The Bible has many references to doves. It’s how Noah learned the waters were receding. It’s how the Holy Spirit descended at Jesus’ baptism. Since early Christianity a dove holding an olive branch in its beak has been a symbol of peace. I don’t know if doves ever play an intentional role in spiritual matters today. They were, I believe, just spectators in an experience my friend Wayne Ward had in September of 2012. It’s intriguing, though, that Wayne’s life was changed forever on a field of doves.
Labor Day weekend marked the opening day of dove season. Wayne was helping his employer, Griffin Lumber Company, host a shoot. They had 50 to 60 people there, a lot of them fathers who had brought their children. After a barbeque lunch they were ready for the season’s official start at noon.
The weather was stifling hot with temperatures in the mid-nineties. Wayne had his shooting blind set up but decided to wait until later in the afternoon. He invited some of the older men to join him at the scale house and visit by the air conditioner. About a dozen of them accepted his offer.
It was around 3 p.m. when the sound of gunfire became too rapid for Wayne to resist. He went to his spot and made good use of his shells. He drank plenty of water to stay hydrated and ate a few peanuts between shots.
Wayne felled a bird about four p.m. and went to pick it up. He felt weak but managed to get back to his blind. His peripheral vision quickly narrowed to almost nothing. “It was like looking through a double-barrel shotgun,” he said. He poured a bottle of water over his head, but it didn’t help. He struggled to make a short but exhausting walk of about 30 yards to the edge of the field.
A friend he had invited from Albany was driving slowly by in his pickup truck. He had brought his pastor with him and they had each gotten their limit of birds. They were about to leave for home when they stopped to tell Wayne how much they had enjoyed the day.
“Brent,” said Wayne, “let down your tailgate. I’m in trouble.” Wayne sat on the tailgate then collapsed backwards into the bed of the truck. They moved him from the truck to the ground and laid him on his back. He didn’t appear to be breathing. They called 911 but thought he was dead.
Wayne doesn’t know how long he was unconscious. When he opened his eyes an ambulance crew was preparing to take him to Crisp Regional Hospital. He has a clear memory, however, of another place he saw while stretched out in the dove field. He was too emotional to talk about it until a couple of years after it happened. Now he tells his story hoping it may be helpful to others.
“I went to a place that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe,” he recently told me. “I was just as cognizant as I am now, but time didn’t exist. It could have been ten seconds or ten thousand years. I was suspended in the most beautiful white. It was over me. It was under me. It was all around me. There was no pain or sorrow or grief. Nothing earthly existed, no family or friends, but there were no worries. I felt the peace that passeth all understanding that I had read about in scripture.”
“It felt like hands were around each of my hands pulling me up. I was fighting it. I didn’t want to leave. When I woke up there were probably 20 or 25 people gathered around me. I saw the ambulance and I was baffled. I had been on a trip I wish everybody could experience.”
Wayne was diagnosed with Brugada Syndrome, something that’s fatal eight out of ten times. The emergency room doctor asked him, “Mr. Ward, do you realize you died?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied, “because I went to a place.”
Wayne grew up in church. His belief in Christ goes back to childhood. But his near-death experience reinforced his faith in God’s Word. He hopes his story may comfort others who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. He doesn’t claim to have been to heaven, but he’s been close enough he has no doubt the hereafter is everything the Bible says it is.
A bird shoot with friends had seemed a perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon. But lying flat on his back in a field of doves, Wayne Ward saw a place that’s perfect for spending eternity. He knows there’s room for all who believe. That’s why he’ll keep telling his story.