by Terri Nighswonger
"I died on the court right there. I know it was because of the Lord
that I lived through it."
Thats how Renaldo Gates
recalls his brush with death on a basketball court in South Africa in June 1998.
Gates, now 26 years old, was playing professional basketball as a
6-foot, one-inch point guard for Team Soweto in South Africas PGS, that
regions top professional basketball league. The fateful game was being played in
Pietermaritzburg, and Gates team was in a three-way tie for first place.
"This is a very competitive league," Gates said. "The
game was pretty tight, pretty close, pretty high energy. On the other team were two
Americans, and I was the only American on Team Soweto. While I was playing, there was
about three minutes left in the game, and they threw a ball in from out of bounds."
Gates and the other two Americans ran full speed at the ball from
different angles on the court. One player dove beneath Gates, and the other player went
for the ball. The two hit head-on, and the other players head hit Gates in the
middle of his nose. He doesnt recall the next 20 minutes of commotion on the court.
"Im telling this how it was told to me by some of my
teammates and different people," Gates said. "On the basketball court, from what
I remember, when we hit, everything was like a bright flash, and from the bright flash
everything went dark and I couldnt hear anything. It was like everything was fading
Teammates told Gates he was on the court convulsing for 15 minutes and
then didnt move.
"I thought I was talking because when I hit, there was a fire that
went from the top of my head to the soles of my feet through my body, and Ive never
felt anything like it," he said. "Sometimes when I wake up, I remember the pain
of it. I just called the Lord. I yelled Jesus name several times with my mouth, or
so I thought. I was told I wasnt speaking at all. It was my spirit crying out. There
was a sucking feeling from my body. I felt totally displaced. They said that we hit so
hard that it knocked me seven feet backwards. I woke up on the court in a puddle of blood.
"I thought (that) when I called the Lords name, I opened my
eyes on the court, and when I looked, I saw a stream of blood going down the court. I did
not know it was my blood. I thought it was the blood of the Lord. I didnt know
whether I was alive or what."
No one wanted to move Gates because they thought his spine was severed.
Gates had cracked the front of his skull, broke his nose and ripped all the skin off the
nose and the cartilage behind the nose.
"There was just blood pouring out of me. There were some bones on
the right side of my neck that had been chipped in half. In the hospital, from what they
tell me, all the muscles and tendons in my neck were as if Id broken my neck clean
through," he said. "I spent six days in intensive care, the first two and a half
of which I couldnt move at all."
During the season, Gates said, he was playing well. He had made the
all-star team in South Africa and was averaging about 18 points a game. He also was
sharing Christ with teammates and others during his time off.
"I was the team minister," he said. "We would have
prayer on Tuesday nights and Bible study for the team and prayer before the game. I did
missionary work there in Soweto, and I preached in several churches. Ive been in
ministry pretty much most of my life.
"Ive done many different things that the Lord has wanted me
to do, but I know the accident was for the glory of God. A player had died that same way a
year before on that court. I think he had broken his neck."
In the hospital, Gates said, his neurosurgeon was supposed to be the
best in South Africa. The doctor found chipped bones in Gates neck, but by the time
he left six days later, X-rays showed nothing.
"I think he had the gift of healing in his hands," Gates
said. "Ive tried to get the records, but the Lord has sealed that door for
Even Gates time in the hospital was a blessing, he said, and gave
him the opportunity to witness to many of the other patients, including a man shot five
times in the head with a gun who survived and was walking. Another man had fallen 25
meters off a building on his neck and had survived. That mans testimony was that the
Lord had saved his life through an angel who had caught him. Another young woman,
Gates nurse, had tried to commit suicide.
Gates was only supposed to have two visitors at a time every two hours,
but he was able to visit with 30 to 40 people every day for five days.
"The Lord had made provision so these people could come,"
Gates said. "There were pastors, evangelists, youth ministers, and even Muslims and
Jews came. It was quite a blessing."
Also a blessing was Gates six-day stay in the hospital. When he
was released on the seventh day, the team doctor took over his care.
"I woke up in Soweto on the seventh day. I walked; I guess what
you would call walking. I had to go to church that day. Something just moved me to get up
and go to service. My whole left side was on fire. My hands and face were swollen. It was
I preached at a church. I had no balance or anything. I dont even
know what I preached. I know it was the Lord," he said.
When Gates left the hospital, he could not feel anything on the left
side of his body. His left leg curved in. In his words, "It looked terrible from the
What God did on the inside of Gates and what He did in the hearts of
Gates teammates is all that matters, he said. Many players on the team rededicated
their lives to the Lord after the accident.
"I believe from the time that I had left to go over there that it
was the purpose of the Lord," he said. "I know that the Lord has commissioned me
to spread the Good News. My life is about Him. Its not my life. I just desire to
serve the Lord out of this.
"In serving the Lord, He has showed me that Im to spread the
Good News. I dont look for a podium or a church. I believe that one day those things
will come to me, but at this time, its just to walk wherever the Lord leads me to
give the word of God."
After the accident, Gates coached at a basketball camp and had an
opportunity to give his testimony. The door also was opened for him to visit Turkey, where
he saw some of the caves in the mountains where the Hittites lived. The second church
after Antioch was started underground there, he said.
Gates works for the Urban League of Greater Cleveland as an education
instructor to help people prepare for the GED, SAT/ACT and proficiency tests. He also
sings gospel music, preaches and shares his testimony when the Holy Spirit leads him.
"Im not too quick to go out and do anything like when I was
young and had a lot of zeal," he said. "I was down at Cleveland State holding
revivals and prayer services. The Lords given me a little bit more wisdom on some
things, and hes working on me as far as my integrity and things of that nature. At
this stage of my life, wherever the Lord will lead me, I will just try and stay on path
Although less than a year after the accident, Gates is back on the
basketball court, although not competitively. He would like to get back to the pros some
"I want to go back, Lord willing, and do more missionary work
there (in Soweto). I desire to work with some of the different pastors that I met there
because there is a lot of need. The world really needs the Lord more now than ever before.
They really need to know that Jesus lives. I can say this from experience.
"I know that the Lord lives, and its because of him that I
live. Theres no compromising that. Because of that, I believe Hes commissioned
me to preach His word like the apostle Paul. The Lord has raised me from the dead. How can
I not share His word?
"I died on that basketball court, and the Lord gave me life again.
Im excited about this life. It has its ups and its downs, but I can tell you that
experience changed my life."