By LINDA ANDRADE RODRIGUES, Standard-Times staff writer
ANDREW T. GALLAGHER/Standard-Times special
The Rev. Howard Storm speaks to area faith leaders about his conversion.
DARTMOUTH -- A native son and newspaper carrier for The Standard-Times in Falmouth, Howard Storm went on to earn a master's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and for 20 years was an arts professor at Northern Kentucky University. An avowed atheist, he believed that there was no such thing as life after death -- until the day in 1985 when he died and went to hell.
Speaking to about 125 people at Smith Mills Church last week, Mr. Storm became very emotional, often stopping to compose himself, as he described his near-death experience, which transformed his life.
In 1985, Mr. Storm, 38, and his wife, Beverly, were in Paris on the last day of an art tour. Buckled over by searing pain in the middle of his stomach, he was rushed to the hospital. Awaiting emergency surgery, he knew he was dying. He said good-bye to his wife and drifted into darkness.
Standing up, he realized he was between two hospital beds. He looked at Beverly, who was motionless, staring at the floor, sitting in the chair next to his bed. He spoke to her, but she didn't seem to hear.
As he bent over to look at the face of the body in the bed, he was horrified to see the resemblance that it had to his own face. But he knew that was impossible because he was standing over the person and looking at him.
Off in the distance, outside the room in the hall, he heard voices calling him. They were pleasant voices, male and female, young and old, calling to him in English.
"Come out here," they said. "Don't you want to get better?"
He stepped out into the hall, full of anxiety. The area seemed to be light but very hazy, and he couldn't make out any details.
He followed them shuffling along in his bare feet with the memory of pain in his belly, yet feeling very much alive. The fog thickened as they went on, and it became gradually darker.
Overwhelmed with hopelessness, he told them he would go no farther and that they were liars. He could feel their breath on him as they shouted and snarled insults.
Then they began to push and shove him about, and he began to fight back. A wild frenzy of taunting, screaming and hitting ensued. As he swung and kicked at them, they bit him.
Even though he couldn't see anything in the darkness, he was aware there were dozens or hundreds of them all around and over him and that his attempts to fight back only provoked greater merriment.
They began to tear off pieces of his flesh, and he realized that he was being taken apart and eaten alive, methodically, slowly, so that their entertainment would last as long as possible. In that wretched state he lay there in the darkness.
Suddenly remembering a prayer from childhood Sunday School class, he said, "Yea though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me."
To his amazement, the cruel merciless beings were incited to rage by his prayer. They screamed at him, 'There is no God! Nobody can hear you!" But at the same time they were backing away. He realized that saying things about God was actually driving them away, and he became more forceful. They became more rabid, cursing and screaming against God, but in time, they retreated back into the distant gloom beyond his hearing.
Alone, destroyed, and yet painfully alive in this horrible place, he yelled out into the darkness, "Jesus, save me."
Far off in the darkness, he saw a pinpoint of light like the faintest star in the sky. The star became brighter and brighter. As it came closer, he realized that he was right in its path, and he might be consumed by its brilliance.
This was a living being approximately 8 feet tall and surrounded by an oval of radiance. The brilliant intensity of the light penetrated his body. Ecstasy swept away the agony. Tangible hands and arms gently embraced him and lifted him up. He slowly rose up into the presence of the light, and the torn pieces of his body miraculously healed before his eyes.
After his words of personal witness, Mr. Storm answered questions for an additional two hours.
"He told me that he has given this talk hundreds of times, but whenever he describes these creatures, he just comes apart," said the Rev. Michael Robinson, pastor of Smith Mills Church.
After Mr. Storm's near-death experience, he entered United Theological Seminary and was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ. Since 1991 he has been pastor of Zion United Church of Christ in Cincinnati. He documented his near-death experience in the book "My Descent into Death and the Message of Love which Brought Me Back," published in 2000.
Earlier in the day, the Rev. Storm spoke to about 30 area faith leaders at Smiths Mills Church on the topic "Bringing Passion of the Gospel into City Ministry."
"Jesus weeps for New Bedford," he said. "He can heal addictions, broken relationships and poverty. I broke every one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus can fix what's wrong with us."