Tina screamed, “Jesus help us!”
I was a youth minister in a church in Illinois early in my ministry. The youth group there went to summer and winter camp without fail every year. And it was understood, the youth minister wasn’t just the youth minister. He was the coach for the softball team, and basketball team, and the bus driver to all related events. So I proceeded to acquire my clearance to drive a bus.
After three tries and two failures I had my bus license in hand and was qualified to drive anyone anywhere, though I was seriously lacking in experience. That was good news/bad news, because every department in the church it seemed was in the market for a bus driver. And guess who they called.
The real intent in me having a license, however, was to make sure that I, as the Youth Pastor, could drive the kids to and from every camp and youth activity that came around. The camps our kids attended were in Wisconsin and the first winter camp occurred in the throes of bad weather.
It was only supposed to be raining, but there was the threat of sleet. We got onto the road early in the morning before it was light. We were on our way to Wisconsin just as it was beginning to rain. When we were about ten miles from our town I came up over a knoll in the road and saw a car stopped in the middle of my lane less than fifty feet in front of me.
I hit the brakes and nothing. They didn’t slow us at all. I hit them again and still nothing. The brakes were working fine. But even the best brakes are of little consequence when they are being applied while your vehicle is going fifty miles per hour on glare ice. It was apparent that the rain had indeed turned to sleet without our knowing.
In this moment of truth I had two thoughts. The first was to steer the wheel of our bus to the left into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid hitting the car in front of me. But I glanced to the left and there was a semi-truck barreling down on us in that lane.
My second thought was to go off the road to the right and onto the shoulder to avoid the stopped car; but as my eyes shifted to that side I could see there was an enormous ditch that would have surely flipped the bus and without a doubt would have resulted in injuries, perhaps very severe injuries.
Suddenly one of the kids, Tina, who was in the front right seat of the bus, turned to see the dilemma in front of us and screamed, “Jesus help us!”
At that same moment my mind conceived a plan, albeit a shaky one. If I pumped the brakes all the way to the car in front of us and tried to steer the front left corner of the bus to hit the right rear corner of the car, maybe the timing would be such that upon impact the car would be propelled into the oncoming traffic lane just after the semi passed. I also theorized that the impact would cause our bus to glance into the ditch head first. This would hopefully prevent the bus from flipping and result in no injuries.
I was just twenty-four years old. My driving experience was very limited. And, to be honest, I wasn’t sure it would work. I just had nothing else in my mind. And it was all happening in a moment of time, with no opportunity to formulate a Plan B. So I went with it.
When Tina screamed, it alerted the whole bus of kids and everyone began to scream. But I was unaware of any of it. My wife told me about it later. I just focused on the plan.
It was an unbelievable moment in time that is branded into my memory. Everything happened just as I envisioned in my panic-stricken thoughts.
Apparently, as I pumped the brakes, it did slow us enough to hit the car in front of us in just the right time to push it to its left into oncoming traffic just behind the semi as it passed; but not with enough force to push it into the ditch on the other side of the road. And when the left front corner of our bus hit the rear right corner of the car, our bus glanced headfirst into the ditch on our right offering no threat of flipping—and no injuries. Thankfully, no one even reported a bruise.
It was an incredible result, especially given the circumstance, and my very limited driving experience.
There was no reprieve from camp though. As soon as the tow truck pulled us out of the ditch, the pastors of our church who had been informed, and the kids who were all hyped for a great time at camp, wouldn’t have cancellation. We were back on the road to camp again.
Call me fanatical, but I am convinced that when Tina screamed for Jesus’ help; that is when He placed the only alternative idea for survival into my mind. It involved perfect timing, perfect speed, perfect maneuverability, and perfect angles — something only Divine intervention could accomplish. I was just not capable of that kind of poise at that time in my driving career, and especially given my limited bus driving experience.
Though this scripture has an entirely different context; for that day and that incident it had a different interpretation and promise for a youth group in Decatur Illinois. “For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).