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It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a scary thing

The fear of flying — and learning to trust in Jesus.

Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.

To that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.

I love the words to that gospel hymn penned by Albert Brumley in 1929.

Just one quick question: Do we have to fly?

Might God consider special options for those who prefer wheels to wings? Perhaps a “Gloryland Way” bus or train?

I enjoy traveling and meeting Christians across the nation.

I tolerate flying.

I Google “fear of flying” for tips on overcoming airborne distress. I try to reassure myself with the much-reported claims that flying is safer than driving.

A recent Associated Press story carried this headline: “It’s never been safer to fly; deaths at record low.”

According to the article, the past 10 years have been the best in the nation’s aviation history with 153 fatalities. That’s one death for every 50 million passengers on commercial flights.

Still, my heart rate jumps as the engines (please, let there be engines plural) roar for takeoff. Any tiny turbulence makes my stomach churn like what I imagine it must feel like to bungee jump without a cord.

Like most, I was captivated by the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009: A cool-headed U.S. Airways pilot splash-landed a crowded jetliner into New York’s Hudson River after a flock of geese disabled the plane’s engine thrusts.

All 155 people aboard survived!

Yet I couldn’t help but wonder: Did the pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, use up all the available flying miracles in one fell swoop? (I am kidding. A little bit.)

Without a doubt, most flights turn out to be uneventful.

It’s the exceptions that inspire me to pray without ceasing when I’m six or seven miles in the air.

On a flight home to Oklahoma City from Denver last summer, I was seated next to my 12-year-old daughter, Kendall, when our little jet encountered a fierce thunderstorm.

We shook, rattled and rolled. It felt like a roller coaster — only with no tracks underneath.

With my baby girl on that flight, you can imagine the uncontrolled sobbing and shrieking that accompanied each bump and bounce.

But Kendall did her best to console me.

Several years ago, I was flying home from Memphis, Tenn., after covering an event at Freed-Hardeman University when the pilot came on the loudspeaker and reported trouble with the controls that direct the plane.

He said we needed to make an emergency landing in Tulsa, Okla., and rescue vehicles would be waiting as a precaution.

But he stressed that the flashing lights on the ground shouldn’t alarm anyone because he didn’t expect any problem landing the plane.

That statement would have provided more comfort if I hadn’t kept asking myself: If the plane were going to crash, would he be so candid as to say so?

“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we are all about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.”

“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we are all about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.”

When we touched down safely, 49 fellow passengers and I exhaled with such force that I was surprised we didn’t cause a sudden change in cabin pressure.

Yet I keep showing up in airport security lines and submitting to full-body patdowns by Transportation Security Administration agents.

Granted, I don’t spend as much time in the air as my colleague Erik Tryggestad.

Tryggestad, The Christian Chronicle’s assistant managing editor, covers international news. He has reported from 42 countries and logged 50,000 air miles just last year.

Life in the clouds is a part of reporting across the U.S.

Life in the clouds is a part of reporting across the U.S.

While an all-night, around-the-globe flight fails to faze my fellow journalist, he does worry about minor details like whether a Christian brother or sister will remember to pick him up in the Third World country where he’s landing.

Since I handle the national beat, I’m typically in the air only an hour or two, but — as you might have surmised — that’s plenty for me.

In seven years with the Chronicle, I’ve reported from 45 states.

Why do I keep booking flights all over the nation — and sometimes outside the U.S.?

Because I love telling the incredible stories of Christians living out their faith far from my comfortable, on-the-ground existence in Oklahoma City.

I know the answer for my fear, of course. It’s right there in Mark 4, where violent waves nearly swamp the disciples’ boat as Jesus sleeps on a cushion.

The disciples wake Jesus and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He rebukes the winds and calms the waves. “Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asks them. “Do you still have no faith?”

My first thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if I could take a boat instead of a plane on reporting trips?

Second, more serious thought: If Jesus were on my flight, is there any doubt that he’d be resting comfortably?

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

  • Feedback
    Very thought provoking article. You mention Mark 4 in the article. Jesus knew that it was not his time to die and neither was it the apostles time. Therefore there was no need to be afraid.
    Even if it had been the apostles time to die, they should have faced death with courage in light of the fact that they were with Jesus. That thought alone should inspire us when we face death. If we are with Jesus and it is our time to “fly away” we can face it with great courage and desire.
    P.S. Brother Bobby I do have a CDL with passenger endorsement. I drive a school bus, so if you ever do get that bus I might be interested in a less frightening job.
    Keep up the good work with your interesting articles.
    Walter Duncan
    Bowling Green, KY
    January, 31 2012
    Thanks for the article it reminds me of a sermon I have, Up up and awy 1 Thess. 4:17. There will be no time to fear during that flight or fasten a seat belt because it will happen in the twinkling of an eye 1 Cor. 15:52. The death rate will be 0% 1 Thess. 4:16. It will be grand when we all reach that eternal land never to die no more. amen.
    robert brooks
    forestpk coC
    east point , ga
    January, 30 2012
    I understand your fear of flying, even though I love to fly. It is not natural for man to fly, but God has given us the keys to the secret of flight.
    When I board a plane, I board the plane with confidence that God is with me, and that no matter what happens, God is in control…not the pilot. God has already set a time for my lease on earthly life to expire, and only He knows when it will be. My part is to live my life the best I can and be ready when my time comes to be called to account before God.
    Perhaps for us, flying is a test of our faith. Just like Peter walking on the water, his faith was tested and was strong right up to the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus and noticed the waves and began sinking.
    Trust God!
    Stephen Maple
    Memorial Rd Church of Christ
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    January, 30 2012
    My first flight wasn’t until the age of 25…not surprising for someone who grew up in a household where the main “breadwinner” was a junior college instructor and there were 6 of us($$$)! I was already living in the Oklahoma City area, and the first leg of my journey (after everyone had boarded) began with, “Uh, we need to pull away from the gate and head over to let the mechanics make sure this warning light is a false alert.” I’ve flown numerous times since then, though…and with 3 airline pilots in the family, I’d get laughed out of any gathering of the in-lawsif I were as apprehensive as you are.
    Russ Sharp
    Edmond church of Christ
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    January, 30 2012
    Ha! Do you have a commercial bus driver’s license, Paul? Maybe we could buy an old Greyhound instead? 🙂
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    The Christian Chronicle
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    January, 26 2012
    As a former pilot and flight instructor I must say I am dismayed by your obvious lack of faith in the guy in the front seat! (tongue firmly in cheek)
    Seriously, I do not like flying commercial either, so may I suggest a compromise? Learn to fly yourself. Get the Chronicle to buy you a really nice airplane and you can jet set anywhere you want to at your own speed. Or, you could hire your own air chauffeur. I happen to know a really good one!
    Paul Smith
    Aztec Church of Christ
    Aztec, NM
    United States
    January, 26 2012
    Thanks for your nice message! Glad the piece inspired you and that you could relate.
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    The Christian Chronicle
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    January, 26 2012
    What a great article!! I’m terrified of flying. I get nauseous just going to the airport and have never actually gotten on a plane (unless you count a restaurant in an old jet planted firmly on the ground!) But this article, especially the closing, reminded me that I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me and that includes flying, if necessary. Thanks again for a great read!
    Christine Lynxwiler
    Ward Street church of Christ
    Highland, Arkansas
    January, 26 2012

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