“You could be leaving hospital in a coffin, yet you’re singing hymns”: Nurse told woman with broken back
by Gemma Koh // December 9, 2021, 2:15 am
"Having prayed earlier that morning for God to help me trust Him unconditionally no matter what, His sense of humour wasn’t lost on me," said Rebekah France, pictured wearing a brace on her first outing after the accident. All photos courtesy of the France family.
About a month before she was due to start a new job, Rebekah France, 47, was flung from a horse, landing on her head and back with a crack.
In five days, her family was due to move from their townhouse in an expat enclave to a heartland HDB flat in preparation for a change in income and lifestyle. Rebekah, the breadwinner of the family, had been retrenched from her job as the Asia Pacific head of human resources (HR) at an MNC.
Rebekah was looking forward to relaxing with her British husband and their teenage daughter before starting work in a similar capacity at World Vision – an answer to her prayer to work in missions or ministry since coming to Christ in 2003.
Upon her accident, an ambulance rushed Rebekah to Accident and Emergency at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
“You came in here in a state where you should be going out in a coffin,” a Christian nurse told Rebekah later. “But you are wandering around the corridor singing hymns.
“It’s only through God’s goodness that something like that can happen.”
Tightrope on solid ground
Wednesday July 7, 2021, began as it always did for Rebekah – with an hour of quiet time with God.
In her journal, she wrote her prayer for the day, asking God to help her live “a life of surrender with an inner stillness that knows that You are God”.
Rebekah told Salt&Light in recollection: “My faith was at its peak. I think in all my years, I had never been more at peace with God.
“I had no idea what was coming when I wrote my prayer.”
Because she had spent longer than expected on her quiet time, she took a taxi instead of the bus to her horse riding lesson.
En route, she pulled up an app and read the day’s meditation: How life is like a tightrope for most.
“But for a Christian, the tightrope is lying on the floor,” said Rebekah, who was born and raised in India. “Because no matter what situations we encounter, we are on solid ground.”
Is this the end?
Rebekah was enjoying cantering around when something spooked her horse. When he reared up, someone screamed and he got doubly spooked.
“I had never been more at peace with God … I had no idea what was coming when I wrote my prayer.”
“He came down on his front legs, but kicked up his back legs. It was like a rodeo.
“I literally flew off his back, over his head … and landed on my head and onto my back, about 3.5m away.
“When I heard the crack, I knew I had broken something.”
She was unable to move.
“Help me, Jesus,” she prayed over and over, while lying on the ground, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
“I asked Him: Is this the end of my life? It’s okay because I have come to understand Your sufficiency.”
She told Salt&Light, “I’m not at all scared of dying, by the way. It is one of the gifts He has given me.”
“If that’s Your will, then let it be. Whatever You have planned, it will be fine.”
As she mentally processed her condition, she had a succession of thoughts: “Maybe I’m going to be paralysed.
“At least I’m not going to be brain dead.
“But there could be a bleed in the brain that could later catch up with me.”
She told God she would accept the outcome whatever it may be: “If that’s Your will, then let it be. Whatever You have planned, it will be fine.”
Amid the pain, shock and uncertainty, she found herself at peace, “having prayed earlier that morning for God to help me trust Him unconditionally no matter what. His sense of humour wasn’t lost on me”.
Crowd surfed to God
Over the next two weeks, Rebekah underwent operations, physiotherapy and occupational therapy and was attended to by multiple teams from neurosurgery, orthopaedics, ophthalmology and plastics.
Rebekah had multiple fractures to her spine, face – including the bones around her right eye – and wrist.
She underwent a five-hour operation in which five vertebrae were fused with rods, plates and screws.
“I was told, ‘You could come out paralysed. You may lose bladder function, bowel function, mobility.'”
The spine surgery was, in her words, super successful.
By Day 11 after the accident, Rebekah was regaining mobility and was able to stand. She sang hymns as she practised walking in the corridors.
A few days after surgery on her spine, Rebekah was being wheeled to the operating theatre (OT). This time to reconstruct her face.
She was at a 1980s rock concert being passed overhead from person to person by a crowd of worshippers.
“I was a little nervous. I had been told that I might lose my vision, but the surgery had to be done to prevent the eyeball from collapsing into the cheek cavity.”
Then God gave her a vision.
She was crowd surfing at what looked like a 1980s rock concert, being passed overhead from person to person by a crowd of worshippers. Nothing like this had ever happened in her life, nor had she ever been to such a concert.
The crowd included the entire congregation at her church, St George’s Church in Singapore, as well as the church she had worshipped at while living in Norway. Her various prayer fellowships. Her entire family, including some 50 relatives in India who met over Zoom to pray. Former colleagues and believing friends from Singapore and around the world. Future colleagues at World Vision.
“This is what people were doing for me, all these hands passing me on to God.
“I heard God say, ‘Relax. You are being lifted up right now by believers everywhere. I have heard their prayers. I am directing every hand in that operating theatre – from the anaesthetists to the surgeons to the nurses. I’ve got this covered. You lie back in My arms. If you want, sing some songs.'”
“Relax. I am directing every hand in that operating theatre … You lie back in My arms. If you want, sing some songs.”
She sang praises of worship as she was led into the OT.
“I think it had been a long time since the hospital staff saw a patient who took Philippians 4:4 so seriously.
“That day, God also showed me the meaning of ‘Do not be anxious about anything’. (Philippians 4:6)
“As I was rolled in there, I was so chill, so happy, like: This is going to be fine.”
Part of the operation involved inserting a metal plate under her right eye. It would be four to six weeks before knowing the outcome of her sight, she said.
“Knowing how many vision healings Jesus did, I am not stressed,” she WhatsApp-ed praying friends. “Will just surrender the if and when! All things considered, I am so blessed.”
Power in the ward
The two weeks in hospital should have been the worst time of her life.
“It could have been really traumatic. But it was really filled with peace.”
Quoting Isaiah 26:3, she said: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
She described her time in hospital as a staycation even though she missed husband Richard France, 49, and daughter Mia, 15. Only Richard was allowed to visit – and only for 20 minutes each day – because of Covid restrictions.
“It was the best two weeks of my life,” she told Salt&Light.
“Just spontaneously, I started singing How Great is our God … Imagine nurse and patient singing worship songs in the bathroom.”
“God showed me He was more than enough. God was working in every moment,” she said.
She was put into a C Ward (instead of an A Ward) with “five aunties in various stages of disrepair for different illnesses”.
It meant that she was surrounded by people, instead of having only one pre-registered visitor.
In the bed next to Rebekah’s was an elderly Catholic woman.
“She came over and she just put her hand on me and said, ‘God has sent me to tell you that it’s all going to be well’.
“She was a blessing to me, as were the nurses and hospital staff.”
Rebekah told her carers and fellow patients in her ward that she was praying for them. She, in turn, was prayed for and ministered to by fellow believers in her midst.
“God’s power was in that ward. Around my bed, everybody was getting healed and going home.”
Worshipping in the bathroom
Rebekah was surrounded by nurses “who were dripping with such compassion and love”.
Turns out they had been seconded from a palliative ward which had been temporarily closed because of Covid.
A nurse who was giving her a shower told her she was a “living testimony”.
“For a season, God called them to be there to minister to me, and I to witness to them, and we encouraged each other’s faith.”
“Just spontaneously, I started singing How Great is our God,” said Rebekah. “And she sang with me. Imagine nurse and patient singing worship songs in the bathroom!”
The nurse told her: “We needed to be reminded of God’s goodness.” They were going through a trying season which had included quarantining with their patients. The hospital had been Singapore’s first Covid-19 hospital cluster.
Rebekah was blessed by their testimonies. One staff member shared that she had received the permit needed to reunite her with a family member living in a different country after Rebekah prayed for her.
Another gifted her a book of healing scriptures and told her: “God is glorified by your faith.”
At 8am on the day Rebekah was due to be discharged, the nurses got word that their original palliative ward would reopen the next day – an answer to prayer.
“For a season, God called them to be there to minister to me, and I to witness to them, and we encouraged each other’s faith.
“It was as if God had said, ‘I need you to be a witness of My peace that passes all understanding.'” (Philippians 4:7)
Praying over the surgeon’s hands
During her two weeks in hospital, there was only one day when Rebekah felt tested.
“Before my eye surgery, I told the surgeon, ‘I’ve prayed over your hands.’
“God has a vision for you. He will fulfil it. You need to trust.”
“The surgeon replied, ‘I am not a believer, but thank you.'”
After surgery, Rebekah told the same surgeon: “God has told me your hands did precision work.”
The surgeon just smiled.
“I had this deep assurance that the eye operation had gone well,” said Rebekah.
“But the doctors were not happy. There were no guarantees but they wanted to operate again to reposition the eye.
“I said, ‘I need to pray about it. God has told me there is no need to improve on His work.’
“The surgeon was probably thinking, ‘This crazy Christian.’
“I was told, ‘You are taking big risk with your eyesight if you don’t do it. If you don’t make this decision soon, the tissue will grow over the plate and it will be difficult to take off.’
At the time, Rebekah had double vision.
“I was in a dilemma. I felt like Jacob wrestling with God.” (Genesis 32:22-32)
“I am not concerned about your eyesight. Now I am eager to see what God is going to use you to do.”
Her father said: “You should be listening to the doctors. God also speaks through doctors.”
Said Rebekah: “God had already told me that this was perfectly done. And wouldn’t it be like second guessing Him?
“Praying about it, God sent seven different messengers to confirm His word.”
Many did not know about her dilemma.
Reinforcements included an aunt from Kerala who forwarded a sermon she had heard, Rebekah’s husband and two prayer warriors from church.
Her own father, whose faith was growing, said: “I am not concerned about your eyesight. Now I am eager to see what God is going to use you to do. Because He has told me He’s going to use you to do mighty things. So just be in peace.”
From within the walls of the hospital, someone told her: “God has a vision for you. He will fulfil it. You need to trust.”
Admitted Rebekah: “After the sixth messenger, I was still doubting.”
The 7th messenger
Richard bought a patch to cover Rebekah’s bad eye to temporarily correct the double vision.
“But it was cone-shaped and I couldn’t wear my glasses over it,” she said.
“The hairs are standing up on my arm. I will tell you the whole story later.”
So she started scrolling through the website of the hospital’s eye centre to find a flatter patch when she came across a familiar name: Dr Melissa Tien, Deputy Head of Service (Neuro-Ophthalmology). They were in the same house cell group years ago.
“I messaged Melissa, ‘Do you remember me? I’m here in your hospital.'”
Melissa messaged back: “I’m doing my rounds tomorrow morning. I’ll come and see you.”
Rebekah then messaged another house group member she had known for almost two decades: “You’ll never believe this. I found Melissa and messaged her.”
Gail Wang messaged back: “The hairs are standing up on my arm. I will tell you the whole story later.”
Unbeknownst to Rebekah, Melissa and her husband – a surgeon in the same hospital – had been having tea in Gail’s kitchen at that very moment.
Gail had just been telling them about Rebekah and asking for prayer. Melissa had offered to check in on Rebekah. Worried that Rebekah might get upset, Gail suggested: “Better not or she will wonder how you know.”
Seconds after the conversation, a phone on the kitchen counter lit up with Rebekah’s name. It was Melissa’s phone.
“God was working in that moment,” said Rebekah. “God felt I needed one extra person to be that messenger.”
“I was really worried because I was cockeyed. In HR, a lot of my relationships are built on eye contact with people.”
Rebekah’s final messenger asked her the next day: “Are you ready to bear the consequences if you don’t get your eyesight back?”
Rebekah confirmed that she would accept the responsibility.
Said Rebekah: “I figured the best insurance is to follow God, even if it means being blind for the rest of my life.
“If I trust Him, it’s a guarantee because I know that He can undo or redo whatever He wants. But if I don’t trust Him, I’m moving away from His protection.
“At any point, He can fix me. He is totally powerful.”
Rebekah left the hospital with double vision, and went into the family’s new home which her loving husband had set up. Initially they had wanted to postpone the move, but then figured that Rebekah would not have been able to climb even one step in their townhouse.
God had prepared the family for this move as far back as early 2020. During a solitary spiritual retreat Rebekah goes on every three years, she heard Him telling her: “The time is coming soon for you to be called to a new purpose.”
She knew “somehow in this new season, I think we will have to spend less”. So immediately, they started thinking about buying an HDB flat and rethinking their monthly family finances.
“It was like God had gone to that level of detail to make sure the home I came to was already prepared for the healing I needed to do,” said Rebekah with awe.
Rebekah accepted that she may go through the rest of her life with only one good eye.
“I was really worried because I was cockeyed. In HR, a lot of my relationships are built on eye contact with people.”
It was even more crucial as she was joining a new organisation, she told her husband.
At World Vision, she would be helping managers in Asia Pacific to hire, equip and care for staff under them.
Her new colleagues would not be able to see her body language over Zoom; they would only be able to see her face and eyes – which were not looking straight.
“My eyes ended up precisely where they needed to be for my vision to be healed.”
“I’m sure God knew all this.
“I just submitted it to Him, saying ‘I know this is a piece of cake for You if You want to fix my eye. So if You’re not doing it, there must be some reason’,” she said.
“I said, I trust Him. Let’s see what happens.”
On September 3, Rebekah woke up and could see properly again.
“My eyes ended up precisely where they needed to be for my vision to be healed.”
She started work at World Vision less than two weeks later.
“If I hadn’t told them that I had an accident, I don’t think anybody would have known.
“God is amazing.”
Picking up her mat
Rebekah heard God tell her: “You have a new life.”
She agreed: “I’m in a new home, new environment, a new job, a new body.”
Giving testimony on Sunday (December 5) at St George’s Church, she said: “I feel like one of those miracles in the Bible where those folks jump up from the mat and start telling others and praising God. (Acts 3:6-9)
“You are looking at a miracle in progress and God’s work,” she told the congregation.
She is able to move around without a brace or additional support. And is able to crouch down and pick things up off the floor.
“I still have pain and it may be even up to a year before I’m fully recovered. But I’m entirely mobile and independent,” she said.
When everyone was asked at a recent work retreat to describe their current state in a few words, her reply was: “Joy unspeakable.”
The sprinkle on the icing
“I think the faith of my family grew during this period, especially for my dad and mum as they surrendered their child to God and said, ‘Your will be done’.
“Over the years they have seen me surrender so many things to God – my career, my marriage, our finances, our health and our child.”
They include Rebekah’s hysterectomy and Richard’s battles with depression, anxiety and self-medication with alcohol.
With the fall from the horse, “my parents really saw me surrender my life and saw how God blessed that. And I think that was the biggest testimony to them”.
Of all those who prayed for or helped her family, she said: “I believe that God called every one of these people so that He could show them personally and first-hand His goodness and mercy and that He provides abundantly.”
In the perspective of all the trials and tests her family has been through over the decades, the horse-riding accident was “nothing”, she told Salt&Light.
“You can’t build a faith foundation on the day the foundation is shaking. You have to build that foundation long before.”
“The fall off the horse was just the sprinkling on the icing on the cake.
“It’s not in times of testing that your faith is going to be made, it is through the testing,” said Rebekah.
“I think our faith needs to be prepared in advance. So that when the next test comes, we will be ready and then our faith will emerge even stronger.
“If you have not been feeding that faith every day, and you’ve not been growing and communing with and building a relationship with God, the foundation will not be there. You can’t build that foundation on the day the foundation is shaking. You have to build that foundation long before.
“Sometimes God has sent me challenges to teach me, sometimes to test me, sometimes to discipline me, sometimes to grow and refine me.
“This time I believe He sent me this life event as an answer to my prayer that I may testify and bring glory to Him.”
Check back soon for Part 2 of Rebekah France’s story on building her faith through God’s university of surrender and being a light in the working world.
Rebekah's journal entry a few hours before the accident
July 7, 2021
Teach me with each passing day, Lord, to trust You and find my security and significance in your unchanging love.
Help me to look to You for help and hope.
Allow me to receive Your power that I may then in turn be of service to those You put into my life.
You have supplied all I need.
Help me to take the focus off me in my self-will, self pity and self-centredness.
Help me instead to be a living sacrifice, living a life of sacrifice and surrender with an inner stillness that knows that You are God.
Lord You have me in the palm of Your hand and You are a good Father.
I’m blessed to know You and be blessed by You.
Help me never to forget that or forget the riches I have in You.
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