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A Christmas I will never forget

  • Dennis Rainey Executive Director of FamilyLife Ministries
  • 2001 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
A Christmas I will never forget

"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21

It was December 20, 1981. The kids were tucked in early, and Barbara and I were about to sit down for a nice, quiet meal.

The phone rang and the voice at the other end had a chilling soberness to it that I shall never forget. I learned that my good friend Mick Yoder and two of his boys had been in a tragic plane crash that afternoon in Greenville, South Carolina.

Mick and his wife, Helen, had just moved to Greenville in the summer to start a church there. Only months before, Barbara and I had said good-bye to the Yoders after working with them for nearly five years to help start the ministry of FamilyLife.

That morning, Mick had preached and led the Sunday service. Then he and his boys joined a couple for a plane ride. About two miles from the runway, a two-dollar part attached to the carburetor broke, and the plane lost all power. They missed the runway by only 10 feet and hit an embankment head-on.

Everyone survived the crash except for Mick's seven-year-old son, Benji. He died instantly. The next morning, I kissed Barbara good-bye and flew to South Carolina. Nothing in all my years of ministry experience prepared me for what I beheld. Mick was in critical condition, with three of his four limbs broken. And Helen was numb from the emotional shock.

As I approached Mick's hospital bed, I was astounded at the number of tubes that made their way into his body. I leaned over his bed to attempt to comfort him by saying that hundreds around the country were praying and pulling for him.

Mick nodded and then acknowledged his response to the loss of Benji from Job 1:21: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

And with those words, the sorrow that had left a lump in my throat now caused my eyes to well up with tears.

Mick was the only pastor for this small church, so it fell upon me to conduct the graveside memorial services for Benji.

That day will forever be etched in my heart. There was a grayish-white coffin barely four feet long, holding the body of a seven-year-old boy. There was Benji's mom, Helen, with her 10-year-old son trying to stand strong and tall beside her. The rest of her family lay back in a hospital, broken and nearly crushed. All of life seemed to have stopped and stood still.

What positive words could man feebly utter in such a desperate moment? What could man possibly have to say to a mother who would wake up on Christmas morning and look at the unopened presents to a boy she loved? Humanly, that moment was filled with injustice, questions, despair and anger. It was grim and dark.

But in the midst of the darkness of death, the star of Bethlehem suddenly shone bright. As I read from the Scriptures, the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ came and swallowed up the darkness. "O death, where is your victory?"

I will never forget the contrast of agony and joy that day. If the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring hope and comfort to those who have just lost a child, then He is all powerful. The tomb of Jesus Christ is empty. We can find forgiveness and peace with God because Christ is alive.

Many couples who lose a child, as Mick and Helen did, are never able to recover, and they end up divorcing. But somehow the Yoders were able to claim the victory that Christ promises. In fact, 14 months after Benji's death, Helen delivered a healthy baby girl. She and Mick named her Hope, as they claimed the promise of Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."

Excerpted from Moments Together for Couples by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used with permission. Copyright 1995 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. All rights reserved.

About the author: Dennis Rainey is the executive director of FamilyLife, an organization founded in 1976 with the goal of effectively developing godly families, one home at a time. Parents of six children, Dennis and his wife, Barbara, have written numerous books, including best-sellers Moments Together for Couples and The Questions Book for Marriage Intimacy.