Todd Ridenour ’86 went to Mexico with Potter’s Clay as a student but didn’t return until 2008. The Santa Barbara contractor went again in 2009 and camped out at Rancho Agua Viva with everyone else. Wednesday evening, he felt deep concern for the students and texted his wife, Heather Ihle Ridenour ’86, to pray for safety for them all.
The next day, March 19, the Potter’s Clay core team met for lunch at a taco stand near the church where Todd was working. At noontime he stood up on framing at the peak of the roof, looking down at his feet. He never saw the electrical wire that delivered 13,200 volts to his head.
Then the miracles began. Todd collapsed onto plywood and didn’t fall through the open framing to the ground. As he convulsed near the roof’s edge, his friend Jim Peterson grabbed his tool belt and dragged him back. Because they were close, the leadership team arrived quickly. An ambulance crew carefully moved Todd to the hospital, where Mexican pastors prayed and laid hands on him. He went to San Diego Medical Center that evening and later described the care he received as a cross between a practiced symphony and an Indy 500 pit crew. Excellent treatment continued at the Grossman Burn Center. Despite being burned to the bone on his head and suffering fourth-degree burns, he escaped internal injury. Only 5 percent of people survive such a shock.
News about Todd trickled in to Heather: He was conscious, he was convulsing, he was critical. Uncertain he would live, Heather and their three children went to San Diego that evening. Family and friends surrounded her with prayer and practical assistance. Bonnie Blundell Fearer ’81 started a blog (toddridenour.blogspot.com) to share news with friends and fellow members of Santa Barbara Community Church. “We never doubted how much we were loved,” Heather says. “It was an amazing display of God’s love shown through his people in action.”
The wound on Todd’s scalp started as big as a quarter and grew to the size of a pancake. Burns on his shoulder, arms and fingers worsened over time. “Electrical burns are gifts that keep on giving,” Todd quips. For seven months, he lived with an open wound on his head, fought off infections, endured painful skin grafts and suffered through surgeries. “Burns are brutal,” Todd says. “You get burned, then your skin gets peeled and grafted to fix your burns, doubling the injured area.”
Todd returned to Potter’s Clay in 2010 to work on the construction team, ironically at a site with no electrical power. The crew finished building the small house quickly and had time to repair the roof of a home that burned the day before. “Exactly 52 weeks ago I was shocked and burned, and 52 weeks later, I’m rebuilding a roof that was burned,” Todd wrote in his blog. “If I wasn’t so busy I might have just sat there and shed tears of thankfulness and gratitude.” The pastor of the church where Todd was injured had been discouraged because a fire had partially destroyed the building. He believed that God would send a miracle, and Todd’s survival became the miracle he longed for. Todd worshiped there in 2010. “The church is growing in faith, numbers and trust in the Lord,” he says. “God really does use all things for his own ends for those who trust him.”
At Grossman Burn Center, Todd learned to see himself as a survivor, not a victim. He suffers some lingering effects, such as numb fingers and toes. Despite these inconveniences, he’s humbled and grateful to be alive. “I trust God even more now,” he says. “I should have died, and I didn’t. I saw how God worked and orchestrated even the smallest details.”