By KATHERINE MCDONALD
SANFORD - God and the devil fought for Wayne Bruton III's soul - and God triumphed.
The 18 year old, a former member of a Wicca nature-worshipping group that dabbled in witchcraft, is now whole-souled determined to become a minister.
"I have learned that God really does exist, that he is our true savior in heaven and that he loves everybody in the world," the young man said quietly, but with certainty. "I learned that I love him with everything I have."
He credits his spiritual awakening to his miraculous recovery from an almost-fatal car accident last summer on Farrell Road.
In the months prior to the accident, his father, Wayne II, a devout Southern Baptist and member of Swann Station Baptist Church, had watched with sorrow as his son turned away from God.
When the accident happened, the teenager was air-lifted to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, where doctors applied their skills to save him. Prayers went up on Wayne III's behalf from his family, church, friends and others.
It has been a long road back physically; the spiritual healing came more quickly. On July 28, two weeks after he was taken to the hospital, the young man lay in his hospital bed, his father at his bedside, as he was almost constantly.
"I talked to him," Wayne II said, choking up at the memory. "He could nod and talk a little. He said he had given his heart back to God."
What happened to him was a turning point in his life.
"Satan caused the accident," the teenager said. "I turned away from God, but God allows whatever is to happen to happen. I guess this was to happen. It didn't take anything less than this (to turn me around)."
The father and son rejoiced together. But within a few hours, the son suffered an aneurysm.
He became non-responsive and the doctors performed surgery to seal up the artery. But there were complications that raised the risk of paralysis and also damage to the frontal lobe of his brain.
"The only thing that held me together was that he had given his heart to God and if he died, I knew where he would be," the father said.
He called again on the family, church, friends and others willing to prayer to plead with God for his son. Their prayers were answered.
The physicians told the family to say their goodbyes. If he survived, he would almost certainly suffer paralysis and brain damage. He was in a coma for about three weeks, but survived.
A follow-up surgery in February 2005 used some of his body fat to cover a skull fracture opening, which otherwise would have leaked cerebral spinal fluid into his sinuses, putting him at risk of spinal meningitis. One of the risks of the surgery was blindness, because of the closeness of the optic nerves to the surgical site. He also survived that.
Today, miraculously, Wayne III is walking and talking, though he is still suffering from short-term memory loss. His sight is normal. Tuesday, he graduated from Provisions Charter School with a state college preparatory diploma.
"This whole story is full of miracles," said his father.
The young man had talked about going in the military and being a chef before his accident. One day in March, while conversing at his bedside, his father asked him about his future plans. The son's reply filled his father's heart with joy: he now wanted to be a preacher and spread God's word.
God gave him a second chance, the son said. Now, he wanted to help people who have been through what he went through, physically and spiritually.
There's no more turning away from God for him. There's no doubt. As they take each step day-by-day, the Brutons have put their trust in God.
"God's been a good navigator," said the son.
His dad smiled and nodded: "We'll let him navigate; we'll just follow."
Not surprising. White sheep in black sheep's clothing returns to its own. It is telling when someone claiming a particular affiliation reverts to its origin when difficulties surface, revealing a covert poseur, demonstrating its weakness. Pretenders will always return back to its kind. Although in this case, it is a much smoother transition, considering both are blindlight belief-systems.