One Example of a Successful Return – Dr George Ritchie 11
Since Dr Ritchie’s NDE predated modern reports, he was not influenced by popular concepts regarding NDEs. His writings are very Christ-centred, as his personal guide in the afterlife was Jesus, so this is understandable.
Similar to very many NDErs, he was traumatised at having to return to Earth. ‘The contrast between the love of Jesus and the world in which I found myself having to go on living made the year following my illness the most difficult of my life.’
Why had he returned to life when he had not wanted to? He felt he needed to know. He began by researching his own death in the hospital, viewing his chart that read: ‘Pvt. George Ritchie, died December 20 1943, double lobar pneumonia.’
Then he spoke to the doctor who had signed the report. ‘My return to life, he told me, without brain damage or other lasting effect, was the most baffling circumstance of his career.’ (Guideposts Magazine in 1963 investigated and obtained affidavits from both the Army doctor, Dr Donald G. Francy, and the attending nurse that Private Ritchie was pronounced dead on the morning of December 20, 1943.)
Following his NDE, George Ritchie was discharged from army camp to go to medical school. En route he visited his stepmother again, whom he had disliked. But something had changed inside George, and he no longer resented her. He saw her not in her hated role as stepmother, but as a brave and caring woman with issues of her own. ‘I recalled my teenage withdrawal, my sulks and hostility, but now I was seeing the heartache they had caused to the loving woman sitting in front of me… Even as I talked about the absolute acceptance I had encountered in him (Jesus), a brand new ability to accept mother for herself was born in me.’
God had given Ritchie a fresh potential to incorporate that love he had experienced in Jesus into his own life when dealing with others. As he reflected on his NDE, forgiveness and a new caring for others developed and became his trademark. To love others actively at their point of need became his goal. But as with many other NDErs, he found good intentions needed to be worked at to become reality.
After a year, he assessed his progress. He was failing!
You’d expect, I told myself, that anyone who had had an experience like mine, anyone who had glimpsed even dimly the love behind the Universe would no longer get upset by external things that happened.
But I was. Terribly. I was riled by the blustering sergeant sitting three seats ahead of me now. I was bothered when the men in the 123rd, mostly Northerners from big cities, made fun of my Southern accent and small town ideas. Instead of being able, now, to shrug such things off, I found them bothering me.
During active duty, he discovered something else about himself.
About the prospect of being torpedoed and having to take lifeboats in that icy gale, I was as terrified as the next guy. The mechanics of dying, the pain and panic, were as frightening to me as they had ever been. But as for death itself, I not only felt no fear of it, I found myself wishing it would happen! Then I would be with him [Jesus].
It was while patching up wounded and sometimes dying soldiers that Ritchie learned to look for that image of God in them that each person carries. He put aside his self-pity, his self-incrimination, and focused compassionately on their problems instead.
He also learnt to cultivate friendships with spiritual Christians who could understand him, teach him, and pray for him. One of these men, a Pole who had suffered terrible deprivation in a concentration camp, taught him a profound lesson about hatred and forgiveness.
‘When the Germans reached our street, they lined everyone against a wall and opened up with machine guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me in a work group.’
He paused, perhaps seeing again his wife and five children.
‘I had to decide there and then,’ he continued, ‘whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life – whether a few days or many years – loving every person I came in contact with.’
Ritchie imported these life-changing lessons from the Second World War into his civilian life. And years later, in 1963, Guidepost Magazine investigated Ritchie’s NDE and aftermath:
Probably as remarkable as the story itself is the transformation it caused in Dr Ritchie’s life – a transformation that changed him from an indifferent Christian into a man whose life is centred in Christ. For 18 years he has been active in youth work in Richmond, Virginia, and in 1957 he founded the Christian Youth Corps of America, for the purpose of helping to develop Christian character in our young people. Dr Ritchie’s vision is ‘a world run by men who are run by God.’
More recently, in 1978, Raymond Moody 12 indicated that Ritchie had achieved success in his determination to love others: ‘Unfortunately, only those of us who know him as friend can truly sense the depth of kindness, understanding, and loving concern for others which characterise this remarkable man.’
Ritchie became Head of Psychiatry at Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Centre. He died in 2007 age 84 years.
‘Death is nothing more than a doorway, something you walk through’ −
Dr George Ritchie.
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