Jack Tong, a 23-year-old California kid who moved from South Korea at the age of seven, wakes up every morning knowing his days are the result of a miracle.
Recently, he posted a photo on Instagram, a social media application, of an X-ray of his skull from one year ago. The black and white image shows some screws bolted in, stitches closing a gap, and a track of staples weaving from his temple to the back of his head. In the midst of these devices, faint lines can be traced to reveal cracks in the skull. Next to the X-ray, Jack wrote a caption that reads: a year ago today, I should have died. Thank you and thank you. I would not be here if it were not for the prayers and the faith. Let's endlessly bring more people to the party that I didn't get to join just yet. I love you guys. I can't wait for that party. #Jesussaveslives.
For Jack, posting on social media eludes to much more than Internet banter. Even though this medium has often been condemned as a means for vanity and avid self-centeredness, he sees it differently. That’s because it played an integral role in Jack experiencing a miracle firsthand.
On June 22, 2013, Jack’s best friend, Sammy, signed into his Facebook account and clicked into the “Create a Group” section of the site. The first box that popped up asked for a group name. Sam speedily typed the words “Jack Tong’s recovery.”
That page on Facebook would alter Jack’s life.
On a Saturday night in 2013, Jack and some friends were running rampantly through the streets of Berkeley, California. He had visited Northern California to make some connections before an event that he and others were planning on the University of California, Berkeley campus. But after the planning had concluded, they wanted to connect with some of the locals and plant some good memories into a perfect California summer night.
plant some good memories into a perfect California summer night. So the group decided to play a game called “Fugitive.”
This game gives one team a five minute head start to get from one spot in the city to another location a mile away, all on foot. The other team must wait the full five minutes but can opt to use cars, bikes, skateboards, or whatever means of transportation they want. The game plays out like a combination of Tag, Hide-n-Seek, and Capture the Flag. Jack’s team was the hiders, and they were rolling. They had won the first round with ease. And as both teams decided one more round was in order, Jack decided to venture through a route he had not yet taken. That meant a few unfamiliar alleys and several different obstacles to get around before making it to the game’s winning destination.
“Don’t play this game!” Jack insists, now looking back on the night. He laughs as he says this. “Don’t play it. Just...don’t play it.”
He can laugh about it now, but he is not joking. This school yard game almost cost him his life.
As Jack speedily hoofed from one block to the next, he heard some footsteps sprinting in his direction. But Jack stood cornered. The only path away from the pursuing team meant getting over a nine-foot ivy covered wall. Jack raced to the façade and made three big lunges up the wall. On the fourth lunge, his foot slipped from one of the wall’s crevices, and his hands lost the grip of the ivy’s branches. Jack fell backward, free-falling from seven feet up and straight onto a curb’s edge. His head smacked the curb, and his skull immediately fractured. A horrifying scene unfolded as blood stained the pavement and Jack became unresponsive. A teammate close by ran over to help, while dialing 9-1-1. As the paramedics raced to the scene, the other people playing the game started getting text messages about what had happened.
happened. Soon, the others gathered to see Jack being wheeled on a stretcher into the ambulance.
Jack doesn’t remember any of this, of course. He blacked out as soon as his head smacked the curb. And the 15 minutes prior to the fall have been erased from his memory. His best friend Sammy remembers it, though. The accident and the ten days following replay in his mind like a slow motion video.
Day 1, in the hospital. The Facebook page entitled “Jack Tong’s recovery” went live shortly after Sammy arrived at the hospital. Friends from all parts of the United States and abroad started to click the “Join the Group” button. Within the first day, hundreds of people joined and began reading about Jack’s injuries. A steady stream of comments painted the page’s lines. One after the other, people typed out a prayer for Jack.
“I just tried to get the word out to our friends all over the [world], and it just exploded,” Sammy remembers. “And then, we all just started praying. It was awesome.”
Jack didn’t read any of the comments, though. As word began to spread about his severe head injury, he laid unconscious. Stabilized by a neck brace, bandages circumferenced his head as a roller coaster of tubes ran out from his nose and throat. Monitors and machines hummed and beeped next to his very still body on the hospital bed. The surgeons who had performed a four-hour surgery on him throughout the night informed his parents in the morning that the skull was successfully pieced back together, and the swelling had begun to decrease. They also said that the internal bleeding had stopped for the time being. A bone in his eye socket had cracked and threatened to take Jack’s sight from his left eye. And a small bone in his spine had chipped, possibly causing permanent nerve damage to his spine. All of these early predictions came with a mix of optimism and speculation behind a veil of doubt. They performed an amazing surgical restoration of Jack’s fractured skull, but they also saw the realistic side of this situation: the results would only be made known as the days went on and if Jack would recover.
At this point, a simple hope for him to talk again would've been generous.
“So nuts,” Jack blurts out. “After surgery, the doctor says that I am not going to be able to make it [and] either that I won’t be able to move or that I won’t be able to function mentally. Or that I won’t be able to talk [because] the blood had infiltrated my skull and condensed my brain.”
But the people that joined the Facebook group didn’t see the gruesome sight of a bandaged and motionless Jack. They only saw that other people from all over the world began to pray for a man some of them knew well, some knew as an acquaintance, and some didn’t know at all. And collectively, they started to believe that Jack wouldn’t wake up from his surgeries 50% better or even 75% better. They believed that he would recover completely.
Day 2, in the hospital. A status update on Susan Cho’s Facebook reads: Hey friends, for those of you who know Jack Tong, he's had a severe fall and has fractured his skull a few days ago. I just spoke with his mom, and she said he's in [the Intensive Care Unit] recovering from surgery. Would you please lift Jack and his family up in your prayers!! I know that there is absolutely nothing more powerful than prayer. He hasn't woken up yet... but I will keep you posted as I hear updates.
Jack would have smirked had he been able to see that. Susan played tough love administrator to 17-year-old Jack just four years earlier. She was the first person to see something special in Jack.
person to see something special in Jack. His ability to connect people. His ability to really bring joy to people. And despite not always wanting to listen, she pressed upon Jack the importance of a relationship with Jesus.
That assignment was difficult to carry out. Growing up, Jack encountered controlling and rude people in his family's church. It quickly turned him off. And on top of that, he had relationships with so many other people who didn't have anything to do with Jesus. That combination gave Jack little motivation to understand what it meant to have a relationship with God.
“He was a good kid and kind of a popular kid, but he was just running with the wrong crowd,” Susan recalls. “When I met him, he was in this stage where he was kind of seeking the Lord but not ready to jump in. And he would go back and forth between longing to be with the Lord and wanting to be with the popular crowd.”
So Susan kept telling Jack what she thought despite his hardened approach to church. And her persistence gave Jack an opportunity to live a different life than he would have otherwise lived.
“I just felt like he needed something new. He needed to get out,” Susan says. “He needed a fresh perspective...somewhere that he could just download what it means to be God’s son.”
That place was on the Big Island of Hawaii, in Kona, at the University of the Nations, a program run by the international ministry Youth With A Mission, otherwise known as YWAM. His first stint (of two) at YWAM became the starting point for his faith.
Day 3, in the hospital. The beeps and hum of the machines did not cease or change. Jack’s situation as he laid there remained one of speculation. Will he be able to walk, talk, or mentally function the same as he used to?
talk, or mentally function the same as he used to? The doctors did not really say. They could only speculate.
But with each stressful minute in the hospital, another prayer went up from elsewhere. And the people that prayed did not speculate. They did not question or waver. From Nepal to Michigan to India to Hawaii to Taiwan and beyond, they all agreed with a simple idea: Jesus could heal Jack completely.
“And [Sammy] got all of those people to pray for me,” Jack explains. “It is the power of prayer. It is freaking nuts, dude. So nuts.”
Day 4, in the hospital. This is the day when things really began to change for Jack.
The doctors decided to reduce the amount of coma-inducing medication in order to allow Jack to wake up. They also decided that his breathing may be strong enough to take the breathing tube out of his throat. The staff wanted to take one small step at a time in order to feel out how much he would be able to recover.
But the prayers of now thousands of people around the world had a different version of this outcome. They never believed in the diagnosis of Jack's injury. They never thought the staples in his head were permanent. They never thought his mouth would fail him and his speech would be lost.
They always believed that Jack would make it through without any issues.
And it's funny, really, just how effective some faith and prayer are.
Day 5, in the hospital. A post on the Facebook page reads: Your Ohana is praying for you, Jack Tong.
Below that sentence, a video awaits a click. A shaky camera phone films a prayer meeting in Kona, Hawaii at the University of the Nations from the back of a stage.
of a stage. Out in the crowd are hundreds of people standing and praying aloud. Those people are Jack’s “Ohana,” or family, as it is known in Hawaii. Then, the screen shows a man pacing back and forth with a microphone as he begins to single out Jack with specific prayers for his healing. The crowd responds with resounding amen's as the man with the mic continues to pray. Then, he pauses for a second and asks the crowd to lift their hands. They all do. He, then, asks them to pray for Jack. The unfolding scene sounds like a mass tribal warrior gathering. Shouts and cries aimed skyward fill the Hawaiian afternoon.
Some, if not most, of these people in the video didn't know Jack. But they didn't have to. They all stood in the same spot he was at a few years prior.
This was the same program Susan encouraged Jack to go to after he finished high school. He had two separate stints at the Kona campus. The first was more like a summer camp experience for him. He enjoyed it, but he still didn't fully grasp the concept of faith in God. The second stint became the life changer.
“There, I met the Lord, and He just encountered my heart in crazy ways,” Jack says. “The first [stint in Kona] was more about information for me and not a real heart connect. It was a little bit more difficult for me. But the second time, there were so many people that loved on me. I found out later, but people would pray for me for hours.”
That second time in Kona became a platform for Jack. He found friends, like Sammy, and he found a purpose. He wanted to tell people about his experience and give them the opportunity to experience God in the same way.
But that would have to wait until his time at the hospital ended. And for the people all over the world praying for Jack, they urged God to end it sooner rather than later.
Day 6, in the hospital. Jack woke up on this day a different person than the day before. He started to talk a bit. The heaviness of the medication created slurred conversation and delirious thought patterns. But he talked, nonetheless. At this point, the doctors began to reassess their initial concerns. His progress showed dramatic signs of quick improvement. Thus, a decision was made to move him out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Only six days after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured skull, the doctors felt comfortable moving him to a recovery room from the ICU. The tubes were taken out of his arm, the machines started to power down, and he slowly walked to a more comfortable part of the hospital.
Days 7 and 8, in the hospital. Jack started to talk some more. A sight for his mother and father’s incredibly sore eyes. They, too, along with all of those on the Facebook page, had been praying day-by-day for a miraculous situation to unfold. And as they prayed, they saw a new miracle everyday.
Jack began asking for food. He asked to walk around. The on-foot journeys around the hospital room did not last too long, but they increased each time. And even though his exhausted body forced him to fall asleep shortly after making these achievements, it meant miraculous progress.
Day 9, in the hospital. As Jack woke up, he heard an unfamiliar yet familiar voice: his good friend Chloe. She had driven up overnight to help in any way she could. They had met in Kona a few years earlier, when Jack worked at a local coffee shop. Chloe would take her little brother to the coffee shop to hang, and Jack always made jokes first and coffee drinks second.
made jokes first and coffee drinks second.
But when she started talking to him, he took a few seconds to remember who she was. She mentioned that Sammy, his best friend, had been up there for the past few days. And Jack asked who Sammy was. Chloe then told Jack that she would show him on Facebook. Jack then asked, “What’s Facebook?”
This revealed the potential of some memory loss. Chloe left the hospital that day a little confused. All of the prayers seemed to be working. She personally felt that his recovery would be of the completed version. And even though him simply being alive, talking, and walking were incredible in and of itself, there was more to pray for.
Day 10, out of the hospital. The next day, Chloe walked in to see a completely different Jack. He sat up in a chair, flicked his head over to the door when she walked in, and remembered who she was instantly. All of the tubes were gone. And he had some brief conversations about different topics from his memory. But the part that Chloe noticed the most was the visible peace on his face.
“I could just see this amazing peace on him,” Chloe remembers. “I remember just thinking he had peace and he wasn’t panicky. Sure, he had some memory loss stuff, but more than anything, there was just some amazing peace.”
Shortly after that visit, Sammy got word of Jack’s progress.
Facebook post by Sammy: Update, JACK IS BEING RELEASED! He is driving home with his parents! I will see him tomorrow and update everyone on how he is doing. Praise The Lord! Let's keep praying for full recovery!
Jack sat in the back seat of his dad's car, nodding in and out of sleep. The family took the trip home very slowly and made frequent rest stops. There was no need to rush home at this point.
no need to rush home at this point. The worst situation possible turned into a time of gratefulness for being alive; for having the chance to talk to Jack again.
A complete recovery still stood in the works, however. Jack still foggily moved in and out of conversations. His memory from the night of the fall and the following week crept back slowly with some help from those around him. But just four weeks after being released from the hospital, he started to feel as close to 100% as he was going to get. Jack's sight in his left eye was very minimally impaired. And he would sometimes lose his train of thought but quickly regain it. Other than that, Jack was back to being Jack.
“There was a time when we weren’t sure what was happening, or why something like that would happen, and it was a really tough time,” Susan remembers. “But it was such a boost of faith and encouragement. It was awesome. I couldn’t shut up about it. It has been so cool to see the Lord work in such a miraculous way. I just knew that the Lord has His hands on Jack.”
One year out of the hospital, Jack now wakes up full of a very intense understanding. He is not special. This didn't happen to him because he is different and God wanted to take him through it to make him stronger. And the accident was not some sign of things to come. But rather, accidents happen, and that was that. The important part is what happened afterward. The prayers of thousands of friends, family, and random people supernaturally sped up his recovery. And in the process, the experience helped Jack to realize what he should value in life. And from the day his memory turned back on, Jack has valued one simple thing: the opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.
“Why am I alive today?” Jack asks rhetorically. “The accident I had could have happened to anybody.
have happened to anybody.Maybe it wasn’t the best game, and nobody should play that game anymore. But it was just a game and in the midst of the game, I could have died. If I had died without knowing Jesus, then I would not have spent eternity in heaven with Him. And that is just the reality of it. And that could happen to anybody.”
The last post on the Facebook group page reads: Possibly LAST video. Watch this one. It is of massive importance.
In the video, Jack sits on a couch between Sammy and one of their other roommates, Nick. The three heckle each other and joke like only best buds can. But as the crew moves in and out of jokes, Jack explains the paper in his hand. It is a letter from the hospital that performed the surgery on Jack and housed him for 10 days. The paragraphs explain that the hospital does not do this often, but they understand Jack’s situation and have decided to absorb all of Jack’s medical costs. The total came out to about $454,000.
“I know in the last video, I asked you guys to pray for my finances,” Jack says, looking into the screen. “And yet again, the power of prayer is getting us through!”
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