Roger Lamb sent several of us an email yesterday to let us know that all of the old KNN (Kingdom News Network) videos had been uploaded to the ICOC Disciples Today YouTube channel. He also attached the link for a section from one of them highlighting a very important event which took place in February of 2004. It occurred at the Abilene Christian University Lectureship and featured a segment from a panel discussion by several of us from the ICOC and several from the mainstream Church of Christ. It was a unity panel and definitely worth watching. I’ll attach the link.
But watching that segment triggered some memories in me from deep down in my heart. Here is the email reply I sent Roger.
Thank you, Roger, for the video of the 2004 ACU Lectures and of the panel discussion. The video was very well done. For me, it brought up a plethora of memories, including one that is quite unique to me and I think quite unique in and of itself. It is pretty much a story untold by me, which is unusual, but a highly significant one in my life.
The day I traveled to that lectureship fell on the exact 25th anniversary of the small plane crash in Dallas that took the lives of the four full-time faculty members of the Preston Road School of Preaching. They were returning from a one-day trip to the ACU lectures late at night and crashed trying to negotiate an instrument landing in the most dense fog I have ever seen in Dallas.
I had left the faculty six months prior, one of the hardest decisions of my life. I almost didn’t make it. They had more vacancies than the one I left and had hired two new men. That meant that one of them died as a result of my leaving. When I visited their widows in the days following the crash, neither of whom I had met previously, both they and I knew that one of those men died as a result of me leaving the school. It took me a long time to process all of that. As I am writing this now, I’m not sure I have fully done it even after these many years.
Eldred Stevens was the director of the school and the pilot. He had flown to my hometown in that plane to recruit me as a student in early January of 1970 and later, when I was on the faculty, he and I had flown in it many times to recruit others. I loved flying and was a good recruiter, being a graduate of the school myself. Eldred and Rudell White were the two in the plane I knew, both of whom were very close friends. They were also graduates of ACU (when it was still ACC). I was asked to speak at both memorials, but since Rudell wasn’t nearly as well-known, I chose to travel to the Texas Panhandle where he was from and be with his family. That was one of the saddest experiences of my life, meeting his parents and brother for the first time and trying to console them while needing much consolation myself. They were a simple, salt-of-the-earth farming family who had produced one of the sharpest, most spiritual teachers I have ever known.
At the 2004 event, I met Eldred’s grandson and was invited to attend a luncheon hosted by the school’s faculty. I was able to get reacquainted with many of my former classmates and students I had taught. The whole thing was such a surreal experience. I was 36 years old when the plane crash occurred. I was exactly twice that in December of 2014 when we moved back to Dallas. God has graciously granted me many years of life since that fateful day. Tomorrow will be the 42nd anniversary of the crash. Interesting timing, Roger.
This is an abbreviated version of all that took place and but a fraction of all that I vividly remember. Oddly, in my book, “My Three Lives,” I didn’t tell this story. I don’t guess I have ever put it in print until now (February 20, 2021). The emotional impact this event had on my life is hard to describe, which may account for it being a story left untold for decades (at least in print). I could have been on that plane. I almost was. As I said, I flew in it with Eldred many times and have a photo of my two children standing on its wings when they were small. The four of us flew to a city in Oklahoma where our wives were speaking for a Women’s Day. I loved flying in small planes and have done it scores of times, probably well over a hundred times. But I missed that flight 42 years ago.
The crash occurred just before midnight and killed the four men instantly. Rudell’s wife, Kay, called me at 5 am the next morning to tell me about it. Hearing that news and realizing that I came very close to having been one of the victims put me into somewhat a state of shock. One of the elders of the Preston Road Church of Christ called me a short time later and asked me to come to the school and talk with the students. I had taught three of the four classes (groups) of students and we knew each other well. Thus, the elders thought I could help them deal with their grief. I was quite full of my own grief, but spent the day with the students. It was, to say the least, a surreal and sad day. I was also asked to teach part-time although I was preaching for a church in the area full-time. The elders of my church quickly agreed for me to accept that role with the school, given the tragedy that led to it. I continued in that role until we moved from Dallas in the summer of 1981.
I remember all of the phone calls that came very quickly the day after the crash. My dad was one who called as soon as he heard about it. Once I answered, he said “Wait a minute,” which was followed by a long period of silence. He explained that he assumed I was likely on the plane and had been killed, and in his shock he needed a few minutes to catch his breath and regain his composure. The whole experience produced perhaps the biggest emotional impact ever into my life, and that’s saying a lot.
Losing two close friends was a part of my shock. Eldred, although 20 years my senior and the Director of the school, loved what I loved – preaching, singing, flying and golfing. We did a ton of all of that together. Rudell and his family lived less than a mile from us in Richardson, Texas, and we rode together to our teaching job every day. Plus, we both loved fishing and fished a lot together. He was such a delightful man with a great sense of humor.
I remember arguing with him about whether largemouth bass or catfish were the best-tasting fish to eat. I took the former and he took the latter. One day I said to him, “Rudell, if catfish are so great, why didn’t God allow them to be eaten under the Mosiac Law?” The law demanded that fish have both scales and fins to be considered ceremonially clean and catfish don’t have scales. Rudell was a really sharp guy and a very quick thinker. Without hesitation he replied, “Well, that’s obvious – he was saving them for us Christians!” That was Rudell for you.
Another part of my shock was in realizing how close I came to being in the plane. The biggest part of the shock was in realizing that either Ray Evans or Tom Dockery died in my place. One of them was hired to fill the vacancy I left when I resigned from the faculty. I will never forget going to their homes and meeting their wives and trying to comfort them. I’m sure I met some of their children who were now without a daddy. Those were two of the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking visits imaginable for me. It takes my breath away just writing about it now.
I remember staying up very late night after night after Theresa and the kids had gone to bed, just staring at the fire I kept going in the fireplace. I had thoughts like, “Why them and not me? Why me and not them?” Of course, there are no answers to questions like those, but we cannot keep from asking them. The only real answer is found in the doxology which ends Romans 11, so we must leave it at that until eternity.
Romans 11:33-36 (NIV2011)
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.