Injured UM Chaplain, Wife, Stand Witness to Miracles of Ministry

June 06, 2008

“We have had many, many miracles in our lives and it’s only by the grace of God that our family has been healed and blessed and held together. Anyone who doubts [the restorative power of God] can take a look at our lives to see how miraculous He really is.”


Bobbie Rohrer’s point is well taken, considering that her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Rohrer, a United Methodist Army chaplain stationed in Iraq, has just survived an accident that by all rights should have killed him.


On Tuesday, May 27 a military vehicle carrying the chaplain went off a bridge, throwing him into a drainage ditch. No one else was injured but the left side of Rohrer’s face was crushed and severely lacerated, bone fragments from his shattered eye socket pushed into the frontal portion of his brain. “It’s a miracle my husband’s alive,” Bobbie says, “much less reconstructed.”


And he is that, thanks to “the best military reconstructive physicians in the world” at an acute care facility in Germany. It took several Medivac flights to get him to a facility equipped to treat his injuries, but multiple transfusions and two surgeries later Bill Rohrer is on the way to healing. From his hospital bed he jokes that he is “now the Two Million Dollar Man,” with a titanium plate in his head and a face that his doctor says “is being held together with titanium and screws.”


But that isn’t the miracle and blessing Bobbie Rohrer is talking about – as thankful as she is for it. She’s talking about the miracle of the ministries.


“In times of crisis people either turn against God or rally together and become closer to God,” she says. “I know that if we are faithful in our walk with God, no matter how deep the tragedy … God always manages not only to pull us out, but to bless us with astounding ministries and blessings.”


Miracles and blessings

Such as when the Rohrers’ daughter Shawna, at the age of two, fell victim to a rare form of meningitis. Two other children suffering from it and there in the hospital with her died – but when Shawna came out of danger the parents of one of them rejoiced with the Rohrers and joined them in lifting up prayers of thanksgiving.


Seeing it, “One of the doctors [who had fallen away from faith] returned to the Lord,” Bobbie says.


A blessing.


Ten years ago Shawna became critically ill again, in what Bobbie refers to as “God’s instruction on prayer.” What would turn out to be lupus – an autoimmune disease that can affect various part of the body – was misdiagnosed and an accumulation of fluid put severe pressure on Shawna’s brain so that it swelled up “like a big tumor.” The ordeal entailed 10 months spent in intensive care units, during which Shawna completely lost her sight, and had nine strokes and 48 surgeries.


Before the last surgery, Bobbie said she was having her daily Quiet Time in Shawna’s room and the devotion for the day was about how much more God loves our children than do we.


“And I felt such a complete lifting of burden,” Bobbie says. “I said, ‘Now I understand: I’ve been praying for specifics when [instead] I need to be praying for Your will to be done and for me to have peace, and for strength as a family.’ And so I prayed that.”


During the surgery the following morning, Bobbie says, the pressure on Shawna’s brain was measured and found to be “well over 1200 millimeters,” even though a catheter to drain fluid was already in place. Considering that the highest on record from which someone had recovered was “around 800 mm,” Bobbie says, doctors held out little hope that Shawna would survive, let alone be restored to a normal life. Yet “within 48 hours she was able to see something beyond shadows for the first time” since she was blinded. Now, except for minor visual damage for which she’s able to compensate, Shawna is fully recovered – and her photo hangs in her pediatric neurosurgeon’s office. He says he uses her story “a lot” when he talks to parents.


“He’s told me, ‘I have families come in and they don’t know where to turn. And when I get really overwhelmed I share Shawna’s story with them,’” Bobbie says.


How many blessings does that account for?

Then there’s son David, who succumbed to a sudden illness last year. Four years before that, he was all but killed in an auto accident. Thrown from the car even though he was wearing a seat belt and his air bag had deployed, David landed on his head and sustained severe head and internal injuries, as well as two spinal fractures. In a coma and on a ventilator for seven weeks, David did not have a good prognosis: doctors said even if he survived he would never live a normal life. Yet, Bobbie says, he came out of it and did live a completely normal life – walking, talking, and having full use of his faculties.

“About three months after the accident,” Bobbie remembers, “he said, ‘You know, I just feel like God’s given me another chance. I haven’t lost sight of God in my life, but I haven’t made Him a priority in my life and in my children’s lives.’ But over the next four years, he did that. Even though his death was a tragedy, I knew it was in God’s perfect time and I know he’s with the Lord. And that, to me, speaks volumes.

“We’ve been around and around, but we have been so blessed.”

The way she reckons it, Bill’s accident is just another blessing.


Another ministry

“It has opened a great ministry to him in Germany. He is taking advantage of the time in the hospital to minister to the other soldiers.


“My husband is very resilient; he has a lot of stamina. He is able to take this bad situation and work it into a ministry – and he is totally open to God’s call to do that.”


At the time of the accident Rohrer was en route to his office from his quarters on the Army outpost. He wanted to pick up some literature, for a briefing with soldiers, that he had found to be helpful in his stateside ministry, mentoring returning soldiers and their families.


He wants to be involved in any way that he can to keep soldiers from giving way to despair, Bobbie says.


“His favorite phrase is, ‘I’d rather be in a foxhole with my men than sitting behind my desk pushing papers.’ He wants to get out there where the men are afraid and where a lot of them are going to make a change in their lives – either toward the Lord as their Savior, or away from God.


“My husband’s desire was to be there before they made that determination, or when they did, to be able to lead them in the right path … and that’s what he believes that God has called him to do.


“He has had some conversions since he’s been over there,” she adds.


After being deployed to Iraq in October Rohrer also developed and maintained an active ministry to villagers in the area near the outpost.


It’s something he’s done every time he’s been deployed to a war zone or other remote location, his wife says. Knowing that in wartime a country’s resources go first to defense, Rohrer “has gone into the community … to minister to the people, making sure the families have clothes and food, that their needs are being met as well.”


In a letter home quoted in an Instant Connection story just four days before his accident, Rohrer wrote, “We desperately need school supplies, backpacks, and shoes. The children have no tennis shoes. I am working with one school … We can always use children’s clothes and sports equipment.”


The effectiveness of that ministry was evidenced by a comment from one of the villagers.


“The week before [the accident],” Bobbie says, “one of the people from the remote village said that he could tell Bill was a Christian – because not only did he care for his own people, but he cared for people that weren’t of his own faith.”


Mind you, the man who equated that characteristic with Christianity was not Christian himself.


“We really were blessed by the fact that God’s message was going out to these people,” Bobbie says.


Plans to return

And because of it, Bill Rohrer has decided to return.


“His plan is to resume his regular chaplaincy duties as soon as he is discharged from the hospital and able to return to full duty status.


“He was offered the option of returning home and he prayed about it – and we prayed about it – and felt that God was having an effective ministry there and it wasn’t right not to utilize, take advantage of that.”


Not all wives would go along with that. Not after something like this. But Bobbie Rohrer sees backing her husband’s decision as a way that she can support his ministry. Like daughter Shawna, she suffers from lupus and in the past couple of years has found herself constrained by health issues.


“I felt I had not been able to be as supportive in his ministry, especially over the past eight months or so, as I had been previously – and this was something I could do to offer support for his ministry: by giving my support for what God’s will is, [along with] supporting him in prayer and with trying to put together packages for the children and families that have lost so much.”


In Bill’s absence, by the way, his ministry to the villagers goes on. Bobbie says that the Chaplains’ Corps will take care of distributing all children’s clothes and shoes, school supplies, sports equipment and other donations that are sent in.


Doctors say it likely will be from six to eight weeks before Bill is cleared to resume his duties. He does not plan to take a furlough home before returning to Iraq, but Bobbie hopes to fly to Germany to spend a couple of weeks with him there during his recuperation. She speaks with him daily.


Rohrer’s tour of duty was scheduled to end near the end of the year, but some of the troops with whom he serves will be going on to another remote duty assignment, and he’s thinking about just taking a short furlough home at that time and then going on to serve alongside his troops until retirement. On active duty since 1982, he is scheduled to retire in September, 2009.



Bobbie says both she and Bill are grateful for the support they’ve received since the accident – citing their church family at Grace UMC in Lovelock, Nevada, Nevada-Sierra District Superintendent Jerry Smith, and district office assistant Audrey Phelps, along with Bill’s military group. The military chaplaincy also has been extremely supportive, she says.


“At this point we’re doing really well,” Bobbie says of her family – which includes a four-year-old granddaughter who lives with them, and Bill’s aged parents. “I would just ask for continued prayer,” she adds.


Rohrer does not have a designated address at the hospital yet, but Bobbie says once he is assigned one she will forward letters or cards to him. They may be mailed to the Nevada-Sierra District Office at P.O. Box 2915, Reno, NV 89505.


Bobbie says she and Bill are both faithful in doing prayer journals. “It is always interesting to look back,” she notes, “and see how God has pulled us out [of troubles] and a ministry has formed out of it.” She knows it will happen this time, too – is already happening.


As her husband, battered and patched together and still half blind from his injuries, ministers to wounded soldiers from his hospital bed, Bobbie Rohrer speaks with humility.


“I feel honored that God has chosen our family to utilize His ministry through,” she says.


“To be so blessed and utilized by God is really a great honor.”


(Donations for the Iraqi children may be sent to: Chaplains’ Corps, Attn. LtC. C.W. Rohrer, HHC 39 IBCT, Unit #93155, APO AEO 9342-3155.)