But on the morning of April 7, 2008, Oswalt instead lifted his hand in the air and said a loud prayer: “Lord, use me for your own good pleasure, and I will rejoice in knowing that you used me.”
On that spring afternoon, God used Jerry Oswalt to save another man’s life.
Little did Oswalt know that when Matt Nelson arrived at his home on Main Street in Glencoe, the two strangers would share an experience that could only be described as miraculous. It’s a story that will be retold Sunday on the Biography Channel’s I Survived: Beyond and Back, a program that documents near-death experiences from around the world.
Nelson was an inspector for Terminix, called out to search for possible termite infestations. While crawling on his elbows through the darkness underneath Oswalt’s house, Nelson was electrocuted by an exposed wire. As more than 110 volts coursed through his body, Nelson knew that he was going to die. His life flashed before his eyes, images ranging from childhood to the harrowing vision of his wife standing alone beside their three children.
Overcome by a sense of sadness and grieving for his unfulfilled life, Nelson felt himself being pulled away toward a white light. But just as death appeared ready to claim him, his sorrow was replaced with a sense of hope. He was about to enter heaven.
It was at that moment that Jerry Oswalt – despite a pinched nerve in his back and degenerative arthritis in both knees – made his way under the house. Armed with a pipe, he slapped the wire away and pulled Nelson out.
Outside, Nelson repeated the same word over and over again: “Jesus.” “Jesus.” “Jesus.”
The story of Nelson’s near-death experience ran in the Anniston Star a month after it happened. The story was picked up and republished by various websites dedicated to what some might describe as paranormal events, including near-death experiences.
That’s how the production company in charge of the Biography Channel series I Survived heard about Nelson and Oswalt.
“I came out of that house not only alive but a changed man,” says Nelson. “So any opportunity that God gives me, I’ll be more than happy to share my story.”
Nelson was asked to come to Atlanta for a final taping for the show, but he had one request: Jerry Oswalt had to come, too. For the 69-year-old Oswalt, it was an exciting experience, but he refuses to take any credit for saving Nelson’s life.
“I was just a vessel that God used,” he says. “That is the great and only thing that I got out of this. God saw fit to use me to his work.
“All I know is that I got a bug man to go under my house and when I pulled him out, I had a-hold of a preacher.”
Since the accident in the crawlspace underneath Oswalt’s house, Nelson’s life has been profoundly changed. He no longer works for Termanix. Instead, he is the pastor of Mountain View Church in Anniston, which he helped establish.
“I was at a point in my life when I felt like something needed my attention,” says Nelson, a graduate of Jacksonville State University who spent 18 years in the ministry before leaving and returning to Anniston in 2007. “I felt like I was lost, forgotten. This gave my life purpose. I felt like I came out of there with God telling me to start a church.
“And how could I say no, having just survived an event that should’ve killed me.”
Though he’s grown more comfortable retelling his near-death experience in the intervening years, Nelson admits to being nervous as to how the program will portray what happened to him.
“No matter how it comes across, I made it clear from the beginning that you can’t separate the spiritual aspect from this,” he says. “If you do that, I’m just some guy who didn’t see where he was going and got electrocuted. But what happened was much more than that … this was about God.”
It’s also about never taking a single moment for granted.
“Live life to the fullest,” Nelson says. “Make the most of every day, because whether it’s crawling under a house or crossing the street, it can all end in the blink of an eye.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday: The episode of I Survived: Beyond and Back featuring Matt Nelson and Jerry Oswalt will air at 9 p.m. on the Biography Channel. For more info, visit www.biography.com/isurvived-beyond-and-back.