By Mark Ellis
He was attending a business convention with his brother and another family member when random shots sprayed a crowd outside an Atlanta restaurant.
Three intoxicated young men were denied entrance to the eatery and retaliated with a burst of nine-millimeter bullets from an Uzi submachine gun. One of the shots entered the back of Matthew Botsford’s head, lodging itself in the frontal lobe of his brain.
“They were angry, so they took a shot straight up the sidewalk,” says Matthew. “If you took a hypodermic needle, heated it up, and stuck it in your head, that’s what I felt,” he says. “It was a searing hot pain, then things went black.”
His body slammed to the pavement and the last thing he remembers is the cold, hard cement amid “inky” darkness.
He was at the edge of death – if not clinically dead — three times after his heart stopped once on the sidewalk, once in the ambulance, and once in the emergency room of Piedmont Hospital. But weak vital signs returned and doctors induced a coma that lasted 27 days to reduce brain swelling.
Matthew’s wife, Nancy, described the horrifying ordeal in her book, “A Day in Hell; Death to Life to Hope” (Tate Publishing).
Prior to this incident, Matthew had a minimal belief in God. “I knew there was a God and that Jesus is His son,” he recalls. “But never had I made a commitment to say Jesus is the Way or made any effort to get to know Him.”
“It was all about me. I had my own plans. At 28-years-old, I felt young, vibrant, and strong.”
When the lights went out, Matthew entered a different conscious reality. “Immediately, I shifted from the temporal realm I lived in, to the eternal realm of hell,” he recalls.
In the book, Matthew describes a horrifying scene in what he believes was hell, with his body suspended in midair, arms outstretched, shackled with ancient black chains clasped around his wrists and ankles, suspended over a deep glowing red abyss.
He saw four-legged creatures roaming about in apparent agony, as they attempted to stay clear of flowing lava. Smoke billowing up from the magma seemed to carry the souls of the lost. He heard awful screams emanating from the depths of hell. None of the screams were intelligible — just cries of pain, loss, and anguish.
“It was obvious by the countless screams I heard, I was not down there alone, yet isolated. I was in my own torment.”
The lava flow got closer to Matthew, and globules of magma splashed on his shins and feet, which burned his flesh to the bone. “I smelled my own flesh searing and burning away. I saw and felt my flesh re-form only to be burned off again and again.”
Demons with dark oval eyes looked at him, judging and mocking him. “I could see some of the faces of these demons, and bodies…short and stout covered with scales and horns of varying numbers, sizes and lengths upon their heads, denoting their levels of authority in Satan’s realm.”
“Demons with sharp teeth peeled the skin off his back side, which resulted in tremendous pain. I heard the sound of my skin being ripped off in ribbon-like fashion. I smelled their stench like rotten carcasses or rotten flesh. Over and over and over this repeated itself. There was to be no end to the torment. I understood this was to be an eternal existence for me.”
On the night of the shooting, Nancy was at their home in Michigan waiting for a phone call from Matthew. When he didn’t call, she went to bed at 11:00 thinking something wasn’t right.
She woke up at 2:00 a.m. with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Matthew’s father called moments later and Nancy’s first words were, “Is he alive?”
When she flew to Atlanta that morning with Matthew’s parents, she didn’t know the severity of his condition.
Like Matthew, Nancy had only a nominal faith in God, and did not even think about praying on the journey to the hospital.
A nurse informed her for the first time Matthew was shot in the head, and tried to prepare her for her first visit to his bedside. In ICU, she saw Matthew’s head wrapped up, with numerous wires and tubes protruding from his body. Believing his passing to be imminent, five organ harvesters stood nearby with red and white containers and began to pressure her to sign agreements for his vital organs.
Later in the afternoon she met with the doctor, who provided little reason for hope. “I took out a grapefruit-sized portion of brain matter, skin, skull, and bullet fragments,” he began. “But I had to leave the bullet in place in the frontal lobe because it was so impacted.”
“He has a 30% chance of making it through the night,” the doctor said. “Even if he lives, he may have paralysis or, due to the brain injury, need to be institutionalized.”
The bleak assessment was too much for Nancy to bear and she stood up abruptly and left the room, apparently in shock. “I was losing it,” she recalls. “I couldn’t comprehend his words. This was more than I could handle.”
She started to walk down the hallway, but then something unusual happened. She felt a hand grab her right shoulder. She whirled around, thinking it might be her mother, but no one was there.
“Instantly I knew it was Jesus!” she says. “It was a touch from Jesus. Every cell of my body knew it was Him.”
She ran back to ICU, knelt down by Matthew’s bed, and began to pray fervently. “Lord, bring back my husband. Bring back his personality, his heart. Even if he’s in a wheelchair, I promise to stay with him.”
It is impossible to know the time that elapsed between Nancy’s prayer and Matthew’s rescue from hell. But in response to her prayer, help appeared in the most dramatic way, as Matt recounts:
“In my realm in hell, I saw a massive finger begin to protrude in from the outside which led into the entirety of a man’s hand.” He says the hand was cracked and creviced like any man’s hand, yet of “great age” and massive size.
“This hand of God methodically descended towards me and grasped me about my waist, instantaneously causing the shackles to drop off, demons to flee, blackness, fear and hopelessness to be vanquished.”
Matthew recalls hearing heavenly music and saw a brilliant white light. Then he heard a voice that sounded like thunder, a bolt of lightning and mighty rushing waters say, “IT’S NOT YOUR TIME!”
When Matthew awakened from his coma, he was paralyzed on his left side, weighed 95 pounds, and had the functional capabilities of an infant. For the next two years, he endured intensive rehab to re-learn “everything.”
After his rehab, he asked one of his neighbors about finding a church. The neighbor invited him to The Rock Church in Gainesville. At first, Matthew and Nancy cried throughout the worship. There was a “gradual unveiling” for them as they both grew in faith.
“The moment I believed there wasn’t a question,” Matthew says. “Yes, Lord! I get it now. I finally understand.”
Matthew still has some paralysis on his left side and wears a brace on his right leg. But he would not trade the gunshot and the day in hell for anything. “I still have deficits,” he says. “But I was spiritually dead and that bullet brought me to such a great life. I would never have known Jesus. I can say I was in the right place when I was shot.”
Matthew and Nancy started Seeds of Love Ministries and frequently share their testimonies with churches and other groups.
They want everyone to understand what is at stake between heaven and hell. “I don’t want anyone else to experience what I experienced,” Matthew says. “People need to have an answer to a huge question: ‘Where will you spend eternity?’”
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