Quadriplegic man starts church in Orange 13 years after accident

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, who is a quadriplegic, is starting a church in Orange. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/6/2020 9:21:43 PM
Modified: 1/6/2020 9:21:11 PM

ORANGE — Since becoming paralyzed 13 years ago, John Hicks Mackenzie’s life has been “a wild, terrifying, weird and beautiful blessing.”

He wants to share what he’s learned. More importantly, he wants to share the Gospel.

Hicks Mackenzie, 30, of Orange, is starting a church on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center, with the first service on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m. Subsequent services will be on the second Sunday of each month.

“Jesus has my heart and so does this town,” Hicks Mackenzie said. “This is my home. I was raised here, shaped here and know the needs of the people here, and know how much of an impact a church that is truly living out authentic biblical Christianity can make.”

Hicks Mackenzie has been working toward starting a church for the last five years. He describes himself as a “son, brother, uncle, speaker, preacher and relentless optimist,” but his life has contained enormous challenges.

Born and raised in Orange, Hicks Mackenzie was 17 in 2006, an average teenager, he said. It was summertime, Aug. 9, and the perfect night to spend with friends. Hicks Mackenzie and others hopped into the back seat of a car, “one thing led to another,” and they ended up street racing another car.

The resulting accident left Hicks Mackenzie paralyzed, a C6 quadriplegic.

Since then, Hicks Mackenzie said he has learned to bear no ill will against anyone involved in the accident, and that it’s his faith that keeps him going.

“Becoming a quadriplegic affected my outlook on life in the sense that I am grateful for every breath I get to take. Each day is a gift that is never guaranteed,” he said. “My life is not easy by any means and I’m stuck doing things that no grown man should have to do, but God has blessed me with relentless optimism and it’s been that way since day one. Instead of looking at my circumstances, I look to God and His promises, and He never fails us.”

In the first years following the accident, Hicks Mackenzie’s life was marked by surgeries and setbacks, adjusting to life without the use of his four limbs.

But, after some time, Hicks Mackenzie’s physical disability offered unique opportunities. He’s traveled to high schools and drivers education programs to speak about the dangers of reckless driving, and over the past year, he’s gone to universities to share his story with nursing and medical students — which he admits “blows (his) mind” as a high school dropout.

For the past decade, Hicks Mackenzie has been involved in youth ministry, working with children and teenagers in spreading the teachings of the Bible. He also runs a ministry group that meets at his home every Tuesday and Thursday to “eat pizza and talk about God,” and has attended and preached at a number of churches in Massachusetts, including in Orange, New Salem and Greenfield. He also received a degree in Christian ministries from Liberty University.

According to Hicks Mackenzie, his experiences as a quadriplegic are part of what led him to become a preacher.

“I feel that over these past 13 years, what I have gone through as a quadriplegic has given me the ability to develop a heart for those who struggle and have felt pushed aside,” he said. “I see people’s needs and I see their struggles and their longing for hope, and I can relate, and I just want to share with them the good news of Jesus and be available to help them in any way I can.”

Hicks Mackenzie grew up in a Christian family, with his grandmother, Tillie Hicks, and other women, including his mother, playing important roles in influencing him spiritually. He attended the North New Salem Congregational Church, part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, which has supported his vision to start a church in his hometown.

In his early teens, Hicks Mackenzie said, he “drifted away from God” and became quite rebellious. However, that changed after the accident.

“After my accident, from the moment I woke up in the ICU, I knew this had happened for a reason and I knew God had a plan for this mess I was in,” he said. “Granted, I had no idea that I would one day be planning a church, but I felt God so powerfully in the hospital and have seen so many miracles that I surrendered my life to serve Him in any way that I can.”

It wasn’t long until Hicks Mackenzie saw Pastor Ted Boren of the North New Salem Congregational Church, he said, and that was another influence on his decision to start preaching himself.

Hicks Mackenzie said he plans for his church to be “Christ-centered and community-minded,” and he will be giving the sermons. Services are intended to be fun, with a contemporary style of worship and children’s ministry also available.

“One thing I have learned over the years is that it is so important to be real and relatable,” he said. “So many times, we step into a church service and it is filled with people in their Sunday best and a cheery attitude, which is great, but I want our church to be real and authentic.”

The plan is to eventually move toward weekly services, Hicks Mackenzie said. The first priority is preaching the Gospel, but he wants the church to be a place for both people who are already Christian and people who have never stepped foot in a church before.

Hicks Mackenzie said even if only three people show up to the first service, he’ll be grateful, but he has a feeling the seed he is planting will grow.

“God has given me the strength to run — well, roll — this race that is laid before me,” he said. “It is through Him alone that I know that my injury, my pain, my suffering, has an expiration date, and when I go to Heaven, my broken body will be made new.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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