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Oakland pastor recovers from COVID-19, urges churches not to reopen until it's safe

An East Bay church leader is urging other faith leaders not to reopen houses of worship against the advice of public health officials.

Reverend Johnnie Clark with Word Assembly Church in East Oakland said it's a matter of life and death.

He knows because he's recovering from COVID-19.

The pastor said fighting the coronavirus is one of the most difficult experiences of his life.

"Sure, I miss going to the building," Clark said.

The building he's referring to is the church he's been preaching at almost daily for 15 years.  It's been empty since March when the congregation had to shelter in place.

Clark said he felt weak three days after returning from a trip to New Orleans where he may have contracted COVID-19. 

He was barely able to walk and he had a fever.  He was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

"They tell me they had to induce me into a coma, but I couldn't remember," said Clark. 

The 72-year-old said the pain was so unbearable he contemplated suicide.

"I was in such horrible turmoil and ache," he said. "I actually wanted to take my life."

He was hospitalized for nearly a month and a half. He was on a ventilator for 10 days.

Clark's son, Keith Clark, shared with KTVU a video of his father in the hospital. A nurse used a phone to help him communicate with his family. Now, they want to help others,

"We wanted to give people awareness and hope," said Keith Clark. 

The pastor credited his survival to great medical care and the power of prayer.

But he said he's pained by the loss of those who did not survive.

"It hurts because people are suffering," he said. "It hurts because I can't do anything but pray."

He has a message to faith leaders who want to reopen their places of worship against the advice of public health officials: "How dare you? Who are you to tell people to go to a place that's unsafe?" 

Clark said the church is not a building, that it's people who make up a church. 

He's grateful to be alive.

When asked how he's feeling now, he replied: "Like brand new money, crisp and alive."

Clark said he misses going to his church, preaching his sermons and feeding the homeless.

But for now,  what's most important is listening to medical professionals about wearing masks and social distancing.

Clark said it's about saving lives.