April 13 started off as a really good day. My daughter Kathryn, my wife Pam, and I were going to Italy to meet with some GES translators for about six days. Afterward we planned to go to a Bible college in Zambia to teach a couple of classes on Free Grace theology. We were excited about what lay ahead.
However, arriving at JFK International Airport would put a damper on any good day. The place was packed, and we had to gather all our luggage from the carousel at baggage claim and recheck it before boarding our flight to Italy. The flight was at a different terminal, so we had to travel there and go through security again. Our luggage had a lot of GES books to hand out in Italy and Zambia, so it was heavy.
None of that sounds fun, but after years in the military and traveling to various places, we were accustomed to such inconveniences. What happened next, however, was unplanned and unfortunate. It turned the day pretty bleak.
In hopes of collecting our luggage a little early, I had gone ahead and had ridden to the top of a very long escalator. Pam was farther behind, waiting for Kathryn. When Pam got on the escalator, she tripped on her carry-on luggage. She fell back and hit her head on the metal steps. The escalator’s grooved steps caused her body to rotate, acquiring serious scrapes in the process.
I didn’t see it happen, but I heard the people around her scream. From the top of the three-story escalator, I turned around and saw that Pam had fallen. I dropped my carry-on luggage and ran to the bottom of the escalator. My luggage, filled with books, had wheels on it, and it started down the escalator at high speed, heading right for Pam’s head as she was still lying on the steps. I screamed for the people around her to stop my runaway luggage, which, thankfully, they did.
Over the next few hours, the Port Authority at the airport determined that Pam wouldn’t be able to fly to Italy. Her foot had swollen, and it was pretty evident that she had broken it in the fall. Furthermore, she might have suffered a concussion. She could not fly.
Pam was loaded on a gurney in front of a large crowd and taken to a local hospital by ambulance. However, I was unable to go with her and was told that I could not enter the hospital if I went by taxi. I would have to gather our luggage–which had already been loaded on the plane but now needed to be taken off–and wait to see what would happen. They would call and let me know if there were any other injuries.
Kathryn flew on to Italy that night. I stayed in New York, getting a hotel and waiting to see if Pam would be released. She was, at 4:30 a.m. A New York cab brought her to the hotel. She could not go to Italy or Zambia as they could not cast her foot. She spent two days at the hotel recuperating from her fall. Obviously, we had to contact the travel agent in order to make all the necessary changes to our plans.i
April 13 turned out to be a lousy day. At the hotel, however, as we discussed what had happened, Pam had a surprisingly upbeat attitude. She told me about the EMT who had picked her up at the airport and taken her to the hospital. On the way to the ER, they engaged in conversation and found that they shared something in common. The EMT had recently lost a very young son. Pam and I had recently lost our daughter Elisabeth. The EMT asked Pam how she handled it. It gave her an opportunity to talk about her faith. She told him that I had written a book about it, which could be found on GES’s website. Immediately, he looked it up on his phone and ordered it. It was obvious that he was going to read the book.
The book, among other things, gives the message of eternal life as a free gift by faith in Christ alone. In Him, we have conquered even death, our worst enemy. Another main message in the book is that God can use difficult things, even the death of a child, to accomplish great things. That is the greatness of God’s grace. Whatever this man needed, he could find it in that marvelous grace.
Changed plans. A broken foot. A bruised body. Strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance on the streets of New York City in the middle of the night. Nothing good to see here. But Pam told me that the message of grace went out in the back of that ambulance to a man who needed to hear it. Looking back on April 13, she was OK with how it turned out.
i Pam missed the trip. She flew to Indianapolis to stay with our eldest daughter while we were gone. I flew to Italy two days late to join Kathryn and some of the GES translators. Then Kathryn and I went on to Zambia. We are there now, teaching in a Bible college.