“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze because I am the Lord, your God.”—Isaiah 43, 2:3
This is a difficult story to write, yet one that needs to be told.
There is one night sound I will always remember, and I pray that God will spare me from ever hearing it again. Unlike the soothing sound of the night trains, it was the most horrifying sound I have ever heard, but just as God is in all things, He was in that sound, and He wanted me to hear it.
It was a warm, July night, almost eleven o’clock, and I had just gone to bed. The bedroom window was open, and I noticed that the night was unusually quiet. There was only the occasional sound of a small plane flying overhead. Our local airport is nearby and a hub for small aircraft, so hearing the sound of planes at night was not unusual.
Every July, the Experimental Aircraft Association hosts an air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The EAA Fly-In attracts aircraft and aviation hobbyists from around the world. It features everything from sophisticated military aircraft to tiny home-built planes. Although our local airport is more than two hundred miles from Oshkosh, it experiences increased activity during this event as planes land to refuel, or pilots stop to rest and have a bite to eat.
The sound came on a Sunday night during the first weekend of the Fly-in. As I lay in bed, I heard a prop plane taxiing on the runway. The gravelly roar of the engine helped me to decide that it was an old military aircraft. These are popular planes for hobbyists. Many fly in and out of our airport, and I had learned to identify their sounds. Soon, I would learn that I was right The plane was a restored World War II Texan on its way back from Oshkosh. The occupants, a father and his adult son had stopped to refuel and to eat a late dinner at a restaurant near the airport. As I heard the plane, they were beginning the last leg of their journey home to Indiana. As it happened, God had another plan; they never made it home.
I heard the plane accelerate on the runway. The engine growled as it took off, but then something went terribly wrong. I was acutely aware that the sounds were not right. The engine sputtered like a lawnmower running out of gas. Then there was silence. For a few endless seconds nothing, then the blunt smack of metal against concrete. As I lay in my bed frozen with disbelief God spoke to my heart. His voice was calm, but urgent. “Pray for their souls.” I prayed then that the souls of those on board would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. It was not my prayer, but a prayer that the Holy Spirit prayed through me.
The night was still. I heard nothing for what seemed like forever, and I wondered if I had really heard a plane crash. I’d almost convinced myself that I’d imagined it. But then sirens wailed in the darkness. Soon they were everywhere rushing toward the scene: police cars, ambulances, fire trucks. I got out of bed and turned on the local television station where the news desk was reporting that a plane had crashed into a two-story apartment building near the southeast runway. The plane and the building were on fire, and it wasn’t clear how many lives were in danger, or lost. It was strange, but in the middle of hearing about the disaster I felt that the need for prayer was gone. I was shaken by what happened, but I sensed that nothing more could be done. As night turned to day and the story unfolded, I discovered why.
Within seconds after the plane crashed into the building, it was fully engulfed in flames. Two lives were lost, those of the father and his son. At the instant I prayed, just after I’d heard that terrible sound, their souls were making the journey from life here on Earth into eternal life with God. The plane crashed into the upper landing of the north stairwell of the building, completely destroying it. Miraculously, nobody was in or near the stairwell when it happened. Two upper apartments were destroyed. Again, miraculously no one was at home. The other occupants of the building got out safely. Although there was fire, the threat to life was no longer there as I’d watched the event unfold on television.
The local newspaper ran a poignant story about the father and son and the family they left behind. As I read it, I felt connected with them. I have no idea what their religious beliefs were, or if the men even knew the Lord, but in the last seconds of their lives I know that God was with them as He told me to pray for their souls.
I learned a lot that night about God being in all things. When bad things happen, we find ourselves questioning whether God is with us at all. We often ask why He allows such suffering. When we ask, we might come away disappointed that we haven’t received from Him some sort of logical explanation. I don’t know why bad things happen, but I do know that on that hot July night God was with the men on that plane; and I know that it was His will that they be prayed for. That alone is enough to convince me that God is with us now, always, and especially when we leave this earth and enter into His loving presence.
Kind Heavenly Father: Help us through the bad times, always lift us toward you on wings of eagles so that we might be closer to your love.