Cesar Perozo says God had him in the right place at the right time.
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor in the U.S. state of Massachusetts jumped into a pond to save the life of a woman just hours before an evangelistic meeting.
Cesar Perozo, pastor of the church in Stoneham, was visiting Spy Pond in a public park in the nearby town of Arlington when an SUV driven by Helen Joyce, 68, careened down the embankment and plunged into the water on Oct. 14.
As a friend called emergency services, Perozo made the split-second decision to jump into the water. The 103-acre (42-hectare) pond is 36 feet (11 meters) at its deepest point.
“I had to do something to save whoever it was in that car,” Perozo told John Bradshaw, speaker and director of It Is Written, which organized the Revelation Today evangelistic meetings where he was speaking in the Boston area.
Bystanders recorded the incident on their cell phones and yelled instructions to Perozo.
Perozo said he thought as he swam, “If I can just get her out of the car, somehow, I think I can rescue her.”
Reaching the car, he saw Joyce banging on a window. He opened a door and, as water flooded into the vehicle, yelled: “You gotta come out,” according to video shot at the scene and broadcast on local television.
“For a moment I didn’t think I’d be able to get out to her,” Perozo told Bradshaw. “The car ended up about 50 yards [46 meters] from the shore. The challenge was that I couldn’t swim like I normally did because my clothing was dragging me down.”
Joyce was afraid. She repeatedly said she couldn’t swim and wanted to stay in the car.
Perozo replied: “I’ve got you. I’ll help you.”
Then fatigue began to set in.
“For a moment I didn’t think I’d be able to get her out,” Perozo said. “I was so exhausted. My muscles felt like they were seizing up.”
Perozo managed to grab Joyce’s hand and began pulling her out. But suddenly Joyce was pulled under as the vehicle sank into deeper waters.
“I didn’t know if she got out or was she sucked back into the vehicle,” Perozo said. “I had such a good, firm grip. I had her!”
Perozo — devastated, exhausted, and cold — sadly began swimming toward shore. Meanwhile, David Frasier of Boxford, Massachusetts, swam toward the car.
Suddenly, Joyce’s head emerged from the water and bystanders yelled, “There she is!”
Frasier pushed a dislodged seat cushion from the car toward Joyce, telling her to use it as a floatation device. Another man, Kenneth Chapman of Sydney, Australia, swam up and helped Frasier to bring Joyce to shore.
Back on shore, the rescuers stood with Joyce, wrapped in blankets and holding hands, while Fraiser prayed.
Perozo said he relived the horror of losing his grip on Joyce’s hand during the prayer.
“I felt terrible as I lost her,” he told local media. “As we all prayed together, I was holding her hand. I remember praising the Lord that I got to hold that hand again and that she is alive.”
Perozo said it was a miracle that he happened to visit the pond in the first place. He was looking for a photography location for the church school and had stopped by the pond at the recommendation of a friend.
“God had me in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Debra McKinney Banks is communication assistant for the Atlantic Union Conference.