Herald JournalHerald Journal, July 19, 2004

A year of healing: Pastor Swedberg

By Lynda Jensen

Walking is something most of us take for granted, but Pastor Joel Swedberg has been walking around Howard Lake for the past nine months by the grace of God.

The pastor of St. John’s Church was severely injured in an airplane crash just east of the Winsted Airport one year ago last week.

The crash left him with numerous long-lasting injuries, which put him into a wheelchair; then crutches, the aid of a cane, and finally walking freely without aids.

He is still struggling with a shattered left ankle and other complications, but many in the community are gratified to see Swedberg alive in the first place.

During his recovery, he has watched the hand of God moving in other people and his own life, he said.

He pondered the promise in James 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Fortunately, he has noticed spectacular spiritual growth, with an increased ability to help people through prayer and counseling.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been as a pastor,” he commented, adding that the congregation at St. John’s has become a lively and vibrant group of people who are reaching out.

For example, the Alpha program – a kind of “Christianity 101” – is sponsored by the church and has been successful in bringing non-believers to Christ, he said. It is also good for regular church attendees, he added.

“It moves faith down 16 inches from between the ears to the heart,” Swedberg said.

He is trying to use the gift of inner healing to tend people with spiritual tumors and scarred hearts, he said.

“It’s fun to see God work,” he said.

This isn’t the first time that Swedberg has returned home severely injured – in fact, he was more severely hurt in a serious car accident in December 1992.

The funny part is that Swedberg hasn’t been involved in any small accidents – just very big ones.

“My accidents are real doosies,” he said.

At the time of his first accident, he was driving home from a funeral in St. James on Highway 212 when a semi truck approached from the opposing lane.

The semi driver stepped on his brake to discontinue using cruise control, and the back brakes locked while striking a patch of ice, causing the truck to swing sideways, directly into Swedberg’s path.

The impact was estimated to be at 87 mph by the state patrol, Swedberg said.

Every bone in his face was broken and he suffered a concussion. It took 11 hours to reconstruct his face, he said.

They had to cut him out of the Dodge stationwagon he was driving.

In contrast, the airplane cracked open like an egg, he said. Emergency crews needed only to cut the seatbelt straps to get him out.

Surprisingly, Swedberg has very few scars on his face, although red scars mark his body.

There is a very interesting scar on his hand, shaped like a red question mark, due to a torn tendon.

A red question mark happens to be the symbol for the Alpha program. It stands for having spiritual questions answered.

People involved in Alpha program across the state prayed for Swedberg's healing, including the healing of his hand.

Swedberg spoke at an Alpha conference in Lakeville over the weekend.

Other side effects include his lack of memory when it comes to dreams; a byproduct of his first accident. “I almost never wake up and remember my dreams,” he said.

Currently, doctors are still working on the shape of his left ankle.

At first, his ankle was set with external fixators – kind of an external framework that is screwed into the bone; what Swedberg calls “real body piercing.” This was eventually removed.

Now, doctors are trying to change the shape of his foot, since it was set in the framework so long that the inside of his foot turned up.

They are applying pressure to soft tissue in order to reshape his foot.

Swedberg has been the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church of Howard Lake since 1991. He is married to Marylou, and they have two sons, Derek, 18, and Luke 10.

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