Editor’s Note: The following story was written by BMH’s spring, 2010, intern, Octavia Lehman, based on a testimony given by Grace Brethren church planter Jeff Reifsynder (pictured) on August 16, 2009, at Ephrata Area Grace Brethren Church in Ephrata, Penna. Reifsnyder went to be with his Lord on June 16, 2010. BMH thanks Janice Burkholder of the Ephrata church for making the testimony tape available.
Jeff Reifsynder is candid about his alcohol and drug abuse, but he’s even more candid about how Christ transformed his life, and how God orchestrated a life-saving liver transplant in 2008. Speaking to his church in Ephrata, Penna., he couldn’t help but boast, “I like talking about what God has done in my life.”
Reifsynder spent the majority of his teen years drinking and smoking pot. The pot smoking started when he was fourteen, but he stayed away from the harder drugs because he competed in football and basketball at his high school in Ephrata. Once he graduated from high school his party days escalated.
While most of his friends went to college, Reifsynder moved to Colorado in 1978 for a change of scenery. During his nine months in Colorado, he picked up another bad habit: using needles to shoot up methamphetamine. Needles scared him, but his friends around him were using, and he decided to try it, also. He didn’t know his decision to use needles would affect him 22 years later.
Reifsynder moved back to Ephrata and then back to Colorado again. His job at a restaurant in Colorado only encouraged his lifestyle. Cocaine and pot were readily available; co-workers sold drugs out the back door, and he drank heavily.
After working there for four years he met a man named Micky. Every Friday morning Micky came to the restaurant to re-stock the cigarette machine, and every Friday he talked to Reifsynder about Jesus. “I knew a little bit about the Bible from attending church as a child, but I didn’t know Him,” shared Reifsynder.
After weeks of witnessing to him, Micky finally invited Reifsynder to church. Reifsynder remembers the night before his first visit to Micky’s church. His roommate played banjo in a bluegrass band, and he decide to join him at the bar. At the show he did LSD and drank too many beers. “Coming home that night I knew my life stank so badly, and then I remembered Micky’s church,” recalled Reifsynder.
The next day he attended Micky’s church, and he remembers September 1, 1985, as the day Christ transformed his life. During the altar call, Reifsynder went forward and gave his life to Jesus Christ “I look at that day as the day my life changed, because the Holy Spirit entered my life,” said Reifsynder. Even on that day, Reifsynder could still feel the effects of the alcohol on his body. “It’s a testimony to Christ, that He will accept us no matter how we are. I didn’t have to go home and sober up and clean up. He was willing and waiting for me to come.”
A few months later, at age 27, Reifsynder moved back to Ephrata to live with his parents. He began attending Ephrata Grace Church where he was discipled and eventually met his wife, Sandi Lynn. While they attended Grace Church all three of their children were born; Laurel, Emelia, Sawyer.
The family eventually started attending Cocalico Creek Fellowship, where Sandi’s family attended. The same year, Reifsynder decided to change life insurance policies. A routine blood test came back negative, and the company denied his policy because his liver enzymes were elevated. In April of 1994, a liver biopsy determined that Reifsynder had Hepatitis C, a viral disease with no cure.
Reifsynder was given a year to live, and doctors started him on a drug called Interferon. The side effects of drug were tremendous; aches, pains, fatigue, nausea and depression. The drug nearly wiped Reifsynder out for two years. The chronic illness affected not only Reifsynder, but his entire family. Plans sometimes had to change, and they had to watch as his body deteriorated. Some people also accused him of being lazy and lying.
By the year 2000, Reifsynder progressed to the liver transplant list at the University of Pennsylvania. His body began to increasingly deteriorate until December of 2007 with pancreatitis. “The reason I never wanted to use a needle, was because I was afraid it would kill me. I stopped using a needle and didn’t kill me, so I thought I was past that,” admitted Reifsynder.
In December of 2008, he recalled thinking about the consequences of the needle again. It was more than 20 years after he stopped doing drugs, and drinking and it was about to kill him. In April 2008, Reifsynder had complications again and didn’t realize how sick he was. Excess fluid was drained from his body six times. “I was oblivious,” confessed Reifsynder. “I wasn’t fearful of dying, because I knew that Christ had died as my Savior,” said Reifsynder. Because his liver was failing, the fluids in Reifsynder’s body did not go where they were supposed to, and at one point the doctor removed nine liters of fluid.
He was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania on April 25, a Friday night, in hopes of liver transplant. Doctors could not take all the fluid off his body because of potential adverse effects, and decided to wait until Sunday. Sunday morning Dr. Shaked, the chief of transplant surgery came to his room. Reifsynder didn’t understand why Dr. Shaked would be present while fluid would be taken off his stomach.
Shaked informed Reifsynder that they had a liver for him. Reifsynder called Sandi right away. Once surgery came, Reifsynder recalls thinking, “I’m either going to wake in the arms of Christ, or I will be here again.” Reifsynder knows God orchestrated his transplant. Many of the doctors who operated on him were not supposed to be at the hospital Sunday morning. The anesthesiologist was not supposed to be there, or Dr. Shaked. All of them had different reasons for being at the hospital. “God had them there to perform my surgery,” said Reifsynder.
The donor, a 32-year-old man, died from a massive stroke overnight at the hospital. If the person would have died at another hospital, the liver would have gone to someone else who would have fit the credentials. “The time of my family rejoicing was another family’s sorrow; it was bittersweet,” said Reifsynder. “It reminds me of Jesus Christ. We are all sinners and saved only because of Christ. Someone had to die for me to live, and for us to be born again Christians and live the life of believers, Jesus Christ had to die for us,” said Reifsynder.
“Modern medicine is tremendous, but it doesn’t matter because God knew our days are numbered before the creation of the Earth, and for some reason He allowed me to live longer.”