody could hear me, so what did I think I was doing?
Because these evil creatures were so strong in their protest I started to say more. I shouted things at them like, ‘God loves me. Get away from me. In the name of God, leave me alone!’ They continued to scream at me, except now they were retreating back into the darkness. I finally came to the point where I found myself screaming all the things I could think of that sounded religious, but I was completely alone in the darkness.
The creatures had retreated as if my words were scalding water on them. Although I was shouting little pieces of Psalm 23, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil’, and the Lord’s Prayer, I did not believe them. I meant them in the sense that I could see they were having the effect of driving these creatures off, but I was not convinced in my heart about the truth of them.
I was there alone, for how long I do not know. I sank into greater hopelessness, deeper than I could imagine possible, because here I was, in the dark, with nothing. Somewhere, out in the darkness, were the evil creatures. I could not move or crawl, and did not know what to do. In fact I got to the point where I really did not want to exist any more.
So it was at the moment of deepest despair that a tune from my childhood, when I had gone to Sunday School, started going through my head. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’, and I wanted that to be true, more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. With every ounce of my being, I screamed into the darkness, ‘Please Jesus, save me!’ I meant it. I did not question or doubt it, I just meant it with every fibre of my being. Upon doing that a small faint star appeared in the darkness. It grew rapidly, brighter and brighter, and soon it was a large, indescribably brilliant light that picked me up into itself. As it lifted me up I looked down at myself. All my rips, tears and wounds slowly disappeared. As I continued to be lifted up, I became whole and well. I can only describe the light as something of inexplicable beauty. I knew that it was good.
One minute I was an atheist, and in the next minute every part of me wanted Jesus. I lost all my pride, my egotism, my self-dependence, and my reliance on my much-exalted intellect. All of these had ceased to serve me any more – they had failed me. All the things I had lived my life for, had made my god, and had worshipped, had let me down. What I came to cry out for was a hope that was planted within me as small child many years before.
I knew that the light knew me better than anyone knew me. I knew that it loved me in a way I had never experienced love before, and I began to cry. I was completely purging myself of everything that had ever happened to me. Until that time I had probably only cried two or three times. I considered it a show of weakness, and this was the first real cry of my adult life. Now I consider crying to be very important, so I give myself permission to cry if it is appropriate.
This light, which I now refer to as the Angel of Light, was surrounded by other lights, which were angels who came and went. ‘Angel’ means a messenger from God, and this was indeed the case. He held me, and we rose up out of that place of darkness and started to travel through space. I saw, far off in the distance, what I thought was a sky full of stars. As we moved towards it I realised they were all in motion, moving towards or away from the centre.
These angels were patient, good teachers, and constantly made me feel loved and accepted. But they had some very hard lessons to teach me. One of the first things they wanted to do was to reveal certain details of my life. I told them I did not want to do that, because I was ashamed of it. I had spent my life blaspheming and denying the truth, yet here I was being confronted by it. I felt the weight of all the people I had scoffed at, and as a teacher, turned away from God. I had denied the truth. I could not even bear to think of the damage I had done by my cynicism and self-worship.
Together we looked at my life, projected out in front of us in chronological order, from beginning to end. Some parts went by very rapidly, others very slowly. Some parts we watched several times, from different points of view. There was no distinct background, just images of my life. It was the people who were important, not the settings. We were able to go backwards and forwards in time and see different places, yet not really be there.
Whenever we saw areas in my life when I had worked hard for to achieve approval from other people, the angels had no interest in them, and passed by them. I would tell them to stop, because I wanted them to see how hard I had worked to win that award, and to see all the people watching me. But they would say, ‘Yes, but that is not important’. When they came upon some incident that was bad, and there tended to be more bad incidents than good ones, the angels would show it in detail. For example, one of the ways I had sinned, that I had failed in my life, was the way I interacted with people. I saw people as things to get things from. In other words, I manipulated my relationships. I saw how I aggravated my father, because of this I was jealous of his interest in business. I was not doing it intentionally. It was teenage jealousy of the attention my father gave to his work, and not to me. Another situation concerned how a beautiful young woman came into my life, and gave herself and her love to me. But I abused her psychologically, not physically. I took for granted this love of another human being, the gift God had given me.
I saw the children that God had given me as a gift, with a wife to raise them. But I had seen them as extensions of my own ego. If they did what I wanted them to, in other words, if they were like me, they pleased me. But if they acted in ways unlike me I would hate them, and show my anger. I also saw myself constantly withdrawing more and more from people, and living in my own selfish world. I became increasingly unhappy, although I was getting along in the world. I was successful, getting promotions at my work. I was making good money, and everybody thought I was a wonderful guy.
Many times the angels had to stop and simply let me know that they loved me, even though I knew how much I hurt them with the life I had led. I knew how much I had failed their expectations and hopes of what I could have been. I had seen that when I was a young child I had been taught to be a loving, giving, trusting person. But I had turned away from that. It was nobody’s fault by my own.
They showed me how I had turned away from the Lord. It was all pride. I did not get good, faithful teaching when I was a teenager. I received a lot of extremely liberal, humanistic rationalism instead of faith. I saw myself asking people in my church if they believed in Jesus, or in Heaven and Hell. They would say, ‘Well, no, not really’. I saw myself searching for answers. When I entered college I found Marxists and atheists. They seemed to have all the answers about how they were going to change the world through socialism, and their high-minded ideals. That was what I bought into.
There were points in my life when I could see how God had tried to reach me in so many ways. He had tried to reach me through songs on the radio, in stories and novels I had read, and in biographical sketches in history books. He had also tried to reach me through good people loving me, trying to open up my heart, and to be close to me. It seemed that every day of my life, God had reached out for me. Before this experience, if people had asked me whether God was a good God, I would have laughed at them. But now I realise that God is so much better than that which we perceive is good. Good is but a small reflection of that quality.
Having seen my whole life brought in front of me, the angels asked if I had any questions, and I had millions of them! I asked them good questions, absurd questions, intellectual questions, and philosophical questions. Whatever I asked, they answered clearly and simply. People often ask how long I was with the angels. I often say, ‘Longer than my graduate education’. I know that is absurd, but that’s how long it seemed. I told them I wanted to go into Heaven, but they said I was not ready. They said I had to go and live the way God wanted me to live. I argued as strongly as I could, but they were very gentle but adamant. They said that for me, at that time, Heaven was not an option.
I found myself back in my body, and I wanted to tell my wife what had happened. But my body was so racked with pain, and I had come from such peace and joy, that I could not speak to her. The nurses and orderlies came in at this point. It was now about 9.30 in the evening, and they said that the doctor was going to operate on me immediately. I went down to the operating theatre.
The following day when my wife came to the recovery room, I had tubes seemingly everywhere in my body. I tried to tell her about God’s love, and how she had to give herself to Jesus. I told her just to say, ‘Yes’ to him. She thought I was completely mad! When I next saw her, I tried again to tell her more calmly, but I became very emotionally agitated. When the nurses came into the room I would say to them that they were doing the work of God. I told them that because they helped and loved people, and that God smiled upon their work. Needless to say I got the reputation of being a mad man. Then I got my hands on a Bible and began to read Scripture. I began to recite it to people when they came to see me, because I thought maybe my words were not good enough, but of course people did not like that either.
I had to learn, over many months, that my very hot zealous approach to try and convert the world was not having much success.
At first, I would make my wife sit and I would read the Bible to her, in what I now call ‘thunder reading’. It would scream it at her, and go on for hours and hours. After several months she said she was leaving. She said, ‘I love you, but can’t take any more of this’. I could not believe it. Good Christian friends told me that my wife was a gift from God, and that it was sinful for me to drive that gift away. So I learned to moderate, and show her through love, rather than trying to beat Scripture into her. Praise God, she did not leave. I told her I would change my ways, and she too became a believer.
People have asked many times whether I could have dreamed all this, and there were times when I almost thought I had.
This experience changed my life completely. Not only did I eventually become a full time minister, but it changed the way I felt. Before there used to be melancholy and cynicism, but now there is genuine joy, all the time. That’s not to say I don’t have my ups and downs. But behind every day there is a joyfulness. I try, as best I can, to spread that joy and peace.
After a time I was invited to speak to a Bible Study group, and they told me that my story reinforced their faith. I felt such love and acceptance from them that it encouraged me. From there other opportunities began to open up. I am not important, and my story is not important. What is important is that I can encourage someone in their faith. For someone who has no faith, I can get them to re-examine who they are, and what they are. It is my hope that I will be an instrument in leading them to Christ. I do not really know why God chose me to go through this experience, but, as a teacher I had an ability to express things clearly. Because I was a well-known, confirmed atheist, I think God is trying to show people His power.
I have done a lot of research in books, and have interviewed people who have had near death experiences. I have found that many are reluctant to talk about their experience because of ridicule. Other people have gone off the deep end and made gross, wrong interpretations of what they have experienced. For example, I saw a woman on TV talking about her experience. She said, ‘It’s all light and love. There is no Hell and no judgement, just perfect love and light’. I felt sorry for her because she had experienced perhaps a moment of the divine, and had then made very erroneous conjecture from that.
What we do in this world determines where we go out of this world. People try not to face the consequences of their actions. They try to deceive themselves into saying, “I can do whatever I want and it does not matter”. It does matter. Everything that we do in this world matters. We can be forgiven of our wrongdoing but we must converted. This means we must renounce our sins and our guilt. Most importantly, we must accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour.
Howard Storm’s full testimony may be read in his book, “My Descent into Death.”
Howard Storm is now an ordained minister.