BRECKINRIDGE CO., Ky. (WHAS11) – The spirit of Gary Stevenson lives on at Emmanuel Fellowship church. The former Harned, Ky. pastor left behind a legacy of humility and faith in god that looms large in the hearts of his wife and three children.
“He was kind of our mentor growing up in life. You did it the right way or you just didn't do it at all”, says his son Pastor Bryant Stevenson.
When Brother Gary, as they called him in church, was diagnosed with lung cancer in January of 2010, they were worried. But a year later it looked as if he had beaten the disease. His loved ones were stunned, when Jan. 29 of 2012, after spending the day at church with his family the 63-year-old suddenly died.
“The blood filled his lungs, and once he started, five minutes he was gone,” recalls his widow Wanda Stevenson.
Having lost the pastor with no warning, his friends and loved ones found a special way to say goodbye,
releasing with bible verses. This year, on the first anniversary of his death, they again gathered in front of brother Gary’s final resting place, right next to the church, for another balloon release.
“This time we just put a message that it was in memory of brother Gary and if you get it to let us know.”
Into a windy, rainy sunset, they let go seven of each, red, white, and blue balloons.
Never could they have imagined the wind would carry one of those balloons over 600 miles across an international border into another small town in Ontario, Canada. Nor could they have guessed it would touch the soul of the man who found it, changing his life forever.
Less than 15 hours later, Gord Ure came across one of the balloons from Kentucky on his property in the tiny community of Harwood, Canada, an hour and a half outside of Toronto. He called Wanda Stevenson the next morning.
“When he said he has found a white balloon in Ontario Canada, I was just thrilled, my knees got weak and then he said 'I'm fighting cancer too," I thought, oh my goodness, God's all over this,” says Wanda.
Gord has been battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for over six years, undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. He's now in a maintenance stage, hoping his cancer doesn't come back.
“Everytime you get a little pain you're wondering ‘could this be the pain that ends up being THE pain?’” Gord says.
But the 47-year-old, who lost his own mother to cancer, has found comfort in the message from Kentucky.
“Now I kind of look at the balloon as a bit of a sign from above,” Gord says.
The Stevenson’s don't doubt god's role in this story. In their church, where pastor Bryant Stevenson now preaches in his father's place the entire congregation knows the remarkable tale.
“The whole congregation out there praying for me is amazing,” Gord says.