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Monday, August 15, 2011

Lessons From the Crash of Flight 1420

John 15:13 (New International Version)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

"What evidence is there that Christianity is true?" That's the scoffing question Christians often encounter from unbelievers. But as we read about the crash of 1420, we see a demonstration of Christianity's truth and power that is hard to deny. A band of Christian choir members risk their lives during the American Airlines crash in Little Rock in order to save a planeload of strangers.

The story - hardly mentioned in the press - begins near midnight on June first in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the midst of a terrific thunderstorm, American Flight 1420, a twin-engine jet, skidded down the runway, struck a row of steel poles, and rolled into the Arkansas River where it burst into flames. Inside the broken jet, panic and fire began streaking down the aisle. But amidst the panic were pockets of calm.

On board the plane, you see, were some 25 members of the Ouachita Baptist University choir. They were returning from a two-week trip to Europe, where they had entertained Kosovo refugees in Austria.

In the chaos that followed the crash, the singers went to work. Barrett Barber, a 19-year-old minister's son, lifted passengers through a hole in the plane above an emergency exit that would not open. Choir member Luke Hollingsworth escaped from the tail section only to go back to help wounded passengers escape. On his own shoulders, the young man carried a woman with a broken pelvis across chest-deep water to safety.

Choir director Charles Fuller got his wife out, then went back into the burning plane to help rescue an 80-year-old man with a broken hip. He was later seen guiding other passengers out of the fuselage onto the wing of the plane.

The acts of heroism didn't end even after the young people had gotten survivors off the plane. Rain and huge balls of hail were pelting down on injured passengers lying on the ground. Choir members huddled over them, using their own bodies as human shields against the hail and rain. They even took off their shirts to form makeshift blankets for the injured.

When a physician arrived at the crash site, he told reporters he was "amazed at the calmness and stoicism that I witnessed." Throughout the emergency, the young people exuded a sense of peace. Where did that calmness come from?

One of the singers said he found strength by repeating to himself the words of the Psalmist: "Thou shalt not be afraid [of] the terror by night."

The heroism did not come without a price. Choir member James Harrison repeatedly ran back into the burning plane to pull passengers to safety. He was apparently overcome by smoke and collapsed. A few later, James's friends gathered at First Baptist Church of Royal, Arkansas, to bury him. Charles Wright, the head of Ouachita's music program, quoted the words of James's Savior: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Many stories were written about the Little Rock crash and questions about what caused it in the first place. But in the great untold story is the answer to an even greater question: Is Christianity true?

Indeed it is, when a man will lay his life down for a stranger.

Dear Lord we pray that when the struggles of life come that we would be willing to show Your love to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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