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“What’s the purpose of serving the Lord if we’re not going to respond to Him when He’s speaking or asks you do something — even if it’s hard? Should we say, ‘No Lord, go find somebody else because I’m comfortable like this?’” —Timm Ziegler
Timm and Megan Ziegler pastor two churches that are a 5½-hour train ride apart. The criticism of their efforts has been harsh and plentiful. But on Jan. 29, God gave Timm a real-life confirmation that included a dying woman, a Secret Service agent, prayer, and a divine encounter that no one could ever forget!
The Zieglers have pastored for more than seven years at Life Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, having transitioned there after growing a youth group from 16 to over 150 in New Jersey. But they learned that Full Gospel Church in Wall, New Jersey, a once-thriving congregation, had dwindled to about 30 people — and hadn’t had a pastor for six years.
There didn’t seem like there was much chance for the Zieglers to assist this dying church, but then God gave Timm a visionary dream — Timm never dreams: He was to pastor both churches for a year, but in an unusual manner.
How? The church boards settled on Timm, who’s now 44, living in one community for one week, and the other the next to minister and meet needs. The week he is gone, the church he is absent from receives a live stream of that week’s sermon from the other church.
Called New Hope Project, the Zieglers believe God’s desire is for the two churches to be mutually beneficial to each other. “I want to see people’s lives transformed,” Timm says. “I’m totally about evangelism, outreach, and people coming into the kingdom of God, but I also want the churches to be known as disciple-making churches.”
But as the Zieglers have learned, following God’s direction isn’t always easy or popular. They have experienced a lot of criticism. And although the church in New Jersey is on its way and looking to double in size since the project began in fall 2017, more than two dozen have left the Virginia congregation.
It’s at times like this that any Christian could be left thinking, God, did I hear you right? Am I doing the right thing?
On Monday, Jan. 29, Timm prepared to leave for Virginia for his week-long stint there, pausing to pray with Megan. Megan specifically asked God to help them know where He was leading — to speak confirmation or direction to show them where He was moving. It was, in a sense, a plea for help from a pair of faithful, but hurting hearts.
Ziegler typically used the long train ride to work on his sermons, conduct church business, and even to catch up a bit on some sleep. As did many passengers, he had his headphones on to dull the rail and passenger noise. But this time, as he was speaking to his secretary through a Bluetooth headset, he suddenly became aware that a passenger was yelling — and very loudly.
“This big guy (Kevin) — he must have been 350-400 pounds — is screaming, ‘This woman is dying, this woman is dying! Help, help!’” Ziegler recalls.
As others just stared, Ziegler jumped over the back of his seat and reached the woman, who was slumped over in her seat. Calling out for a doctor or medical staff, he took the woman’s vitals — he could detect nothing. A retired doctor suddenly joined him as he picked the woman up and laid her down in an open luggage area on the passenger car floor, tilting the woman’s head back to help clear her airway and prepare her for resuscitation.
As the doctor and Ziegler worked, suddenly “Big Kevin,” who was highly stressed by the incident, believes he’s now having a heart attack. He fell over in his seat and started to paw at the doctor and Ziegler, screaming for help.
With that, the situation escalated from “scary emergency” to “you have got to be kidding me!”
Ziegler, without even thinking, started praying. But it wasn’t one of those quiet, lips-barely-moving prayers. No, he began praying out loud at the top of his voice.
“I remember praying, ‘Jesus You got to bring the breath of life back into her,’ and then I started speaking in tongues,” Ziegler says.
Suddenly, as Ziegler recalls it, “a ninja dude” leaped over him and the doctor, told them to move, and started chest compressions on the woman. He asked for the time (5:03) and then sent Ziegler to find a medical kit and oxygen. During the transition, Ziegler noticed the man had a badge and a gun on his hip. He would later learn the man wasn’t a police officer, but Secret Service Agent Christopher Watson — a 14-year-veteran agent who was on his way to work as a member of the Presidential Detail for the State of the Union address.
When Ziegler found the medical kit, it was zip-tied to the interior train wall so tightly he couldn’t break it free. A former lobster fisherman, Ziegler always carried a knife, and was finally able to free the kit.
“I’m still praying like crazy,” Ziegler says. “When I return, Big Kevin is now sitting up, he’s screaming because he can’t feel his arm. I try to calm him — his arm had gone to sleep because he had been lying on top of it.”
The conductor then arrived, carrying a portable defibrillator (AED). Having to get contact with bare skin, Ziegler pulls his knife back out and assists in cutting the woman’s clothing to allow the machine to work.
The AED indicated the woman’s heart needed to be shocked, so Watson administered the shock and then went back to giving chest compressions. Ziegler continued praying in a voice that was clearly heard from one end of the passenger car to the other.
At one point, Ziegler remembers calling out, asking what else he could do. This time it was the onlookers who responded: “Keep praying!”
What made matters even more critical, Ziegler believed that the woman experiencing the heart attack was possibly pregnant and then the retired doctor started to black out and could no longer help. Watson instructed Ziegler to continue the chest compressions as he jumped up and ran to the front of the train in search of a respirator . . . with Big Kevin still screaming and Ziegler praying over the top of it all.
Watson returned and switched positions with Ziegler. The doctor expressed doubt — “It’s been too long, you guys should just stop,” she advised.
Watson gave Ziegler a look, “We are not stopping until the paramedics come!” he ordered. Ziegler agreed, anointed the woman with oil, and kept praying, going back and forth between English and tongues.
The two men would labor over the women for nearly 45 minutes before the Amtrak police arrived with oxygen, an air bag for her face, a mask, and other needed medical supplies. Thirteen minutes later, the paramedics were on the scene, tending to the woman, Big Kevin, and the doctor, who needed assistance to stand.
Although the paramedics arrived, Watson and Ziegler remained on the scene, assisting them. Ziegler even prepared the blood glucose kit — as his son is a Type 1 diabetic and he had done the drill countless times.
Finally Watson, who is a professing Christian, joined Ziegler in stepping back as the paramedics took the woman off the train on a stretcher.
With the train temporarily stopped in Baltimore, the authorities came and took the men’s statements about their experience. When it was over, Ziegler needed some air and walked out to the end of the train platform by himself.
“I totally lost it,” he admits. “I was hyperventilating, gasping for air, tears streaming from eyes . . . when suddenly someone said out loud, ‘You did good,’ and side hugs me, grabbing my shoulders. As I struggled to recover, he just kept saying, ‘You did good. You did what needed to be done. I’m proud of you.’”
After a few minutes, Ziegler regained his composure and turned to thank the man who had been comforting and encouraging him — no one was there. He walked back down the platform and was greeted by the train master, Emily Hunt.
She expressed her appreciation for the effort Ziegler and “that other guy” made in saving the woman’s life. Ziegler paused and asked, pointing to the end of the platform, “Did you just now see anyone with me down there?” Hunt responded that no one was with him — everyone had stayed back because they could see he needed a minute to himself.
Lord, was that you? Ziegler wondered. “Megan told me I needed to hear from the Lord, and she was right, but this . . . ?”
Watson confirms that he didn’t go out onto the platform, no one else from the train would have a the type of relationship with Ziegler to give him a hug, or would have known to speak those words to him.
But whether it was the Lord, an angel, or somehow an unseen person comforting Ziegler at the end of the platform, those were the very words Timm and Megan so desperately needed to hear.
Returning to the train, Ziegler exchanged business cards with Watson, for the first time fully realizing Watson was a highly trained special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Ziegler admits he was deeply impressed by the way Watson had coolly handled himself and had managed to perform CPR for nearly an hour and barely broke a sweat.
But Ziegler made an impression as well. “He asked me how I learned how to pray like that,” Ziegler says. “I laughed and told him I was a pastor. And then he says, ‘No, you’re a pastor with a knife. I’ve never heard anyone pray like that — you just kept praying and praying. I never heard anything like that in my life!’”
Watson says, that aside from an ER doctor, he couldn’t have asked for a better person to assist him.
“You could tell, he wasn’t just grasping at straws, his prayers were awesome, just awesome — they inspired me!” Watson says. “Hopefully the woman could hear them at some level — his prayers were incredibly helpful.”
The comparisons between Timm’s 9-1-1 experience and the Ziegler’s current ministry experiences are uncanny, with almost every person in the 9-1-1 story relating to a similar ministry experience — such as the dying woman and the church that was dying.
As far as what God did on the train, Megan later observed, that even though the woman seemed unresponsive, she could possibly still hear Timm’s prayers as God can touch a person in their moment of need. “Scripture says tongues are not a sign for the believer, but for the unbeliever,” she said.
Timm agrees, acknowledging that God had him in “the best possible place for the unbeliever” to hear the heart of God. “My hope is that God sent the convicting Spirit of God into the hearts of everyone in that passenger car,” he says.
Watson hopes that the family of the woman learns that in her hour of need, people were actively trying to help her, were praying for her, and intervening on her behalf. “We cared very much for this woman, even though we didn’t know her,” Watson says. “If it were my daughter, I would want to know that she was not alone.”
For the Zieglers, this 9-1-1 experience has spoken to them beyond onlookers’ observations to the very heart of their ministry and their struggles. They believe, beyond doubt, that the Lord has now audibly confirmed their efforts by answering their prayer.
IMAGE: Left: Pastor Timm and Megan Ziegler with their family. Right: U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Christopher Watson who serves on the Presidential Detail team.