There it is . . . still smoking from a fiery crash! A blackened shell, the remains of a 727, lay in the center divider of two runways at the Venezuelan airport. Forty-nine people died!
The year was 1983. I was to report for a one-month United Nations hydrologic project in Caracas, Venezuela.
“I’m going, too!” my wife Arlene proclaimed upon learning of the assignment.
Preparations began, buying new luggage and summer clothes appropriate for the tropics, plus contacting our church secretary for names of missionaries in Venezuela. Much to our delight, the secretary informed us about a husband and wife team ministering in Caracas.
We prayed for travel protection, insight into my new job requirements, and also “hitting it off” with the missionaries.
The morning after we arrived at the Caracas International Airport, I went to the office of the Director of Venezuela’s Natural Resources for a briefing. As the briefing drew to a close, the officer surprised me by handing me a check for the entire thirty–day assignment.
After stopping by a local bank to cash the check, I returned to our hotel.
“Guess what I’ve got in my briefcase?” I said as I emptied the case, full of paper Bolivars on the bed. We both laughed as we exclaimed, “How rich we are!”
Our richness was short lived. The next day, headlines on the local newspaper declared:
BOLIVAR DEVALUED . . . 58 PERCENT!
We quickly calculated it would be impossible to stay in Venezuela for the full thirty-day period. So we prayed, “Lord, lead us; give us direction.”
The decision was to stay and work until the money ran out. After a discussion with the director regarding yesterday’s devaluation, they agreed a shorter stay was acceptable.
A surprise awaited me upon my arrival from work!
Arlene had contacted the missionaries, and they had invited us to dinner. Leslie also said, “We know what the devaluation has done to us. It must have affected you the same. Gary and I will be making a two-week visitation to the back country churches. Because the house we live in is God’s house, you and Jim can stay here while we’re gone. So pack your bags and be ready to go when Gary comes to get you!”
Definitely a big surprise! “Praise God!”
That evening at dinner, the four of us hit it off, so much so that Gary and Leslie invited us to stay in God’s house for the entire time of my assignment.
Now I could relax and concentrate on the project.
At the start of the third week of work, my colleagues informed me that the coming weekend was a national three–day holiday. The staff insisted I should also take Friday off and fly to the city of Merida in the southern Andes.
“Be sure to ride the cable car to the 15,000 ft. elevation,” said one of the staff. “It provides a panoramic view of the Andes Mountains.”
The secretary immediately telephoned AVENSA, the local airline, for a 10 a.m. Friday flight to Merida. She was about to call a hotel in Merida for a reservation when, suddenly, I felt a very strong check in my spirit and told her to change it.
Surprised, she replied, “I don’t understand why you would take only three days off and not four.”
“I want to work the full week on the project,” I said. It was important for me to complete this job with integrity.
So for me it became a Saturday, Sunday, and Monday holiday. Plane reservations were made for a late Friday afternoon flight.
We had settled in the airport waiting room when Arlene suddenly elbowed me in the ribs.
“Hey! Why’d you do that?” I asked tersely.
Silently, with a concerned look on her face, Arlene directed my attention across the aisle to a man reading a newspaper. At first, I didn’t comprehend why she wanted me to look.
Suddenly my eyes focused upon the extra large bold black headlines that screamed:
AVENSA INFERNO. 49 MUERTO.
(Avensa Airplane Inferno. 49 Dead.)
Later, as the plane Arlene and I were on continued past the smoking wreckage of the plane at Barquesemento Airport, I knew if it had not been for that strong “check in my spirit,” we would have been on that 10 a.m. flight!
“Go near and listen to all that our Lord God says.”Deuteronomy 5:27