I have flown somewhere between 1 million and 2 million miles since I took my first flight way back in 1972. At that time, I was 17 years old and on my way to my sister’s wedding in Germany. A trip that was supposed to take me away from Canada for three weeks lasted eight months! I ended up working on road construction in Germany and building houses in England before I set foot back in Canada.
That was so long ago! For a boy who had told his father many times, “Dad, I don’t need to learn a second language; I’m never leaving Surrey,” I was proven wrong pretty early after getting out of high school! That was 48 years ago, and long ago I lost track of the number of flights I have taken. However, I do know that I filled eight passports in the 13 years I lived in Africa, which gives some indication of the level of travel I have done in my years with TWR.
Why do I share this? On March 3, I got into my car, drove to the airport in Toronto and boarded a plane that would take me to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was uneventful, and, as usual, I slept most of the 12-hour flight. We landed, and I waited a few hours before boarding my flight to Bujumbura, Burundi. On March 8, I got on a plane and did the return flight back to Canada. All of it was uneventful; the flights were mostly on time, and I didn’t give a lot of thought to the fact that I was once again in a long tube flying across the Atlantic Ocean.
I am not a nervous flyer. In fact, I am one of those people who get on a plane, puts his head back and goes to sleep. I am often asleep before the plane is even off the ground! This trip was no different. I find flying the easy part; waiting in airports is what wears on me.
I arrived home on a Saturday morning, and Sandy and I had a normal day. I didn’t sleep well Saturday night, but it wasn’t because of jet lag. I was speaking Sunday morning, and I never sleep well the night before I speak. Sandy and I went to the service and came home after. When we came back into the house, our son Ryan asked me if I had heard about the crash. I said, “What crash?” He said, “The crash in Ethiopia.” My heart jumped! A crash in Ethiopia? I had been back in Canada one day, and a flight had gone down in the city I had just flown out of. This news took the wind out of me. The flight that had gone down was a flight that our daughter, Erin, had flown in November when we were in Kenya together. I instantly thought that my daughter could have been on that flight. I also quickly realized that one of our TWR staff had been on that very plane less than 24 hours before it went down.
This crash has broken the hearts of so many people. It is such a tragedy. When these people got on that plane, many of them did so with great excitement. They were going to visit loved ones; they were returning to their homeland; they were going on vacation or anticipating attending a conference. None of them thought the day would end in the way it did.
For some reason, this tragedy hit close to home. It has caused me to pause and think about my own life. I get on planes regularly and just take for granted that I am going to arrive safely. I don’t even give it a thought that something could happen and that maybe I won’t arrive at my destination. I just blindly trust that all will go well.
My thoughts went back to September 11, 2001, as that was another terrible day. It’s a day that most of us will never forget; most people remember exactly where they were when they heard that planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York. I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, and we were having a regional conference. It was early in the morning, and I had taken a guest to a drug store. When they came out of the store, they told me what had happened. I said, “That is impossible!” I was wrong. A week later, I was scheduled to fly again. A decision had to be made: would we stop flying or would we live under God’s protection. We decided to trust God to protect us, and we got back on planes again. However, I remember there was great apprehension.
This last week, I got on another plane heading for Central Asia. For the first time in a long time, I thought twice about getting on the plane, but then I realized that the flight was no different than any other flight. I was in the hands of God, and there is no safer place in the world to be than in his hands. I have a choice about what to believe: God is either in control none of the time, or he is in control always. Job 14:5 tells us that our days are determined, and we have been appointed time limits we cannot pass. I believe God is always in control and that he already knows when my last flight will be.
These great tragedies cause us to pause to think about the truth of Scripture and what our response should be when these tragedies happen. On September 11, 2001, no one thought that day would end the way it did. On March 10, 2019, no one thought the day would end the way that it did. When these tragedies happened, we knew immediately that there was something we could do: we could pray. We could pray for the families who have lost loved ones; we could pray for those who would be counselling those families who lost loved ones, and we could pray for those who would be working at the crash site for the days and weeks to come.
Sandy and I did just that on both days. It is so hard to imagine what these families are going through. In these times of great grief, only our Father in heaven can bring true comfort. Already this crash is old news by the world’s standards, but the grieving families don’t look at this as old news; they are still in a grieving process and will be for a long time to come. While it is impossible to imagine what they are going through, we can have a part in the process. We can continue to pray for them: pray that they will seek God and that he will be their comforter in these difficult days.