Why not me?December 12, 2017
77-year-old John Ramsey had devoted his entire life to serving the Lord.
A former pastor who served 45 years in the ministry—27 overseas with the International Mission Board and 18 stateside—Ramsey had led countless people to Christ, bridged cultural boundaries and sacrificed comforts for the sake of the gospel. Still, after retiring, he sensed his faith growing stale and felt a strong conviction to go deeper.
“I felt that I really didn’t love God as I should,” Ramsey recalled with tears. “So I began to pray about it, and while praying remembered the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. I began to pray in more of those terms, that I would love God and love my neighbor.”
At the time, Ramsey had no idea that 10 years later the prayer would lead him to a Vietnamese immigrant, a transplant center and, ultimately, death’s door.
Cuong Manh Tran, a Southern Vietnamese naval officer and reeducation camp survivor, escaped to the U.S. in 1979.
During the seven-day voyage from Vietnam to California, Tran, a Buddhist, surrendered his life to Christ. That commitment led him to Longview, Texas, where he was baptized alongside his family and later became pastor of Mobberly Baptist Church’s small Vietnamese congregation.
Soon after taking the role of lead pastor, Tran’s kidneys began failing. For the next 30 years, he would be in and out of medical appointments, on and off medication and eventually relying on 9-hour dialysis treatments each night.
“I wanted more and more people to know the Lord, so I kept working,” Tran said. “I wanted to find the lost people and bring them back to God.”
When Ramsey met Tran in 2012, he was still pastoring but losing strength daily. By 2016, he could no longer work, and doctors placed him on a kidney transplant list.
Ramsey remembers praying for Tran during a daily devotional.
“I was praying for Brother Tran, and it was as if the Lord said, ‘What’s wrong with your kidney? You give him yours.’ And I just knew I had to do this.”
Tran accepted the proposition, but struggled to comprehend his friend’s decision.
“I couldn’t imagine someone giving a part of their body to me,” Tran said. “We had prayed for a kidney, but I thought it would come from someone who had already gone to be with the Lord. God had other plans for me, and he had other plans for John Ramsey—for us to be used for his glory.”
The two began the six-month process to prepare for a transplant. Every two weeks, Ramsey made the trip to Tyler to see different doctors, have more tests and verify the procedure was safe. Aware of the risks, Ramsey still never worried.
“I had the understanding that Lord would close the door if he needed to,” he said.
The morning of the procedure dawned with hopeful certainty. Both surgeries ran smoothly. Tran’s new kidney went to work just as a kidney should. Ramsey even got to go home early.
“Everything went well,” remembers Tran. “Mr. John came by before he went home, and I was very happy to see him. In my mind, everything was good.”
One week after the surgery, however, Ramsey developed serious stomach pains. Emergency room doctors diagnosed him with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rare condition from which only two percent of patients survive. Even after an emergency surgery, his body began to shut down. Family and friends prepared for the worst.
Tran, still recovering from his own surgery and under doctor’s orders to stay home, was distraught. Helpless, he begged God for his friend’s healing.
“I didn’t know what to do except pray to God for a chance to see each other again, a chance to get on with our lives,” Tran said.
Their prayers were answered, and two weeks later Ramsey was released from intensive care. He had to relearn everything from walking to swallowing during months of physical therapy, but his wife, Ann, said she knew this was all part of God’s plan.
“God didn’t want to just heal one man,” she said with a tearful smile. “He wanted to heal two. He multiplied the miracle.”
Today, both Ramsey and Tran are healthy. Tran is back working at the church occasionally. Ramsey is back enjoying resident activities at Westminster Place. They even spent Thanksgiving together.
“To me, he’s more than a friend,” Tran said. “Before this we were brothers in Christ, but now he’s my brother in life by blood too.”
As the two pastors sat inside the simple double-wide trailer that is the Vietnamese church and shared their story, a red banner with gold-threaded Vietnamese lettering stood behind them.
The words on the banner? “From morning to night, we remember what The Lord gives us.”