Jill Briscoe is a British American author, editor, and speaker. She has written or co-written over 40 books and serves as the founder and Executive Editor of Just Between Us magazine. This devotion was presented by Chris Hall at a recent Vestry Meeting. He’d like to share it with you.
9/11 sent Jill Briscoe on a six-day detour with the unprecedented opportunity to point others to the God Who is in control.
It was September 11th and I was on United Flight 929 heading for Chicago and home. As the pilot began to dump fuel into the Atlantic, I looked over at my neighbor. We both raised out eyebrows.
“Now then,” the captain announced over the intercom, “we have a healthy aircraft.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said! But the cabin crew was suddenly far too busy for my liking.
What were they doing?
I looked at my watch. We were about three-and-a-half hours out of London’s Heathrow Airport heading for Chicago. “All airspace and borders have been closed in and out of the United States,” the pilot continued. “We have been informed we have a national emergency on our hands and will be landing in 20 minutes at Gander Airport in Newfoundland. I can’t tell you anymore until we are on the ground. Crew, prepare the cabin for landing.”
That was it. My seat companion was a young heart surgeon.
“I hope we aren’t going to need you!” I said.
“So do I,” he replied with feeling.
“So, what do you think?” I asked him after a few stunned moments. He shook his head, puzzled.
“Maybe a nuclear reactor?” he suggested.
“Taliban,” I said. Having just been in Russia, the Taliban had been featured heavily in the news and they came readily to mind as we debated what on earth could have caused such drastic measures.
We and the six thousand others in 27 airplanes busily landing in Gander, Newfoundland (doubling the population) were left greatly wondering and not just a little apprehensive. Psalm 139:16 came readily to mind. "Every day ordained for me was written in Your book, before one of them came to be.” Even September 11th, 2001 Lord, I murmured.
I hastily read the emergency landing instructions in the pocket in the front of me (the one we never bother to read). At that moment I experienced two things. First, a settled certainty that there was nowhere else I should be at this moment other than this airplane seat, firmly buckled into the ordained will of God for me. "Everyday”, it says Lord. Everyday. That includes September 11th as surely as it means all my yesterdays and all my tomorrows, doesn't it? Yes, said that still small voice in my soul. I recognized the whisper of His grace.
Second, I knew a heady sense of anticipation for whatever was ahead. Of course, none of us in the skies had an inkling of the size and shape of the horrific events that had unfolded an hour or so after we were airborne. But God was good to give me 30 saving minutes before landing to check my theology and make sure it was securely in place before we were informed of the horrific things that had happened.
What did I believe? That God was in control even when I wasn’t? Yes! That nothing could happen to His children apart from His permissive will? Yes! That God was good – all the time, even when things were bad? Yes! That I and other Jesus lovers on that plane had a colossal advantage over those who had no high tower for their soul to run into, a Good Shepherd to calm their beating hearts, hush their fears, and remind them that if the very worst was to happen, the very best was yet to come? Yes!
Still in our seats twelve hours later, waiting for processing by the Canadian authorities before being driven 30 miles to the Salvation Army church in Gambo, Newfoundland, I had reason enough to settle into six days of “God experiences.” If I really believed what I believed, this would be an unprecedented opportunity to do what Stuart and I had just been training pastors, leaders, and missionaries to do all over Russia. Establish a presence, gain credibility, and speak for Christ in the situation, to anyone who would listen.
I had already established a presence by getting on my flight at Heathrow. My “village” or “people group” was composed of 200 passengers and crew from many different cultures and countries, and I was firmly established among them.
Next, I needed to gain credibility. How? I knew the answer to that one. By my reactions to the situation we found ourselves in, and my loving response to those around me. Immediately, I faced my first test.
The crew announced that they would wait for four hours before feeding us the food they had left because they had no idea how long we would be shut up on the plane. My mind flew to my purse where I had a packet of biscuits (“cookies”). A struggle ensued.
“I’ll wait till everyone’s asleep,” I thought, “and then nibble them scrumptiously.” I was immediately horrified at myself! “Well, that’s a great way to begin to gain credibility,” I lectured my soul. Any fancy ideas I’d had of rising to the occasion for Jesus disappeared.
God helped me to do a little bit better as the days went by. I set about my unexpected task to gain quick access to the hearts of the people God had brought into my life for this short time. But how to start? I prayed – all the time. I smiled – all the time – at everybody. I began touching an arm or a shoulder, day by daily day and asking simply, “How are you doing?” From the very first day people responded. One girl even asked me, “What on earth have you got to smile about?” I told her!
I found myself more excited than I could imagine, with a growing consciousness of the importance of every hour, and especially of mealtimes at the long Salvation Army tables. We were served by Salvation Army staff whose mercy gifts shouted louder than words to all of us. “We lucked out being here,” a passenger commented. “I don’t know why they have been so giving and kind to us.” I told him!
Meal after meal I found God had prepared hearts around me. Some needed a challenge or a provoking thought, others assurance or comfort. A child needed a story or a game of cards. I was stretched as others debated deep and difficult things. I tried to put as many links on the chain of salvation as I could, believing others would add theirs’ in the days ahead. It turned out to be one of the most challenging, frustrating, self-revealing, exciting, productive, God-shadowed, weeks of my life!
I certainly didn’t win every argument about the character of God (How could a good God let this happen?) or the wisdom of God (Why did He make hunger in the first place?). Neither were there necessarily receptive ears to my biblical perspectives (This is God’s world and He wants it back.). But, I got agreement that we were a thankful planeload of people. I was also thankful for the chance to put some of the faith I talk and write about so easily to work in a difficult setting.
As we have been recovering from the incredible events of September 11th and regroup spiritually for what is around the corner, I am encouraged by my own small experience. God waits with our future in His hands, and it will be alright.
And the writer to the Hebrews says, “Once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is – created things, so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
And finally, Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
So let’s be thankful and so worship God.