For the past five years Richard Browning hasn’t been able to feel his feet. He doesn’t have all the feeling in his hands anymore either.
But that doesn’t stop him from hanging onto the conviction he had before he lost those abilities — he’s supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ.
“I’ve always felt like you’ve got to give, that’s what Jesus taught us to do,” said Browning, a member of Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Louisburg, North Carolina.
That’s what he was taught when he was growing up in a church outside Raleigh, but after his mother died he admitted he drifted away for a while. When his young daughter, Sarah, asked to go to church it was a wake-up call.
“It got me back to where I needed to be and grounded in my faith,” Browning related, “knowing what God can do for us and through us helping other people.”
He started going on missions trips and helping with ministry projects. Then on July 4, 2017 he was on a lake with his wife, Sharon, and his daughter and walked to the front of the boat with a raft in his hand.
“I went to jump off the front of the boat, and my wife told me to use the ladder,” Browning recalled. “I said, ‘Nah, I got this,’ and I dove off the front of the boat with that raft.”
From there, everything went wrong.
“When I hit the water the corner of that raft caught my chin and snapped my neck,” he said. “I blacked out and woke up six feet under water, and I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t move. My body felt like I was going through the motions, but I looked down and my legs were just hanging.”
He did the only thing he knew to do — pray.
“I just started praying, ‘Honestly if this is it, then so be it.’ I just wanted to do more,” Browning said.
He felt like he spent eternity under the water, but the next thing he knew, he was above the surface.
“I rolled my head over and hollered for help, and Sarah came and grabbed me,” he said.
She was trained as a lifeguard, but struggled to get him to the boat. Once she did, she and Sharon struggled at first to understand why he couldn’t just grab onto the side and hold on.
“I said, ‘Honey, I can’t move my arms or legs,’ and she picked up my arm for me, and it fell back into the water,” Browning recalled. “She said, ‘You’re not kidding.’”
Sarah managed to keep him afloat on two life-jackets for about 45 minutes until emergency responders arrived. For two weeks he lay in the hospital paralyzed from the neck down until doctors could operate.
When he woke up from surgery, he could wiggle a toe and two fingers slightly.
“The doctor said, ‘We’ve done our job, and now it’s up to you,’” Browning recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got a lot more help than that,’ because I believed when I prayed to Him I was going to be alright, that whatever came about, I was going to be OK.”
Soon afterward he was discharged from the hospital and began the long healing process.
To everyone’s surprise, in January 2018 Browning was able to walk again. Though he still couldn’t feel his feet, the physical therapist was able to help him learn to walk using the feeling in his ankles.
“When I walked my wife said, ‘Now I’ll tell you what the doctor said the day after you were hurt — they said that you would never walk again,’” Browning related. “I said, ‘Well, I guess he just doesn’t know my God.’”
Assisting after hurricanes
Eight months later, Browning deployed with North Carolina’s Baptists on Mission to help with disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Baptists on Mission is an auxiliary to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“I was bound and determined to get going again,” he said, “and I just loved being able to go out and do it.”
He worked at the disaster relief command center, knowing that with lingering balance issues it would be better not to go with cleanup teams.
“I found my little place where I fit in and can use the gifts that I have and do what I can,” Browning said.
Tom Beam, disaster relief coordinator for Baptists on Mission, noted Browning maintains all their equipment, especially the small pieces such as generators, hot water heaters, plumbing and electrical.
“He is also involved in helping us build new equipment such as shower units and laundry units,” Beam said. “He helps us maintain our disaster relief warehouse and is willing to serve any way possible.
“He lives his testimony and loves the Lord and wants others to know those promises.”
Helping others in trials
In 2019 Browning spent two months on and off at Outer Banks in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. And in 2021 he spent 19 days serving in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. In recent weeks he also helped with disaster relief after Hurricane Ian.
Browning’s desire is for people who are facing tough times to know there’s hope.
“I’d just like for everyone to know that God’s always there for us, no matter what we’re going through,” he said. “He loves us … He’s never failed me, never ever.”