Saturday, May 30, 2020

Giving Thanks Always

By George M. Graham Jr.

We had been up in the air, flying for about two hours. The entire time I had been looking out of the windows of the small aircraft cabin. As I observed the views, I sat in utter amazement.

It was a beautiful day. The sky was as blue as it could be, and you could see for miles and miles in every direction. The only clouds in the sky were far off in the distance.
Down below, I could see a variety of shades of green from all types of vegetation.

Across the landscape were numerous trees and forests. There were different assortments of crops in the fields. They were all lined up in what appeared as manicured rows.

The other thing that was so amazing was the diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors of the bodies of water. There were small ponds, winding streams, or rivers, and large lakes. The hue of shades of each body of water ranged from blue-green to muddy brown.

It was an impressive sight to behold! It reminded me of a verse of scripture in Genesis 1:31a, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” It made me feel blessed and thankful to be part of such an impressive and magnificent plan.

Earlier, we had flown out of a small airport in northeast Indiana. We were flying to New Orleans for a four-day conference. The pilot, Mike Fisher, and his wife Becky were in the front seats of the plane. Morgan Smith and I were seated in the back. We had all become close friends while we were attending a small bible college in Indiana.

The plane belonged to Mike and his wife. They were farmers from Texas and used the plane to go back home, on occasion, and check on their family farm. Morgan was a well-rounded athlete who was very active in Acrogymanastics. He was from New Orleans and was excited about going back home to be able to visit with old friends and family.

Mike and Becky offered for Morgan and me to fly with them to the conference. They knew that we wanted to attend, but we would be hard-pressed, as college students, to afford the plane tickets for the trip. Their generous offer allowed us to be able to attend the conference.

Before leaving the airport, as we were loading our luggage, Mike taught us about his plane. He told us that in most cases, accidents that occurred in this type of aircraft were due to pilot error and not to mechanical problems. Mike then proceeded to share with us all about his experience as a pilot. I think he was trying to clam any apprehension that we might have about flying the long distance in a small plane.

Our trip to New Orleans went well, and we had a great time at the conference. As we began our flight back to Indiana, we were excited and talkative about all the things we had learned and the sights we had seen.

We made a stop for fuel and food about halfway back. As we got ready to leave, Morgan asked if he could change seats with Becky to be able to sit in the front. He had expressed an interest in learning more about flying, and this would allow him to observe Mike and all the instruments. Little did we know this move proved to be providential in the outcome of our trip.

As we were flying, the weather began to change. We must have entered a storm front because the rest of the trip was extremely cloudy with very little visibility. We could not see the ground below us. This ride back home was not nearly as smooth as it had been on the trip going to New Orleans. It quickly became uncomfortable, and I was getting a little uneasy.

Mike maintained communications with air traffic control as we traveled. He checked in with the local airport in Indiana as we approached our final destination. They confirmed they had us on their radar screen. We were all glad that we were getting close to home.

All of a sudden, there was a loud explosion, and smoke began pouring into the cabin of the plane. The engine started to sputter, and the aircraft started to lose altitude. As we were coming out of the clouds and got closer to the ground, we could see a highway directly in front of us. It was jam-packed with traffic flowing in both directions.

While endeavoring to maintain control of the plane, Mike was calling in a “mayday” to the local airport. The plane’s engine cut off several times. Somehow he managed to get it started again, each time it did. During all this commotion, he looked at us with a concerned look on his face. He shouted, “Start praying!” Of course, he didn’t need to say that because we were already praying as hard as we could.

You may have heard people talk about how they saw their entire lives flash before them when it appeared they were about to die. That was not the experience that I had. I knew deep down inside that God was somehow going to pull us through this safely. Amazingly, instead of fear, I felt calm and peaceful.

Since the highway directly in front of us was so busy, Mike veered the plane to the left. As we made a half-circle turn, the plane was heading straight towards a sizeable Amish barn. It appeared to be over two stories tall. On the other side of the barn were giant power lines that you typically see running through the countryside.

At that point, the plane cut off again, but Mike was able to get it started one more time. The engine came on long enough for us to clear the barn and the power lines. Just as we were past them, the engine cut off for the last time.

As we descended, we were plunging towards a large open field that looked freshly plowed. As the ground started rising closer and closer, Mike told Morgan that when he gave him the signal, he needed to help pull back on the steering column.

As the wheels started to touch the ground, they began sinking into the mud. As the wheels went in the muddy ground, the back of the plane began to flip forward. The aircraft was about to flip over completely, but the left-wing hit the ground in such a way that it kept us from flipping. Miraculously, this pushed us back into an upright position. Thankfully, we didn’t flip over. Even though this crash shook us up, no one was hurt.

Later, Mike related to us that he was very concerned about landing the plane in the field because of all the rain. He knew the ground was going to be soft and muddy. Mike knew it would probably be a rough landing. He also knew that there would be a higher possibility of flipping the aircraft. Therefore, greater risk for casualties.

The air-traffic control had notified the highway patrol. Within minutes of our crash landing, a highway patrolman pulled onto the scene. He relayed to us that he had been praying as he drove to our location. Just a few weeks before, he had gone to the scene of another crash. What he found upon his arrival at that scene was much more profound. When he arrived, everyone was already dead.

We read in Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This “near-death” experience caused me to think about the many things for which I have to be thankful that day. I gave thanks to God for keeping us all safe and for His grace and mercy in our situation.

Every once in a while, I reflect on that scenario, especially when things are not going my way or are very stressful. What we experienced that day, reminds me that no matter how bad things look at the moment, God always provides a way where there appears to be no way. All of us in the plane that day could have died, but God had other plans in mind. And, I am thankful He did!