Forty years ago, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1982, Beverly Paul received a call from her son who “just happened” to need a ride from Bonners Ferry, ID to Libby. She took her married (and pregnant) daughter Debbie Chamberlain and left her home south of Libby to pick up her son. After a couple “delays” in Libby, she left town at 8:30 p.m.
After Family Night at Three Lakes Community Bible Church near Troy on Wednesday night, Feb. 24, 1982, my wife and our two children got in our car ready to leave the church for our home just south of Libby. It was 8:30 p.m. I noticed a car stuck in the parking lot so I got out, put on my overshoes, and helped push the car. By the time I got back in our Ford Escort and drove away, it was 8:37 p.m.
The moisture on the roads had frozen since we had come to church, so I slowed up and drove cautiously. Just past Throops Lake, we were starting up the little rise when Beverly Paul “just happened” to be coming up the other side. She started to slide on the ice as she came over the top so touched the brake, thinking it might straighten her out. Instead, she went into a complete skid, now only 50 yards away from us. She then rammed into the rock wall on the south side of the highway. This bounced her right back in front of us. We slammed into the side of her car and spun sideways. Her momentum carried her over the abrupt edge of the north side of the road and her car flipped end-over- end and came to rest below on its top next to the R.R. tracks some 25-30 feet below the highway. Our car, in spite of the jolting impact “just happened” to come to rest within just a few feet of the collision, with the rear wheels partly hanging over the edge.
A lady heading west from Libby “just happened” to drive by only a few minutes after the collision. She pulled over and I asked her to stop at the next home on the right and have them call an ambulance (this was long before cell phones!). That home “just happened” to belong to the Munsons who attended Three Lakes!
Jeff Grotjohn (who had sold us our Ford Escort) and Mark Ingram “just happened” to be fishing the Kootenai River that night for ling and were just below the scene of the accident. They heard the collision, saw headlights twirl through the air and came rushing up to the highway, thinking perhaps their pickups had been hit. They “just happened” to have flairs in their pickups and quickly set them out on the icy road. Had another car even touched ours, we would have gone over the edge. (Note: Jeff’s first comment: “Guess I’ll have to sell you another car!” Which he did later!)
Then Sandy Gilstrap and Lori Ferring “just happened” to drive by, saw our Escort and stopped. Earlier that day, at a Bible study at Angel Island, I had made some comment to Sandy which prompted her to make a trip to Libby that evening. She had been “delayed” by waiting for Lori to get ready to go with her. She also “just happened” to have a sleeping bag in her car which she had meant to take out but hadn’t “gotten around to it.” She took our children, Heidi and Grant and put them in her car and wrapped them in the sleeping bag to keep them warm until the ambulance came. She also took them to our house where grandma Kutz came over to be with them.
Niki Wohlwend from Libby often rode to Family Night with us, but Tuesday night when she watered the horses, she “just happened” to forget to drain the hose and when she went to water on Wednesday afternoon it was frozen. By the time she got the horses watered it was too late to catch a ride with us.
Ambulances soon arrived from both Libby and Troy. One took Beverly Paul and her daughter (who miraculously suffered no serious injuries) and the other took Kathy and me (Kathy suffered a concussion and broke her thoracic rib and I had a broken nose and hole in my knee). Our ambulance driver, Wayne Maffit and his wife Sylvia ended up later coming to Three Lakes Church. When we arrived at the hospital in Libby, many from our church or Bible studies were already there lining the hall waiting to see how we were.
“It was no accident.” It was an “incident” in our lives which God had prepared beforehand. All the details of timing resulted in our encounter with Beverly Paul that evening. God didn’t prevent the “accident,” but He provided all the support we needed, which was set up beforehand and was all in place for that moment.
The “why?” of suffering has perplexed Christians for centuries. It would be easier if we could always see the reason–see God at work–but we don’t. Job suffered the loss of his possessions, family and health, and had no idea of the conversation in heaven between God and Satan. In Job’s reply to one of his “comforters,” he said: “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:8-10). God created man in His own image but because of sin, much of that has been lost. The Christian suffers so that God’s image might be restored in him. That’s why “all things are working together for good to those that love God” that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro. 8:28,29). Thus suffering will continue until Christ takes us home. Then He will remove it and wipe away all tears (Rev. 21:4,5).
None of us would choose to suffer, but we can choose to grow through suffering. It is our opportunity to become more Christlike and will result in our being rewarded in heaven. Paul, who suffered greatly during his ministry for the Lord (see II Cor. 11:16-33), wrote this: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (II Cor. 4:16,17).
We will all suffer in various ways during our stay on earth. The question is, “How will we respond?” The doorways of bitterness and joy lead off the same hallway of circumstances. James exhortation to us is: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have the perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).