By Marcus Day
It is a tableau of family love: a father in a wheelchair at home, his daughter kneading the flesh in his left hand, working each finger, stimulating muscles and tendons. Moments later she massages higher up the arm, raising it slightly from the elbow and gently lowering it.
Determination is etched on her face, as if she is willing every ounce of her strength and dexterity to enter her father. Being a personal trainer able to lift heavy weights, she has plenty of strength to give.
In the Martens’ home, physiotherapy is a common sight as Pastor Hans continues his recovery from a severe stroke, which has affected his left arm and left leg. His condition was compounded by a torn rotator cuff muscle from a bad fall in Medicine Hat hospital; it was the second of three times that he nearly died during an ordeal that defies imagination.
Janelle is concerned that her dad doesn’t sit too long.
Over the course of the next hour or two she and her mother, Janet, will ensure he keeps up his daily intake of water and goes for a short walk.
It is a source of immense pride in the family that Pastor Hans has regained some mobility. A video on Janet’s cellphone shows him taking his first few steps unaided.
“Every day I see progress,” says Pastor Hans, minister at Family Church. “I’m beginning to feel the muscles start to work. I believe I’m going to be completely healed.”
To have reached this stage three-and-a-half months into his recovery is testament to a lot factors, he says. One of the biggest is the support from his family and Maple Creek. Some of it came at his lowest ebb during a period of intense isolation at a Regina rehab facility.
There is a lot of love evident in his home. From the care provided by Janet, Janelle and his son Paul, to the phone calls and prayers he receives from his grandchildren: 11-year-old Emily, Benjamin, 8, and Caleb, 5. It is manifest in acts of heartwarming kindness by members of the community, such as the outside ramp installed by Dale Christie.
It is also evident in the vast pile of cards, hand-drawn pictures and letters strewn on the living room table. One message says: “Thank you for the love you’ve carried over people all these years and for the great minister, friend, father and pastor that you are. It doesn’t go unnoticed. We love you and will continue to pray and think of you.”
A giant yellow homemade card, with “Pastor Hans” written in big letters, carries words from the Bible: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled, Trust in God and trust in me.”
There have been gifts and messages of support from other churches, and sometimes from people he wouldn’t expect – those who do not see themselves as religious.
“I have been overwhelmed by the love and generosity of people,” says Pastor Hans. “I’ve had so many phone calls, so many prayers. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me.”
Pastor Hans’s world changed on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 27 when he got out of bed and couldn’t stand. Finding him collapsed on the floor, Janet contacted Paul.
The family found it hard to take in that he had suffered a stroke. Only the day before he had been very active – there were photographs of him working outside, exhibiting no signs of what was to happen.
At Medicine Hat hospital he received a brain scan. The neurologist told him that the bleeding on his brain was so extensive that it would normally have killed a man, or left him severely incapacitated.
It was Pastor Hans’s fitness that is believed to saved him. As many in the community will know, he is a keen cyclist and runner and even took part in last year’s Santa Shuffle, timing himself over the 5K run. Churchgoers will also testify that he likes to dance, moving up and down to the live music.
Two days after admission to hospital, Pastor Hans fell in a bathroom, striking his head on the tile floor. Another scan revealed a brain haemorrhage. It also emerged that he had injured his rotator cuff.
Worse was to follow.
“A few days later I became unconscious,” he says. “Janet was there. She saw what happened and put her hand on me. She said ‘come back’ and I came back.
“This was the third time I nearly died: first the stroke, then the fall, now this. Doctors and nurses couldn’t find a pulse when I lost consciousness, but I managed to survive.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Pastor Hans was his overnight loss of independence.
At Medicine Hat, he received instruction on using a wheelchair, which gave him a measure of mobility. However, the most routine activities had suddenly become impossible: going to the bathroom, putting on clothes, washing, tying a shoelace.
“I needed a nurse to help me with all these basic things,” he says.
Another psychological problem was isolation. Fortunately, in Medicine Hat, Janet and Janelle were allowed to stay with him. When he moved briefly to Swift Current, visits were also allowed.
Restrictions, however, were tighter at the Wascana Rehabilitation Facility in Regina. His family were only allowed to stay with him once a week, for 45 minutes.
One of those visits was for his birthday.
“Janelle came with tarts,” he recalls. “She had four candles and lit them. Then she sang ‘Happy Birthday’.”
It wasn’t the only occasion that he experienced the healing powers of Janelle’s voice. She sent him recordings of devotional songs that he would listen to at night when he had difficulty sleeping. Paul, too, sent him music.
News that a pastor was undergoing rehabilitation at Wascana – evident from cards with Biblical passages posted on the wall in his room – attracted interest among patients and staff.
“In Wascana, I started preaching,” Pastor Hans says. “I wanted to bring God into the room. I played Janelle and Paul’s recorded music, using it as an evangelistic tool. Often, I had a hard time falling asleep, so I’d play the music.”
Frequently, nurses would ask for prayers, and he recalls ministering to a therapist who was angry at God after losing her parents a year ago.
“We had church on Advent and we had church on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we did the same thing, reading scriptures and talking about Jesus.”
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Wascana unit brought even tighter restrictions, increasing the sense of isolation. It meant Pastor Hans wasn’t allowed to have contact with anyone.
During these darker periods, he found solace in the outpouring of love from Maple Creek.
“People texted me scriptures, they phoned me and prayed. My heart overflows with joy at experiencing so much love in the community. From my family, my church, the other churches, the healing lodge and inmates.”
On January 5, Pastor Hans returned home to Maple Creek. It was a “Hallelujah!” moment for him to be among family. Surrounded by love – and “heavenly” fresh food prepared by Janet – he feels his recovery is accelerating.
“At the moment my left arm doesn’t work and my left leg doesn’t really work, but I’m working hard to regain strength and ability to use them again. Today I went outside, walking down the sidewalk.”
As he continues his journey of recovery, Pastor Hans says he has found a new appreciation of life. He marvels at the world’s beauty, which so many of us take for granted. The sky, trees, birds – all these things, and so much more, fill him with wonder.
Each morning when he wakes up, his first words are: “Thank you, Jesus, I’m alive.”
• Pastor Hans hopes to speak this Sunday (Jan. 24) at Family Church. The service starts at 10.30am. A maximum of 30 people can attend because of COVID-19 restrictions.