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Would You Go?

By Austin Boyd – Would you go? Even if you knew it meant you might die?

Where do you draw the line on risk? If you felt that God called you to a ministry of evangelism, and you were led to witness to people groups in high risk nations, such as Islamic cultures in Indonesia, would you go . . . even if you knew it meant you could lose your life in the process? If not, what about a church mission trip for a week to West Africa, where there was a significant risk you might be infected with a disease or a serious parasite?

Would you drive to church and take the chance you might die in a car wreck? Would you go, even if you knew it meant you might die?

For many, the answer to the question is a matter of risk. Some would hazard much to follow a call from God, sensing in their hearts that this was where God led them to go—whether it’s a mission field in a dangerous country, a week in a disease-ridden village, or a ministry to homeless or AIDS patients in their own hometown. Others might weigh the probabilities, wondering whether endangering life or health was worth the payoff. For many of us, we weigh some perils, and completely ignore others. We might think twice about mission work in West Africa, but give no thought to driving, or to walking across the street.

On September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of us went to airports in New York and Washington, DC, rode elevators to offices in the World Trade Center, or took escalators into the Pentagon. That day was like any other. We weighed the risk of going to work, and—whether in faith or expecting to beat probability—we headed to our daily tasks.

That day I left on an early flight from Huntsville, Alabama, headed to Dulles Airport for a two day meeting in Virginia. On touchdown, our pilot informed those passengers continuing on to New York that a recent terrorist attack in Manhattan had shut down air travel to the north. All the passengers were asked to exit the plane. As I departed in Dulles, a television in an airport sports bar carried the images of a crash, only minutes ago, of an airliner as it slammed into the Pentagon. We would learn later that it was American Flight 77, recently departed from the gate where I’d just arrived.

Days later, marooned in Washington for lack of air travel, I decided to drive home to Huntsville. On my return, I learned that two friends, coworkers from a previous Navy assignment, were on Flight 77 when it slammed into my old offices in the Pentagon. My office was destroyed. And in those offices, another fellow Navy pilot whom I knew well was among the victims. Two fellow Navy officers and a senior Navy civilian, my friends, were part of that day’s tragedy. Each of them went to work, expecting a day like any other. Dr. Bill Caswell and retired Commander Chuck Droz prepared to fly across the country to yet another of our unit’s many meetings in Los Angeles. Retired Navy Captain Jack Punches was beginning another day in the Pentagon’s Command Center.

Would you go, even if you knew it meant you might die? For Jack and Chuck, we knew during our missions as aviators in the Navy that there was a real probability we might not survive a mission, due to accident, or in time of war, due to hostile action. For Dr. Caswell, leading a busy life crossing the country for frequent Navy business in California, there was always the chance of a travel mishap. Yet each of us entered that day, including me landing at the gate of the departing American 77, with faith that this day would progress as any other. Some of us entered that day, perhaps, sensing God’s call to mission. Most of us just got up and went to work.

If you’d known that God had need of you, and sensed His call to mission in your life, would you have boarded Flight 77? Would you have flown that day to a ministry that desperately needed your help, on the off chance that our nation might be attacked? Would you have entered the Pentagon, if that day you’d known there was a strike imminent? Will you drive to church on Sunday if you know that there’s a strong probability someone will run a red light and hit your car?

We live in a fallen world that is immersed in risk. Those of us who know Jesus Christ as creator, forgiver and Lord, can rest in the assurance that our lives are in His hands every second of every day. We can live in faith that He has a plan for us. We can trust that—if His plan is interrupted by a terrorist, a disease, or even a speeding car—we have completion and an eternal life in Christ. He will sustain us, and our families, no matter what the sudden turn of events. But God does not promise a life without risk. In fact, our faith is defined by risk. Without peril, without the chance that we might fail, without disease and hardship and turmoil, we’d have no need to trust in God’s provision.

I will be on an airplane at six a.m. on September 11th this year, headed, again, to Washington. Some have asked me “aren’t you concerned about flying that day?” Their question mirrors the question I posed at the beginning of this article: “Would you go, even if you knew it meant you might die?” My answer is “yes, I would go.” I feel called to pursue my job with the vigor that God gives me, doing my work as unto the Lord. I felt called by God to be a Navy pilot and flew in armed conflict on dangerous classified missions where there was a significant risk I might not come home. I pursued astronaut selection as a Navy pilot, realizing that if I was selected, I might perish like some of my friends had on Challenger and Columbia. In faith that I was about the mission God had given me, I pressed ahead.

The Apostle Paul addresses this concept of faith in the 11th chapter of his letter to the Hebrews, encouraging us to forge on despite the potential for loss of life, and reminding us to trust in God’s provision. Paul writes about the stalwarts of the faith—and about people like us—who never achieved the final consummation of their life’s mission. Yet, in our collective faith as we press ahead, Paul says we have all become whole. In essence, it is not the attainment of our life’s quest that makes the difference—it’s the journey. Speaking of Gideon, David, Samuel, the prophets and many others, Paul says “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith, not complete from ours.” He’s telling us that, in this walk of faith, we’re in it all together—believers of the past, present and future—members of the body of Christ. Faith is the glue that binds us as one across the centuries. (Hebrews 11: 39-40, The Message)

Would you go, even if you knew it meant you might die? I would. I would press on toward the prize, in Christ Jesus, doing my daily work, pursuing those ministries I felt God had called me to, and even taking tough risks, if I felt God was leading me. Why? Because we're in this together; our collective faith makes us all whole. I may never gain that prize that I feel God is calling me toward. I never was selected for astronaut, but put thirty two years into the effort, coming ever so close. I gave it all that I had; and Paul says that’s what God wants. Yet it was not the attainment of that astronaut goal that was important. God called me to the journey—a journey of faith. You and I could be one of those who, like Paul says, have lived a life that is exemplary . . . yet may not ever reach the ultimate prize toward which God led us.

“God had a better plan for us, that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole….”

I’m flying to Washington on September 11th. I’d like to go to Africa on mission one day, or do an evangelistic bicycle ride across the United States. Would you go, even if you knew it meant you might die? I would, in faith that God was leading me, and believing that my faith works together with that of other believers. I would press on in confidence, for Christ’s sake, with faith in the face of risk. God will provide.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3: 13-14, NIV)

Austin BoydA Navy pilot since 1979, AUSTIN BOYD has served as an aerobatics instructor, nuclear arms officer, and patrol plan commander. A four-time Navy astronaut finalist, he ultimately served as the Navy's director of space plans
and policy before retiring to Huntsville, Alabama where he lives with his wife of twenty-six years, Cindy, and their four children. He continues to support space, aviation, and NASA through his work with Science Applications Internal Corporation (SAIC). As an active Christian for more than thirty years, Boyd has served in a variety of lay ministries. In addition to writing the Mars Hill Classified series Boyd has also penned award-winning poetry as well as a one-act play.

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