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Fingerprints of GOD




O.A. Fish

with Linda Tomblin

Copyright



Copyright 1999 • O.A. Fish/Linda Tomblin

Smashwords Edition

Original Copyright 1990 • Broadman Press

All Rights Reserved 1250-86

ISBN: 0-8054-5086-6

Dewey Decimal Classification: 248.842

Subject Headings: RELIGIOUSLIFE || WITNESSING || FISH, O.A.

Library of Congress Catalog Number: 89-48572

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All Scripture notations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

The article included in Chapter 31 of this book, “Charbel Yones and the Voice of Hope” by O.A. Fish, originally appeared in Power for Living magazine July 7, 1985 (first rights).

The article “39,000 Feet Over Florida” by O.A. Fish (September 1986 issue) is reprinted with permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1986 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, NY 10512.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fish, O.A., 1934-

Fingerprints of God | O.A. Fish with Linda Tomblin.p. cm.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Contents


Dedication

What They're Saying About Fingerprints of God

Preface

Part 1: The Flowering of Faith

1: When the Music Stops

2: Wounded Faith

3: The Empty Parking Space

4: Up, Up, and Away

5: How God Turned My Heart Toward His Word

6: Answer to My Writer’s Prayer

7: Miracle Land

8: My City Wife Becomes a Country Girl

9: The Call

10: The Home the Lord Built

11: Harry Cherry and Isothermal Community College

12: The Hopewell Hoodlums

Part 2: Fruitfulness in Ministry

13: Divine Appointees

14: Billy Ayers and the Trailer-Hitch Knob

15: Duke Power Company Supplies Firewood

16: The Burning Rose Bushes

17: Year of Recession Brings Blessing

18: Miracle of Johnny House and Two Pipes for One

19: Tested by Fire

20: Ad Adventure of Faith

21: Pulp Woodcutter and Address Labels

22: Joy Center

Part 3: Fullness of Witnessing

23: Fifty-Seven-Dollar-and-Fifty-Cent Opel

24: Launching Out by Faith

25: Learning to Live What I Preach

26: An Unforgettable Visit of My In-laws

27: Witnessing on the Airline

28: A Unique Invitation to Appear on the “700 Club”

29: My Introduction to George Otis and the Middle East

30: Isaac’s Visit

31: Tribute to Charbel Younes

32: In Loving Memory of Major Saad Haddad

33: Challenger’s Fate Impacts My Life

More Information

To the delight of my wife, Charlotte, and our daughters, Cheryl, Lisa, and Kimberly, I dedicate this book to the loving memory of our daughter Barbara Jean. Amidst our pain at the loss of Barbara, each of us in unique ways has experienced the fingerprints of God.




What They’re Saying About Fingerprints of God



PAT BOONE, Hollywood California: “I fly almost constantly, it seems; and though I commit my life into God’s hands every flight, it thrills me when I discover that the captain of the airliner is a Spirit-filled, dedicated Christian. Reading O.A. Fish’s warm and wonderful story fills me with a peculiar and special joy.”

JAMIE BUCKINGHAM, Ministries Today magazine: “Captain Fish sees world events from the perspective of a pilot looking down from high places. These exciting stories are really ancient prophecies fulfilled today.”

GEORGE OTIS, High Adventure Ministries, Voice of Hope International Radio Network: “The manuscript set my heart pounding. The pen of the Captain flashes with fingerprints of an exciting Maker flying the skyways and walking the earth. Nobody ever told it better.”

BEN KINCHLOW, Ben Kinchlow Ministries, former co-host of “The 700 Club: “Tremendous! At the scene of the crime there is no evidence until an examination clearly reveals the fingerprints of the culprit. In the case of our lives we may not see the presence of God at first glance, until the evidence clearly reveals the fingerprints of God. In the case of Captain Fish, there is no question that the Fingerprints of God are obvious even to the casual observer. God has been there.”

CLIFF BARROWS, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: “Captain Fish reminds us again in a unique and personal way that God is present and involved in every detail of our lives...This book was a real blessing to me. My faith has been strengthened...I believe yours will be too.”

JOSEPH O. IVEY, president, Fellowship of Christian Airline Personnel: “Even though God is infinite in His wisdom, His creation, and His power, He has been very personal in every detail of O.A.’s life. Those of us who have read his book can be blessed by his childlike faith in believing God in what He says.”

NORMAN B. ROHRER, The Christian Writers Guild: “Some writers are successful because they have a pleasing style; others because they present worthy content. Captain Fish offers both in Fingerprints of God. I laughed and cried, often at the same time, as I found hope and encouragement in my Christian walk through this book.”

MAX M. RICE, founder and executive director of Look-Up Lodge and president of Christian Camping International USA Division: “The worst thing I can say about this book is that once you start reading it, you won’t want to put it down!...I have read several best-selling Christian books this year, but this one moved me personally more than any of the others!”

Preface


For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse [for knowing Him] (Rom. 1:20).



From the lofty captain’s seat of a commercial airliner,

where I am privileged to fly, I feel so small

and insignificant--dwarfed by the view out my cockpit window.



It is a clear night as I gaze out into the vastness

of our universe, and there stirs within me a question:

From what source come the wonders I behold?



I remember the thousands of sunrises and sunsets

which my eyes have feasted on.

Each a unique panorama of artistic beauty, painted in celebration

to separate the darkness from the day.

Who is the masterful artist who never

bores us with the same painting twice?



Even when back down to earth, there is always

a lump in my throat when I see some gentleman

ease an elderly lady’s burden by offering to carry her bags.

What possesses him to perform such a kindly deed?



Then there is the intrigue when

an unhappy baby’s mother squeezes it to her loving breast,

and the baby’s cry becomes a cuddly coo.

What is the magic of her touch?



Surely such splendor, such beauty, such caring,

such love has a common source, doesn’t it?

From deep within my spirit, the answer comes:

These are but “the fingerprints of God.”



O.A. Fish

Part 1:

The Flowering of Faith




But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God (John 1:12, KJV).



For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14, KJV).

Although John 1:12 gives us the power to do so, some Christians mature into the position of sonship as described in Romans 8:14 faster than others. I guess I would have to be classified as one of those slow growers, and Part 1 of Fingerprints of God tells of my maturing process from Christian infancy to grown-up sonship.

1

When the Music Stops




For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

I strained to see the center line as I drove my pickup toward the airport. It was New Year’s Eve, and the cold winter rain was covering the windshield almost as fast as the wipers pushed it away. “Sure is a bad night for the kids to be driving home,” I mumbled. It wasn’t the first time I’d talked to myself on the trip between my home in Bostic, North Carolina, and the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina. I was a captain with Eastern Airlines, and I made the trip more often than I liked to think about. However, it was usually a good time to catch up on my thoughts or plan the coming week. But that night, I had more on my mind than next week’s schedule or even the fact that I was running late.

Our two teenage daughters, Barbara and Cheryl, and some Christian friends had spent the last several days at a Christmas conference sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ in Georgia; I knew at that moment they were probably somewhere on that same highway on their way home. Barbara was a good driver, but I couldn’t help worrying with the downpour and holiday celebrants combined. I kept hoping I would pass them at some point along the road. At least, then I would know they were almost home.

I tried to tell myself I had to stop looking for them and concentrate on getting to the airport, but I couldn’t get out of my mind what Barbara said the night before when she called. I could tell she had been crying. “Mom,...Dad,” she said, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you...and..." she hesitated for a second. “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like I’m ever going to get home.” Her mother and I tried to comfort her and assure her that we’d see her the next day, but then I’d suddenly got called out for this unexpected flight. And alone in my truck that evening, her words kept beating in my ears, keeping some crazy kind of rhythm with the rain pounding against the windshield.

The weather had caused my drive to take longer than usual, and when I reached the airport, I didn’t have time to think about the kids or anything else except catching my flight to Atlanta--my home base. Then, when I finally reached Atlanta, I was assigned to connect on another flight to Tampa where an Eastern DC 9 was awaiting a fresh crew. Since the weather had delayed our arrival into Atlanta, once I got there I had to rush straight to the departure gate for the Tampa-bound plane.

The flight had just closed out with every passenger seat filled, so I breathed a sigh of relief as I buckled myself into the jump seat, which is a spare observer’s seat in the cockpit. I hadn’t had a chance to even introduce myself to the crew when the passenger-loading jetway started moving back from the plane. But then, suddenly, it stopped and started moving slowly back to the plane’s entrance door.

The gate agent stuck his head into the plane and glanced around. His eyes stopped on me. “Are you Captain Fish?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I answered.

“Would you bring your bags please, Captain, and come with me? Crew-scheduling needs to talk to you.”

He turned and held the door, waiting for me. I looked at the astonished senior flight attendant and shrugged, “Doesn’t that beat all? They must have gotten someone else to cover the flight since I was running late.”

I hurriedly climbed the stairs to the second floor above the terminal concourse where crew-scheduling offices were located. I was a bit irritated that I had come all the way from North Carolina on a rainy New Year’s Eve just to be replaced. I couldn’t think of any other reason they would have called me back. But when I walked into the office, Bobby, the scheduling supervisor, handed me a slip of paper with a telephone number on it. “We’ve been asked to have you call your brother,” he told me. But when I reached for the phone on his desk, he stopped me. “Better use the one in there,” he said, motioning toward an office in the rear.

“Hello.” My brother’s deep voice answered on the first ring.

“Eugene, what’s wrong?” I asked. “Has something happened?

“I...I’m afraid so,” he stammered. “There’s been an accident when the kids were coming home.” I knew he was having trouble explaining, but I was having even more difficulty standing there waiting for him to finish.

“Eugene, are the girls all right?” I interrupted.

“Well, I’m afraid that Barbara...” his voice faded away. Then it came back, “O.A., I’m sorry, but Barbara is gone. She was killed.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but nothing came out. I could feel myself sinking into a chair beside the desk. Somewhere in the distance, Eugene’s voice was calling me. “O.A., O.A., can you hear me?”

I struggled but finally forced myself to respond. “Yes, Eugene I hear you.”

“Cheryl is in the hospital,” he said. “They don’t know how serious her injuries are yet. She only arrived a short while ago. Charlotte called me and asked that I locate you.”

He gave me the hospital’s number, and the next few minutes were spent sharing with my wife in a private sorrow that only a mother and father can experience in such a time. After assuring her that I would be home as soon as possible, I returned to the outer office. As I picked up my suitcase and started toward the door, I could see several of the schedulers and pilots move toward me and then stop, as though they’d just realized they wouldn’t know what to do if they reached me. Turning back, I gave them a slight wave and stepped out into the pilot’s mailroom. There I stopped and leaned against a row of mailboxes; I was alone, so alone. My mind whirled as I tried to let the news sink in. Some tough things had come my way before, but never anything like that ache inside. It was threatening to swallow me whole.

“God,” I sighed, “You’re going to have to help me. I just don’t understand. I don’t want to question you, but Lord, I’m hurting so bad.” A calmness and acceptance began to slowly fold around me. It was much like the feeling I remembered as a child when I would get hurt, and Dad would pick me up, dust me off, and give me a hug. There was a real sense that my Heavenly Father was now doing the same. The ache didn’t go away; it was still there, but knowing that He loved me and cared that I was hurting helped. A familiar verse of scripture then began to scroll through my mind: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28, KJV). The grip of God’s loving arms seemed to tighten around me as I yielded to Him. “I still don’t understand, Lord,” I cried. “But somehow I know that this promise is for me.” And so it was in that deepest wound I’d ever experienced, I could feel my Heavenly Father’s loving embrace.

In the rapture of the moment, I could almost see Barbara running across heaven and into the outstretched arms of Jesus. A warm joy and a feeling like silken lace began to slip down over my head and engulf my body, bringing with it a peace like I’d never experienced before. “I give her to You, Lord,” I whispered. “I give her to You.” And I meant it. I believe that had I been given the choice at that moment, I would not have asked for her back.

A hand on my arm startled me, and I looked up to see another Eastern captain. I had seen him many times before, but I didn’t know his name. “Come on, O.A.,” he said. “There’s a plane leaving for Greenville, and we’re holding it for you.” He hurried me downstairs and into a waiting ramp service pickup truck. And as we drove across the parking apron, I saw a DC 9 with its engines running and its steps down waiting for me to arrive. I still couldn’t talk to anyone, but I mumbled something like thanks to him, jumped out of the pickup, and ran up the aircraft’s front loading stairs. The senior flight attendant seated me next to her on the forward flight attendant jump seat.

The plane was filled with passengers celebrating New Year’s Eve. The flight had been delayed for about an hour because of the weather, and they were in high spirits by the time I climbed on board. But I just kind of slid down into the jump seat, laid my head back, and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see anything or anybody. I just wanted the plane to hurry up, taxi out, and feel that familiar surge of power which meant we were on our way to Greenville before I opened my eyes again.

We were delayed a bit longer, waiting for ground control clearance to taxi to the runway. I was sitting there trying not to think when I heard a voice in front of me. Wearily I opened my eyes and glanced up to find a passenger standing there staring down at me. “Hey, everybody,” he yelled to his friends. “Look at the sad little captain.” He bent over, his eyes just inches from mine. “What’s wrong, sad little captain? Don’t you know it’s New Year’s Eve? You’re not supposed to be sad!” He reached down for my arm, trying to entice me to join in their festivities.

“You’d be sad too,” I replied as I slowly pried his hand from my arm, “if you’d just gotten news that your teenage daughter had been killed in an automobile accident.” The silence spread like an icy wave over the plane. The obnoxious passenger fell to his knees in the galley floor beside me.

“Oh!” he gasped, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” For the first time in his life, probably, he had nothing else to say. Tears filled his eyes as I reached out my hand to help him up. I knew that God was showing me Barbara’s death would be a means of reaching out to others and extending His love. And someday, I knew, I’d be able to look back and see His touch in that devastating loss, just the way I’d seen Him in other areas of my life.

Moments later, a pastor who was sitting in the first-class section passed a note to me telling me that he was praying for me and my family, which showed me that His love would also be extended to me through others.

My brother Doug met me at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport and drove me home. As I moved through the crowd who had gathered at our house, I was greatly relieved to see Cheryl lying on the couch in our den with her right arm in a sling. I rushed over and knelt beside her. “You don’t have to worry about me, Dad,” she said. “All I have is a cracked collarbone, and the rest of the kids are all right too.” She lay back and smiled at me weakly, “And you know, Dad, you don’t have to worry about Barbara either--because she’s in heaven.”

I had been praying all the way home that God’s grace would be on my family, and He had answered that prayer even before I’d arrived. Our neighbors and friends had kind of taken charge. Food was pouring in, and our every need was being met before we could even ask. We were receiving calls from as far away as the Philippines as our network of friends around the world began passing the word.

It was after two o’clock in the morning before Charlotte and I finally got to bed, even then it took a while for my mind to relax. But when I finally dozed off, some time during the short night I started dreaming of a heavenly choir. They were singing beautiful, old familiar hymns--comforting songs--the kind we had sung when I was young and the kind sung at my father’s funeral. The words and music were bringing me such encouragement and comfort that even in my dream I kept hoping they wouldn’t stop; somehow I knew if I could only keep the words of those hymns in mind, I could make it. But I shouldn’t have worried, because when I dragged myself out of bed to face the unpleasant tasks of the day, I suddenly realized the music was still there--in soft stereo inside my head. The morning sun didn’t fade it. The conversations of friends didn’t drown it out. It just kept going, through the receiving of friends at the funeral home, during the funeral, and for several days afterward. All my thoughts and actions were tinted by the music floating through my head. The words and melodies dulled the sharp edge of death for me in a way nothing else could have done. God knew that, but He also knew that the music was only a reprieve--the time would come when He would have to take it away.

It was about four days after Barbara’s funeral when it happened. I was sitting alone, meditating with my Bible lying open on my lap. It was opened to my favorite section--the eighth chapter of Romans. I was remembering how God had helped me to recall the twenty-eighth verse the day Barbara died. As I whispered the words to myself, “We know that in all things God works for the good,” I could feel the music begin to slide away. “Please, God, not yet,” I begged silently. “I’m not ready to stand alone; I still need ”

But it was as though God stopped me in mid-sentence. I sensed Him speaking to my spirit, “You won’t need the music any longer. All you’ll ever need is in your Bible.” I looked down and began to read...hesitantly...still uncertain. But the question in verse 35 caught my attention. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” I wanted to hurry and find the answer, but instead I found myself reading slowly, savoring each word. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life,” I stopped, took a deep breath, and reread the last few words. But this time, I read them out loud, gaining courage and strength from each syllable. “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” My spirit soaked up the words like a dry sponge, and by the time I’d finished reading them, I was ready to say, “You’re right, Lord. I don’t need the music anymore.” And the melody stopped.

Furthermore, I have found since that day that His promise has remained true. I am constantly aware of His ever-present love, and I know that nothing can separate me from it. This “knowing” came to me as a gift, but I am convinced it is available to everyone who will reach out for it. He is all around us--right beside us--closer even than our own bodies. If we will let Him, He will walk with us daily, give us music when we need it, and when the time comes--as it often does--that He must take the melody away, then He will give us something stronger to which we may cling.

2

Wounded Faith




He [Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2-4).

It had been a long time coming, but I knew that day as I sat alone with God and was able to let Him take the music away that I had finally returned full cycle to the simple faith I had known as a child.

I was next to the oldest of ten children born to Otho Alden, Sr., and Pauline Fish. The average age between my brothers and sisters was two years. We were a large and loving family, and we were taught to believe in God. From as far back as I could remember, He was a personal friend to me--a truth I never thought to question. When we lived on Reid Street in the little town of Forest City, North Carolina, I would set up an orange crate for a pulpit and preach to the alcoholics who sometimes staggered down our street. Then when I was nine, my Aunt Maude took me to an old-fashioned tent revival meeting. It was there that I invited Jesus to come into my heart. I knelt down in the wood shavings by a homemade altar and followed the preacher as he led me in the sinner’s prayer.

“God forgive me of my sins,” I prayed. “And Lord Jesus come into my heart, save me, cause me to be the person You want me to be.” It was just a simple prayer, but there was no room for doubt in my childlike faith.

However, that faith in a personal intervening God began to dwindle during my early teens. It was during an especially difficult time when it seemed God was not listening to my prayers. Death was threatening to destroy our family--one member at a time--while I stood by helplessly and watched. Mama’s older brother, Jesse, was the first one to die during a short period of three years. Then her father, my beloved Grandpa Padgett, slipped away; her older brother, Will, was found to be terminally ill--all of them with cancer. But the hardest of all to face was when my father became ill. He had been suffering for several years with high blood pressure, and he had already suffered a couple of strokes which had left him slightly paralyzed.

One night when I had just gotten home from visiting my Uncle Will and was trying to sneak into the house without awakening the family, the final faith-killing blow struck. We were living in the country at that time, and Uncle Will lived in a small farmhouse just a few miles from us. Knowing how sick Uncle Will was, I liked to go see him as often as I could. The two-story farmhouse we lived in was about fifty years old, so I opened the screen door carefully, hoping the inevitable squeak wouldn’t wake my parents or new baby brother. Mama always slept with each new baby until another one arrived. Mama, Dad, my three sisters, and the baby slept in the living room while my brothers and I slept in the room next to them. To keep from disturbing the rest of the family, I tiptoed in without turning on the lights. But just as I passed the living room door, Daddy jumped out from behind it and hollered, “Boo!” Apparently he had been sleeping in our room because the baby had been keeping him awake, and he had heard me coming in. I almost jumped out of my skin, and we both fell back against the wall laughing our heads off. It was a great moment. I had been worried about him for such a long time, yet there he was--the same old fun-loving Dad he had always been. Seeing him joking and laughing lifted the depressed feeling I’d brought home with me from Uncle Will’s.

In fact, I felt better than I had in months as I pulled off my blue jeans and crawled into bed. I had just gotten settled down under the covers, when I heard my mother scream. I grabbed my pants and struggled into them as I ran into their room. The girls were sitting up in bed, rubbing their eyes and trying to figure out what was happening. Mama was sitting there on her knees on the bed, her fists pressed to her mouth as if to stifle the screams that still hung in the air. Daddy lay next to her gasping for breath. She turned to me yelling, “Junior, get a doctor!” We had no telephone, and the nearest neighbors who did have one were the Carpenters that lived about a quarter of a mile away. I ran out the door as fast as I could, but it seemed as if I were crawling down the dirt road. I couldn’t seem to make my legs go quickly enough. When I reached the Carpenter’s house and finally woke them up, I was so out of breath and anxious that I could hardly tell her what was wrong.

Mrs. Carpenter called the doctor and made me sit down and rest for a few minutes. She tried her best to calm me down before letting me leave. When she did let me go, I ran as fast as I could. By the time I got to the house, the doctor was already there sitting astride my dad, trying to help him breathe. I knew it was bad, and I couldn’t stand to watch, so I ran out the door and climbed into our old ‘36 Chevrolet. I sat there alone, crying and praying harder than I’d ever prayed before. I knew Daddy was dying just like Grandpa and Uncle Jesse had done. “Please God,” I pleaded. “Please help him.” Finally, exhausted, I fell asleep; sometime later, I was awakened by my younger sister Dorcus, who was pecking on the car window. “Junior, Junior,” she sobbed, “Daddy’s dead.”

I couldn’t make myself go back into the house that night. Instead, I went to my Aunt Lorene’s who lived close by. And even the next day, I wouldn’t go home. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing my dad, lying there in a casket. I wanted to remember him alive, laughing, and joking--the way he’d been just minutes before that fatal stroke.

That night my childlike faith went out the window. I felt God had let me down. When Uncle Will died a few months later, I wasn’t even surprised. It wasn’t that I had quit believing in God. I just no longer believed He would intervene in our personal lives.

It took years before I began to look for--and eventually recognize--God’s fingerprints on my life, learning to trust Him again. However, that trust didn’t begin through dramatic episodes like His grace shown to me at the time of Barbara’s death. It began by believing Him for a simple thing like an empty parking space at the employment office. And later, by seeing His hand in my getting a job with the only two airlines in the world to whom I had not applied.

3

The Empty Parking Space




If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matt. 17:20, KJV).

Many years passed, and I was a young adult before I allowed myself to think once more of that personal God I’d known as a child. However, the day did come when I was challenged again to return to that childlike faith. A friend had given me a book called Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It contained a collection of stories about successful people. The thing that was so fascinating to me was the common theme that ran throughout each story. Every person mentioned in the book spoke of a positive mental attitude and a faith in the power of prayer. For me the book was far more than a “get-out-there-and-go-for-it” instruction manual. It asked the reader to step out in faith--to not only pray for needs but to pray specifically--and to believe the thing we prayed for would come to pass.

My dream had always been to become an airline pilot. At the time, I was a flight instructor for light airplanes at Carpenter’s Airport in Charlotte. I was grateful for having come that far, but it seemed like an awfully long way to my ultimate dream. While sitting at the airport one day waiting for my next student, I thumbed through my dog-eared copy of Think and Grow Rich. As always, I was captivated by the author’s presentation. Was he crazy? Or could what I was reading really work? Of course, I still believed in God, but I didn’t really think He concerned Himself about my individual problems and dreams. After all, He had some genuinely big problems in the world that needed solving without worrying about the small daily demands of my life.

Yet, the assertion of Napoleon Hill’s book that God does answer specific prayers was gnawing at me. What I wanted more than anything was to become an airline pilot, but I was afraid to even let myself think about God helping me become one--much less pray specifically for it. I still remembered the pain of His letting me lose Dad; at least, in my heart I blamed Him for that. But as I permitted myself to dream just a little, a thought occurred to me. Maybe I couldn’t believe for an airline job, but I could start by believing for something small--something not quite so essential to my life’s dream.

There was one thing that had been bugging me--something small, yet something that had become very irritating. Charlotte’s job as a tax consultant had played out with the end of tax season. She had been signing up every Tuesday for her unemployment check. Since we only had one car, I had to drive her to the employment office every week. The irritating part of the ordeal was that the place was so busy on sign-up day that I usually had to park at least two or three blocks away. I slammed the book shut and sat up straight. “That’s it,” I said to myself. “That’s the perfect place to start.”

“OK,” I said, now directing my words to God. “I’m going to accept Mr. Hill’s challenge.” I tried to make my voice sound firm with confidence. “I’m asking You for an empty parking space right in front of the employment office: the first one to the right of the handicap spaces.” I wanted to be absolutely sure if the experiment did work that there would be no doubt left in my mind. If that particular space was empty, it could not be a coincidence!

It was almost a week before the next sign-up Tuesday, and every day I would remind God of the parking space I wished to be empty. Every day I would tell myself, “I believe that the first parking space to the right of the handicap space will be vacant.”

It was a few days before I found the nerve to tell Charlotte. “Oh, sure,” she said laughing. “You actually expect that exact parking space to be empty.”

“You’ll see.” I said, trying to sound more confident than I felt.

Finally the day arrived. We lived in a house trailer on the airport property, so I waited until after my morning training flight to pick up Charlotte. I knew that would put us at the employment office during the busiest part of the day. If it worked, I wanted to be sure it was God who did it. It was about 10:30 a.m. when I drove over to our trailer and honked the horn to let her know I was ready to go.

Soon she was sliding into the seat next to me with her purse tucked under her arm, trying her best to act as usual, but she couldn’t quite hide the sly grin that kept popping out. I backed out of the drive and headed toward downtown Charlotte--and my rendezvous with God. Charlotte had to keep cautioning me to slow down. I was in a hurry by then to see if it was going to work. But halfway there, I got scared. What was I doing? This was not something to play around with. What if it really did work? My next thought was: But on the other hand, what will I do if it doesn’t work? I knew it’d be hard to handle the disappointment.

Charlotte had stopped teasing me and sat very still looking quietly out her window. “O.A.,” she said, her voice serious this time. “Do you really think it’ll be empty?”

“Yes, I do,” I confessed, surprising myself at my own firm response. Even more surprising was the confidence that suddenly began welling up inside me.

Soon I was turning into the front parking lot, and confidence or no confidence, my hair practically stood on end when I saw a car slowly backing out of my exact designated parking space as we approached. I couldn’t get a word out. Charlotte sat there staring at the empty space, her laughter and “I told you so” suspended in midair. Neither of us moved at first. Then we started beating each other on the shoulders, laughing, and talking at the same time. Even after I’d parked, it took several minutes for us to compose ourselves enough for her to get out of the car and go in.

I watched her walk toward the office and turn again to stare at the packed parking lot. Some cars were even parked illegally. And she was still shaking her head when she disappeared through the office doors.

I smiled as the doors closed behind her and slumped silently back in my seat. I was alone with my thoughts, but at the same time, I wasn’t alone. All of a sudden, I was sharply aware of His presence--the same awareness I remembered feeling as a child when somehow I just knew He was there. I could even imagine the smile He must have had as He watched me. I was still a long way from the daily carefree confidence I had once known, but I knew I had finally taken a big step in that direction.

The miracle for Charlotte and me was far more than just finding an empty parking space. It meant endless possibilities lay ahead for us if we could learn to follow up on what we had learned that day--trust and believe. Today, it was a parking space--perhaps tomorrow--an airline job.

4

Up, Up, and Away




Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34).

Until I was seventeen, I had given very little thought to airplanes or flying, but that was about to change. After Daddy died, money became scarce at our house. I couldn’t find a job; so as a last resort, I talked Mama into signing for me to join the Air Force. My first airplane ride came when I boarded an Eastern Airlines Super Constellation to fly from Charlotte to San Antonio, Texas, where I was to undergo basic training.

As we sat at the end of the runway at the Charlotte airport, and the pilot began to rev the four powerful, propellor-driven engines, I immediately was hooked on flying. A thrill shot through me like I’d never felt before. And, suddenly, we were hurtling down the runway with the world rushing past my window so fast I could hardly get my breath. Then we broke ground and gently floated into a world I’d never imagined, but one I definitely knew I had to become a part of someday.

Any hopes of flying for the Air Force were dashed to pieces because I hadn’t finished high school, but as soon as I was discharged, I returned to school with the aid of the GI Bill. I also started visiting the local airport which consisted of a single dirt landing strip and an old wooden hangar. With encouragement from Hubert Lancaster, our only local flight instructor, I began flying lessons. On June 18,1953, I made my first two solo take-offs and landings. Jack Matheny, another student pilot, and I became co-owners of a 1946 Piper Cub which we purchased for $500.

I earned my student pilot’s license and high school diploma, but I was still uncertain about my direction and future. The provisions for education in the GI Bill were used up for me. I had no money for college, and I was barely making a living at my textile job. Becoming an airline pilot seemed impossible, but I felt deep down inside I had to be in aviation.

After a few agonizing months, an opportunity for a job in Buffalo, New York, came through my brother, Eugene, and I took it. It involved working for a subsidiary of Chevrolet delivering engines for military transport planes, during the Korean War. Sadly, this meant I had to sell my half of the Cub to Jack.

My salary at Chevrolet enabled me to save enough money in one year to enter Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I would earn an aircraft mechanic’s license. I also worked evenings at the local Douglas Aircraft plant. This enabled me to earn enough money to continue my flying lessons on weekends at Tulsa’s Harvey Young Airport. And by the time I finished the Spartan mechanic’s school, I had also earned my private pilot’s license.

When I went back to Buffalo, I married Charlotte, the sweetheart I’d left behind. I then started working with Bell Aircraft and took a part-time mechanic’s job with Niagara Airways’ fixed-based operator at the Niagara Falls Airport. An agreement with the company allowed me a cheap rate for renting their aircraft which enabled me to quickly earn enough hours to receive my Commercial License, Flight Instructor’s Rating, and an Instrument Rating.

It seemed as though things were working out at last. Instead of having to pay to fly, I was finally being paid to fly sightseers over Niagara Falls and teach others to fly. All this was in addition, of course, to my full-time job at Bell Aircraft.

But it wasn’t long before Bell’s government contract expired, and I found myself without a full-time job. The part-time flying job at Niagara Airways wasn’t sufficient to support my family. Fortunately, however, an offer did come from a new Douglas Aircraft plant that had recently located in Charlotte, North Carolina; so I loaded up Charlotte, my wife, and Barbara, our new baby, and moved south.

As soon as I became established at Douglas, I scouted out the local airports and landed a part-time flight instructor’s job at Carpenter’s Airport. I also enrolled in night courses at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. About this time, our second daughter, Cheryl, was born.

The next couple of years were like walking a tightrope, trying to juggle two jobs, my home life, and college. With only a faint hope of becoming an airline pilot and taking a drastic cut in pay, I left Douglas and began flying full-time out of Carpenter Airport. That’s where I was the day my friend gave me Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I didn’t know it, but it was time for God to put into action the next phase of His plan for my life. After the parking-space miracle, I felt inspired to actively pursue an airline career. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I dreamed constantly of having the controls of a giant airliner responding to my touch, so I spent plenty in postage stamps writing to every airline in the world, inquiring about their pilot needs. Every airline, that is, except Eastern Airlines and Mohawk, a regional airline in the northeast later bought by another carrier. Eastern was my first choice, but they had laid off hundreds of pilots, and I felt it would be a waste of time to write them. I didn’t write to Mohawk either.

Only four or five airlines bothered to answer my letter, and only two of those included applications in their reply. Accompanying the applications were notes which, in essence, read, “You can fill these out if you’d like, but you’ll just be wasting your time.”

I was discouraged, but remembering the empty-parking-space miracle kept me from giving up. Later I heard that a major airline was interviewing prospective pilots in Atlanta, Georgia. So I loaded up my family before dawn the next morning and headed for Atlanta.

The interviewing process dragged on until about ten o’clock that night. It was a hot, grueling day for Charlotte and the girls. They spent the whole time with our car in a paid parking lot. Charlotte even had to wash the girls in the bathroom sink. But she was happy when it was over, because she knew I was hopeful. The interviewer had all but promised me a job. He said I would be receiving an airline ticket within seven days to fly to Washington, D.C., for further evaluation and a physical.

So every day the next week, I waited anxiously for the mail carrier. But there was no letter. On the eighth day, I called the gentleman who had interviewed me and heard these dreaded words: “Sorry, but the training class was filled before we got down to your name.” My hopes and dreams were devastated by that call. A nauseous feeling began to consume me.

The next Sunday, Charlotte talked me into visiting a newly founded Presbyterian Church with her and the girls. In my zeal to build flying time, I seldom attended church except on bad weather weekends, but in spite of a beautiful, sunny day that Sunday, I was in church with my family.

It was a friendly country church. Charlie, one of my flight students, had invited us. He couldn’t wait to introduce me to “Red” Guthrie, an Eastern captain friend of his. As we shook hands, Red looked at me sympathetically.

“Hear you just got turned down by (so and so),” he said.

“Best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Wha...what?” I sputtered. Didn’t he know how badly I was hurting inside? I didn’t understand his words or particularly appreciate his comment that morning. After all, surely he of all people knew the scarcity of airline pilot jobs. There wasn’t the luxury of being able to choose an airline. I was simply hoping for a job.

“Tell me something, O.A.,” he said. “Who do you really want to fly for?”

“Well, Eastern, of course,” I gasped, “but that’s impossible. They have hundreds of pilots on furlough.”

“Same thing happened to me,” Red went on as though he hadn’t heard a word I was saying. “I was turned down by the same airline that turned you down, and six months later I was working for Eastern.”

“But, but,” I tried to interrupt.

“And the same thing’s going to happen to you,” Red assured with a smile, patting me on the shoulder as he walked away. Years later when we had become old airline buddies, I discovered I had been talking to a real man of faith that day.

Shortly after meeting Red, God brought another Eastern captain my way. His name was John Clower, the assistant chief pilot of the Charlotte base. He came to Carpenter’s Airport one day and asked to have his flying skills checked out in a Champion Tri-Traveler--a small tandem, two-seater, stick-controlled plane. John hadn’t flown light airplanes in years and wanted to teach his son to fly. We hit it off from the start, and he seemed genuinely interested when I shared with him my dream of someday becoming an airline pilot.

However, it turned out that the combined weight of John and his strapping, teenage son was too heavy for our Tri-Traveler, so he had to go elsewhere and find a larger trainer plane. After that, we lost contact for a while.

Later, in order to further my flying experience, I left Carpenter’s to fly for Cannon Aircraft, located in Charlotte’s Municipal Airport. One day, I received a surprise call from John. Yet, I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise because it happened exactly six months after Red’s prophecy that Sunday morning at the Presbyterian church.

“Hello. Is this O.A.?” the voice said.

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“Well, this is John Clower. How would you like to come to work for Eastern?” he said.

I could hardly keep my voice steady; I had waited so long. “Well, I, uh, yes. I’d like that,” I stammered.

“Maybe you could drive over here, and we could talk,” he suggested.

It was about two miles around the airport perimeter road, but before John could hardly cradle his phone, I was standing in his office. After greeting me with a broad smile, he explained that telegrams were being sent out to recall all the furloughed Eastern pilots and two classes of new hirings were being planned for the following February. (This was in the fall of 1961.) He also reported that Captain O.B. Bivens, an old friend of his, would be doing the interviewing.

“How would you like for me to give O.B. a call?” John asked from behind his big oak desk. My mouth felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. He just chuckled, waved at me as if to say you’re hopeless, laid down his pencil, and finally picked up his phone. “O.B., John Clower here,” he said. “I’ve got a young man here who I believe will make us one heck of a pilot.” He winked at me.

Finally after further conversation, John put his hand over the phone and leaned toward me: “He wants to know if you can come down tonight for an interview tomorrow morning.” He looked at his watch, grabbed a flight schedule from his desk, and continued: “Can you be packed and back here ready to go in an hour?”

My mind was racing--if I call Charlotte and ask her to pack my bags, it’s a ten-minute drive each way. “Sure I can!”

Speaking to O.B. again, John said, “He’ll be there.” Hanging up, John said, “Better get going! I’ll have some instructions written out for you by the time you get back.”

I immediately called Cannon Aircraft to let them know I needed the afternoon and the next day off. Barbara, the secretary who answered, became almost as excited as I when I shared my story, and she agreed to call Charlotte about packing my bags. When I arrived at the trailer, I didn’t have time to talk. I grabbed my bags, kissed her, and bolted out the door for the airport. I made it with only minutes to spare.

The flight to Miami and my stay at the hotel across the street from the Eastern training base was like a dream. I could hardly believe it: Eastern, the one airline I had wanted to fly for all the time, and I was here.

The next morning at 8:30 sharp, I was ushered into Captain Bivens’s office. Fortunately, he had the same easygoing, friendly manner as John Clower, and he put me at ease immediately. The interview went well, and soon I was facing a barrage of written exams and a thorough physical examination. When I finished I stuck my head back into Captain Bivens’ office as he had requested me to do. “We’ll let you know something as soon as we can,” he said.

Then it was back home to wait--again. In the beginning, I’d call John Clower about once a week to check on any progress. Then I’d call him about every other day, and then it became every day. I’d call John, and he’d call O.B. This continued for about two months, until finally O.B. reported to John, “Tell O.A. not to call anymore. I’ve filled the first class with pilots laid off from other airlines, but I’ll definitely have him in the second class starting in February.” I was thrilled, but I still didn’t rest easy until the official notification arrived in the mail several weeks later. That letter was mounted and hangs on my wall today.

On February 12, 1962, I became an Eastern pilot. The end of my rainbow, or so I thought. Then came ground school, flight training, tests, and flight checks. Two months later, I was qualified as copilot on Convair 440s and Martin 404s, twin-engine, propellor-driven airplanes carrying between forty to fifty passengers. My first flight was a fantasy come true.

Just two months after this I couldn’t believe it, when the Eastern flight engineers walked out on strike, the airline shut down, and my bubble burst.

Charlotte and I still had the house trailer, and it was paid for, but there was not even enough money in the bank to buy groceries. We knew we had to take emergency measures, and since it appeared that the strike was going to be long, we decided to visit her folks in Buffalo.

I helped her dad with his floor-covering business, hoping for a speedy strike settlement. Since Eastern didn’t fly into Buffalo at that time, nothing about the strike was in the news. After several weeks, I made a call to John Clower to get an update.

“No, things still look pretty bad,” he gloomily replied. “But it’s strange you called now. Mohawk Airlines, down in Utica, New York, just called to see if we could furnish them some dual-trained Convair and Martin copilots. They need about twelve pilots, but I have about twenty here in the office wanting the job. We’re going to draw straws.” He was gone for a minute, and then he was back, “Hey, the guys say I can draw one for you.”

I was among those chosen, and early the next morning I flew from Buffalo to Utica, New York, where I underwent a half-day refresher course. By that mid-afternoon, I was out of Utica as copilot on a Martin 404 passenger flight. I continued to fly for Mohawk until Eastern started flying again in the fall of ‘62.

Was it simply a coincidence that I ended up flying for the only two airlines to whom I had not applied? There was no way I could be convinced of that. I am certain it was God letting me know that He held my tomorrows, and all He wants is for me to hold firmly to Him.

5

How God Turned My Heart Toward His Word




Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees;

then I will keep them to the end.

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law

and obey it with all my heart.

Direct me in the path of your commands,

for there I find delight.

Turn my heart toward your statutes

and not toward selfish gain.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

renew my life according to your word (Ps. 119:33-37).

I was twenty-seven--almost twenty-eight--years old when I was hired by Eastern Airlines. And suddenly, the struggle I’d lived with for all those years was gone. My dream had come true. I’d reached the impossible goal, and I for some reason found myself thinking, now what? It should have been time for the happily-ever-after ending to begin, but for some reason, it wasn’t working out that way.

During the fall of 1962, Eastern was able to get back into operation from the flight engineer strike, but only on a limited basis. Most of the engineers refused to come back; at that time, the Railway Labor Act did not permit the company to hire strikebreakers from outside. They were able to get around this by taking their bottom 272 pilots and training them to be flight engineers. I was next to the bottom number on this list. And our copilot seats were filled with new-hires. So not only did I have to fly engineer, but I was also transferred from out of our beloved Charlotte to Boston in the dead of the winter. As an engineer, I was initially qualified on DC7’s and Constellations, then later on Lockheed Electras. An important role of the flight engineer is performing a thorough preflight check, and it was no picnic preflighting airplanes on the Boston International Airport tarmac with blistering winter winds whistling in off Boston Harbor. I was mostly assigned to the backup airplanes for the Boston to New York Shuttle, and many days I would preflight as many as six airplanes in a day. I remember once muttering under my breath while kicking the tires of an old Super Constellation, wondering if it could be the same airplane I had taken my first airplane ride on ten years earlier--the one that had infected me with the “flying bug.”

It did help some after a couple of years, when I managed to get based at the Washington National Airport. I was glad to get a little further south, but I knew it would be at least another year before I’d get to fly copilot again, and I sure missed it.


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