By Wilson Davis
The North Carolina Presbyterian Pilgrimage (NCPP) is known for its grace-filled, spiritual renewal weekends. It dates from 1990, and was adapted from the Roman Catholic Church’s Cursillo movement.
Within the last couple of years, the NCPP community has had a special opportunity to show Christ’s love in action. When one of its members, Scott Greene, needed a kidney transplant, 18 other members offered Greene a kidney, and all filled out the necessary medical paperwork.
Hugh Black of Greensboro, North Carolina, proved the best match for Greene. Black belongs to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro and Greene to First Presbyterian Church in Reidsville, North Carolina.
Both Greene and Black served on the team for the May 12-15, 2016, NCPP pilgrimage, held at a YMCA camp north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Prior to that pilgrimage, the duo’s kidney transplant had been tentatively planned for this August.
But during May, Greene’s kidneys deteriorated. In a two-week period, their function dropped from 14 percent to only 6 percent
After the pilgrimage weekend, Greene went on dialysis several times, and the kidney transplant team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem moved quickly to perform surgery on May 31. The transplant went well, and four days later both men were discharged from the hospital.
A little over a week after the surgery, Greene said he could see a big difference in how he felt physically. “My energy level is back. I’m more clear-headed and sharper mentally. And my stamina is starting to come back.”
Without a new kidney, Greene said, he faced the prospect of being on dialysis four hours a day, three days a week for the rest of his life.
“I can never thank Hugh enough,” Greene said. He saved my life.”
MORE THAN 100,000 ON WAITING LIST
The National Kidney Foundation reports that there were 17,878 kidney transplants in 2015 — 12,249 from deceased donors and 5,628 from living donors. NKF figures also show that, as of January 1 of this year, 100,791 people were awaiting kidney transplants, and the median wait time for a first kidney is 3.6 years.
In 2014, NKF reports, 4,761 patients died while awaiting kidney transplant, and another 3,668 became too sick to receive a kidney transplant. Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.
Both Black and Greene want to use their experience to encourage others to become living donors, as well as organ donors at their deaths.
“Prior to the surgery I was concerned about the scars and their effect on me,” said Black. “Now after the transplant has occurred, I am very humbled to know that I get to share a part of me with someone else and truly give him the gift of life. I welcome the scars as a reminder of this act. I encourage others to learn about the living donor program.”
Greene put it his way: “If everyone would sign up to be a donor, there would be no waiting list for kidney transplants. Just think of the lives that would be changed.”
Jennie Hemrick, a Presbyterian pastor from Danbury, North Carolina, said the NCPP teaches what Christian community is like and how it should respond.
“When this journey began for Scott, when he asked me to remember him in prayer, he did not want me to pray for a kidney,” she said. “He felt that would be too presumptuous of him. I encouraged him to ask for the need that God already knew. It was with great humility that Scott allowed me to pray for a kidney.
“In that prayer I said something like ‘God you already know the kidney that you will provide for Scott. Give him the patience to wait for you to reveal it to him.’ I said the same sort of thing to Hugh (Black). God knows the kidney and will reveal it at the right time.”
Hemrick said she applied to be the kidney donor, and then Black did the same, and they discussed what they had done.
She said one word summed up Black’s and Greene’s feelings: humility.
“They have both been humbled that God has used them in such a way,” she said. “They have demonstrated Christian community in action and the pilgrimage community has supported them in a Christ-like manner.”
“THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY I GET”
After the surgery, Black said donating a kidney to a friend had been the most worthwhile and rewarding experience in his life.
“At 60 years of age, this may very well be the greatest opportunity I get,” he said.
Greene, 53, said it was hard to explain how humbling it was “to know that all these people would be willing to do this for me.”
Just before the surgery, “I was more worried for Hugh than I was for me,” he said. “The thought of something going wrong for him really terrified me.”
Greene and Black received strong prayer support during their hospital stays. About 115 people signed up to pray for 30 minutes apiece for them from 5 a.m. May 31 to 8 a.m. June 1, and their names and prayer times were listed in both men’s hospital rooms.
In addition, through the Internet and Facebook, requests for prayers on behalf of Greene and Black reached others across the world. Black said they learned that people in 16 countries and 17 U.S. states were praying for them.
One of those was John McCall, a former pastor at Black’s church in Greensboro and now a Presbyterian mission worker in Taiwan. Another was Marc Boisvert, a priest in Haiti, whom Black had met there on an earlier mission trip. Boisvert sent Black an email message saying, in part, that he would “be at the top of the list for prayer intentions at Mass this morning.”
The evening before the surgery, Hemrick organized a special serenade with 82 participants in the medical center’s chapel for the two patients. The first song included the words, “We are standing on holy ground and I know there are angels all around.”
Black said that when he and Greene walked into the serenade, “it wasn’t like we walked. We glided. It was like we floated into that serenade. We had so many people praying for us. They took all our anxiety away.”
The day following the surgery, Black visited Greene’s room. Greene said that, from his bed, he gave his friend a big hug “as best I could. I then thanked him and told him I loved him.”
In May, Black asked Scott to pick out a special Scripture verse to focus on prior to the transplant. Greene chose Isaiah 41:10, which reads in part, “So do not fear, for I am with you.” Black then had green rubber wristbands that included the verse made for the many friends of “Team Greene.”
Black said he wanted the emphasis on “Team Greene,” because “that took the emphasis away from me.”
WILSON DAVIS is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is active in the North Carolina Presbyterian Pilgrimage.