SEBRING, Fla. (WFLA) – A couple in Highlands County couple has never stopped praying for patients, health care workers and first responders ever since the coronavirus pandemic reached its height.
Stuck at home last year – confused, worried and scared – Tom and Pam Banwart wanted to do something to help others, but safely. They were moved to set up lawn chairs in the parking lot of AdventHealth Sebring, outside of the emergency room, and pray for those coming in and out of the hospital, patients and staff alike.
“We have no idea how we ended up here. Because we have no affiliation here. We’ve never been here before. We’ve never been treated here. But God brought us to Advent,” Pam said.
Shortly after, they brought bagels to workers on a Tuesday. They have returned every Tuesday since.
“We kept asking, ‘Christ, what do you want us to do?’ And the only thing we kept getting was ‘more,'” Tom said.
He said they were slightly worried they were going to be considered “the goofball old people” with chairs and a “prayer” sign, but it was the exact opposite outside of the hospital. Tom believes it’s because they were “neutral ground” for others, no matter their religion.
“They could come and talk to us about anything. They talk to us about work, they talk to us about their families. We prayed with people.” he said.
The couple also have a tangible item to show for their ongoing time outside of the hospital and memories of those lives they have touched.
“This silly rope, we started making a knot in the rope for every time we came,” said Tom.
The couple spoke and prayed with so many people, they needed a second rope to tie onto the first.
“We got about 80 knots here,” said Tom. “And each one of these knots is a story. Each one of these knots is a person. And we could probably tell you every one of these.”
One of those people is emergency room nurse Moe Prevatt, who described the last year at the hospital as “a rollercoaster ride.”
“I remember my very first COVID patient. My very first one. She came in and they went on a cruise and her mother and her sister died,” she explained. “And she came in, couldn’t breathe. She said, ‘thank you for taking care of me.’ I said, ‘don’t thank me. I chose to take care of you.’ I said, ‘I want to take care of you’… she said, ‘please don’t let me die.’”
She described the first time she saw Pam and Tom outside of the hospital as she was leaving her ER shift to head home.
“Well I [saw] the prayer flag and I heard Christian music. And I was walking out of my shift and I seen these two, and I said, ‘Wow!’ I guess they took the time out of their day just to pray for us…” she said. “And they were out here almost every day of the week. And I would see them and it just, is like, someone cares for me and shows it and that really touched me… strangers were praying for me.”
Prevatt said it was amazing that the couple didn’t know anyone in the hospital, didn’t know any of her fellow ER workers, but still prayed for them. She felt loved and cared for. They developed a relationship, Prevatt said hello to the couple every morning and went and saw them as they prayed.
“Working in an ER, you’re there for that patient’s worst day and that’s all you hear all day long, so you kind of get drug out. And then when I walked out and I seen then, I said, ‘wow, I feel love!’ It was awesome,” Prevatt said.
As for when they’ll stop providing a weekly breakfast and praying almost daily in the parking lot for patients and workers, Pam and Tom don’t yet know, but they keep asking themselves the question as things continue to get better and the country continues to slowly recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Is there a when? I don’t know. The bottom line, there’s always a need for people to be praying,” said Pam. “There’s always a need for people to be praying at a hospital. There’s also a need for people to be praying at the police department, the fire stations, the schools. We need to be praying everywhere. All the time.”
“God’s going to tell us when it’s time to stop. And we haven’t gotten any note yet. So we’ll just kind of keep on going and see what happens I guess,” said Tom.