PLYMOUTH, MI – In my early years of ministry, I had the privilege of serving in the West Texas town of Marathon at First Baptist Church. It was a small dusty little town on the edge of the Big Bend National Park, and not many miles from the Mexican border. The church building was what one might imagine as the typical turn of the century wooden clapboard country church. The town was small and quaint and boasted a population of about 500 people on a very good day. That of course included any visiting relatives or truckers that might have stopped at the Shamrock Station for 10 minutes to get fuel and a Bar-B-Q sandwich.
The amazing thing about our little country church is that we had a great pastor with a vision to reach the world. His heart for missions took us across the globe via radio waves and by airplane. He became a very accomplished pilot and used his skills to take the Gospel to some of the most remote places in the region. It was during that time that I became fascinated with flying and particularly with private planes. It is difficult to explain the sense of euphoria that comes with a single engine airplane as it garners enough ground speed to create the required amount of “lift” to cause the craft to become airborne. After hundreds of take-offs and landings on dirt strips throughout that region, the thrill was and still is exhilarating.
On many occasions we found ourselves in difficult situations. Unexpected storms, cattle on the runway, severe thermals caused by the intense heat of the Texas sun, and navigational issues were but a few of the surprises we encountered. All of these could cause more than a modicum of digestive acids to be secreted into our stomachs. At times we were even caught flying blind and had to completely depend on his ability to fly by instruments only. Not all pilots are trained and certified to fly by instrument. Most never reach that level of skill and must fly by sight.
One such pilot that was not instrument rated was caught unexpectedly by a front that moved in much more quickly than was forecast. He was lost in the clouds and could not find his way to the airport. The control tower was aware of his dilemma and was in constant communication with him, but could not direct him to his landing site. The pilot was very upset, almost to the point of being emotionally out of control. They were very concerned. The tower contacted a military fighter jet that was in the vicinity and asked if the pilot would fly to this small private plane, and then lead him back down to the airport using his cutting-edge technology and instruments.
The pilot agreed and tracked the small plane on his radar and within a few minutes was flying adjacent to the lost pilot. The military pilot said when he looked over at the civilian pilot, he could see the tears streaming down his face. He was able to contact the small plane on his VHF radio frequencies and began talking to him and calming him. The fighter jet had to use full flaps, extend landing gear and throttle down just to fly slowly enough to maintain the speed and altitude of the civilian. He told the lost pilot to follow him at about 100 yards and he would lead him home. Within a matter of minutes both the fighter jet and the small plane were safely on the ground. When the civilian pilot got out of his plane he ran to the military pilot and embraced him and wept uncontrollably. He kept saying over and over, “Thank you for showing me the way home. Thank you for showing me the way home.”
I have thought much about that scenario, and how it so relates to our role and responsibilities as Christians. We have the knowledge and ability to lead others to the safe harbor of heaven, and there are untold millions who are still flying blind without any hope. They are crying out for help and all they need is someone to lead them. May I encourage you to do whatever it takes to rescue those who are lost. Change your course if necessary. Slow down. Communicate on their frequency. Show them the way. Hopefully, one day they too will take to the skies and lead others safely home as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Patterson is Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Elected unanimously in May of 2015, Patterson formerly served for 9 years as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He also served as trustee chair and national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board.