Steve Bowersox had barely started his new job at First Baptist Church Jacksonville when life threw him a curve.
After serving 16 years in a smaller congregation in Ponte Vedra, then working through a transition period with his predecessor at First Baptist, Bowersox was set to assume responsibility for the music and worship program at the Downtown church. It would be a significant professional challenge: overseeing the activities of four full-time staff directors, four large choirs, several orchestras and a number of smaller ensembles.
But on the evening of May 7, everything was put on hold. A longtime pilot and aviation buff, Bowersox was working in a hangar at Craig Field when his 5-year-old son, Ben, accidentally triggered the overhead door. The mechanism swallowed Ben up, breaking both his arms and severing five of his fingers.
What followed was an eight-week marathon at the Duke University Medical Center that included seven surgeries, endless battles with fungal infections, and repeated “dives” in a hyperbaric chamber that doctors hoped would infuse oxygen into the reattached fingers.
But there was more than that. There were gifts and cards and notes from strangers around the world. And there were prayers and support from the First Baptist family. Within days of the accident, Senior Pastor Mac Brunson and the entire executive team had visited. “Pastor Mac was emphatic about my focusing on Ben’s recovery,” Bowersox said. “They put to rest any fears I had about not doing my job.”
Bowersox, a widower, stayed by Ben’s side the whole time. “I tried to set the pattern for Ben’s attitude,” he said. “If he saw my faith and I stayed positive, he reflected that immediately.”
They sang worship songs together and set goals for each day. Simple goals: eat, sleep, communicate, be kind. And they missed their girls: Bowersox’s daughters, Rachel and Brooke (Ben’s twin sister), remained in Jacksonville.
Bowersox believes that earlier struggles in his life prepared him to deal with Ben’s situation. His parents died within three years of each other, and his wife, Kathy, lost a four-year battle with cancer in February 2011. It was his faith that sustained him, along with his music. “God ministered to me,” he said, “and I found myself being healed as I worshipped.”
Doctors could only save the thumb on Ben’s left hand, but they expect him to regain complete function in his right hand. More surgeries lie ahead, and in addition to parenting a high school student and two kindergartners, Bowersox must play both nurse and pharmacist for Ben, changing bandages every morning and administering seven different medications throughout the night.
All of that leaves little time to write orchestral arrangements or review new music, or move forward with plans to expand the church’s educational programs and outreach to the community. For now, there are no major changes in store. “There’s a rich tradition here,” he said. “My goal is to find the church’s unique voice of worship, and help people make it a lifestyle.”