WASHINGTON (BP)–“What evidence is there that Christianity is true?” That’s the scoffing question Christians often encounter from unbelievers. On June 1, however, we saw a demonstration of Christianity’s truth and power that is hard to deny, when a band of Christian choir members risked their lives during the American Airlines crash in Little Rock in order to help save a planeload of strangers.
The story begins near midnight on June 1 in Little Rock. 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 stopped short of 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 sung in churches and entertained Kosovo refugees in Austria.
In the chaos that followed the crash, the singers went to work. Barrett Baber, 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 helped pull passengers to safety. He was apparently overcome by smoke and collapsed. A few days later, James’ friends gathered at East Side Baptist Church of Paragould, Ark., to bury him. Charles Wright, the head of Ouachita’s music program, quoted the words of James’ Savior: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
We’ve all read reams of press coverage about the Little Rock crash and questions about what caused it in the first place. But elsewhere in this 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.
Copyright © Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission from the “BreakPoint with Chuck Colson” radio commentary June 21.