WAS BORN IN SINGAPORE. I LEFT WHEN I was almost 2 and grew up in Toronto in an Adventist home.
I was heavily into music and taught clarinet and saxophone. I wanted to become a music education major, and went to Kingsway College in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, for one year. After that year I headed to Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, for music education. To find out if I really wanted to teach, I signed up to go to Korea as a student missionary. It was this experience that helped me really discover who Christ was. Even though I had grown up in the church and was baptized at 13 years old, I didn?t really know Jesus.
While on the plane traveling to Korea I heard a rumor that I was going to be teaching Bible. In the middle of the flight I asked Elder Dick Barron, a former youth director of the North American Division, and a very tall man of about six feet seven, about it. ?Somebody told me I?m supposed to be teaching a Bible class. That?s not true, is it??
He stood up and straightened his shirt, looked down on me, and said, ?Yes, son, it is.?
I said, ?But see, I was told at Union College I would have only English classes.?
?Oh. You have that wrong. You?re supposed to be a Bible teacher as well.?
Great. I was scared to death.
During the first Bible class I had we went through Matthew. And just a note of warning: when you teach Bible in another country such as Korea, you?re not teaching Bible to just Bible students. You?re teaching Bible to those who don?t believe in Christ but are attending because it?s a free class and they can practice their English. So they come in with many questions.
I remember one particular class in which a man asked me a question, and I didn?t know the answer. All of a sudden my mouth started moving, and the words started coming out. I saw his response to me by his nodding in understanding. After I was done, I said, ?Do you understand what I?m saying? Can you tell me what I said?? That was the first time I realized that God was real--very real in my life.
At 20 years old I was asked to photograph the first Hong Kong music festival in Hong Kong, China. At the time I was self-taught.
The festival was something I?d never seen before. There was a 150-piece orchestra in front of me. Behind them was the 150-voice main choir from Beijing, China. Behind them was a mass choir of 1,000 voices. The coliseum, which sat 16,000 people, was packed, and the music was phenomenal.
After the event they offered me a position as the photographer for the festival, guaranteeing me a place to stay and $50,000 a year. In 1985! That?s a lot of money--even now. But I was self-taught and knew I needed to learn more. I changed majors and schools, attending Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, from 1985-1988.
Near the end of my time at Andrews I started dating a young woman named Lyne. On June 5 I marched down the aisle at Pioneer Memorial church, graduating with a media technology degree in photography. Lyne and I got married a week later.
Right after we graduated, and got married, I started working in Michigan for a man named Tom Pangborn. He was a Seventh-day Adventist minister who left the church in the early eighties with the Desmond Ford movement. He saw my photography work, called me up, and said, ?I?d like to find out what you?re doing after you graduate.?
I was slated to work for a photographic company in Chicago, Illinois, selling photographic equipment, but that job fell through the cracks and Tom hired me. I worked for him doing aerial photography and photographing all sorts of things in northern Michigan on Sundays. He and I would fly above the windswept regattas, covering the Port Huron-Mackinac race, covering the Chicago-Mackinac race, and all the other sailboat races in between. It was a lot of fun.
Things changed on September 4, 1988. Although the sky was gloomy, I got all the camera equipment ready. We were planning to photograph a race up on Lake Charlevoix, Michigan, then we?d head down to Benton Harbor-St. Joseph to photograph the Tri-State Race. We never made it that far.
When I arrived at the airport, I noticed the orange wind sock was sticking straight out. Usually it just flaps in the breeze. I asked Tom, ?Are you sure you want to go up today? It?s very windy.?
Tom was an optimist, so it was all go. He added, ?You go get the camera equipment out of the car, and I?ll fuel up the tanks.?
And that?s what he did. He filled up all the tanks of the plane and did the preflight check while I loaded up the camera equipment. We were flying in a 172 Cessna. A 172 Cessna?s body is located under the wings. That means the fuselage where you sit is below, and the wings are above. The gas goes in each wing. It?s a four-seater plane. I would sit in the front right seat, the co-pilot?s seat. The configuration is very tight, so much so that if I extend my left arm straight out, it would be going out the left window. The pilot has the steering yoke, and the copilot (me) also has a steering yoke--in case I don?t like what he?s doing, I can do my own thing. On the floor are the rudders; I have them, too. Since I?m not a pilot, I didn?t touch any of those things.
It was very windy, and as the wheel left the ground, we were tossed about. I slid my seat back as far as it would go to avoid having the support strut in the picture, then I pushed open the window and unlatched the support, allowing it to lift all the way to the bottom of the wing. We came down from about 1,000 feet because that?s where the cloud level was, and we dropped down to about 500 feet. I reached in the back, grabbed my camera, a Pentax 6 x 7, and started loading it up. The Pentax is like a 35 mm. on steroids. I loaded the camera up, had it between my legs, and was ready to photograph.
Tom brought the plane down to about 500 feet and we started to circle clockwise so I could photograph out the window. [We photographed the boats to sell the photos on speculation to the boats? owners--they?d often buy them to hang up in their home or office. Many of the boats were very small; they were J-22s. But there were some boats we photographed that were 50-, 60-, 70-foot yachts that had come over from Europe to race. These were huge sailboats, and many times we were flying so close to them that I could hear them yelling at us, ?Get out of our wind!?]
We photographed the first boat. We photographed the second boat. The third boat. We headed to the fourth boat, and Tom did something on the instrument panels that I had not seen before. He hit a switch, and it wasn?t until later that I realized that switch is not to be used unless you?re landing, for what it does is drop your flaps down in the back. And when you drop your flaps down, that means you?re ready to land because it lowers the flaps for landing.
I?m not a pilot, but let me explain something about aviation. When you?re flying, the area on the wing?s surface that keeps you in the air is called ?lift.?1 This lift area distance decreases dramatically the more the plane banks in a turn. That means you had better pick up your speed in order to stay up in the air at a corner like that.
When you put your flaps down, that means you?re getting ready to land; you are just dragging.2 Because it was windy that day, that wind was pushing as we went straight into it, but in a split second the wind died down, and we went full vertical with the left wing straight up and the right wing straight down. I heard this horrible noise that sounded like a buzzer at a basketball game--?eeeeeeeeee?--a stall warning that means you?d better correct for it.
Tom corrected for it. But he overcorrected, because we went right wing up, left wing down. We were still at full flaps down when he lost control of the plane. We dropped out of the sky, straight down, impacting the lake at more than 125 mph. We didn?t hit sideways; we didn?t bounce. We just went straight in.
Into the Lake
We hit the water with so much force that we blew out every window in the plane. There was no air pocket left as we hit. And as soon as we hit, the cabin was already submerged in the water. The only thing that was left was about four or five feet of the tail wing, which quickly disappeared underneath the water.
I?m inside the plane. There?s a double seat belt inside a Cessna. You can choose to put the lap belt on, or you can put the shoulder belt on, or both. Because I needed the movement to be able to photograph, I had only the lap belt on. Tom also did the same thing. In the impact my seat broke loose, and I slid forward, hitting the dashboard. I thank the Lord I did not look over at Tom as I kept my eyes closed (to keep my contact lenses in).
I was doing everything by touch, and the first thing I did was undo his seat belt. What I didn?t know was that Tom?s head went right into the dashboard, and he died instantly.
They say that in a life-threatening situation your life flashes before you. It?s true. But I guess because I was holding my breath under the water, the good Lord saw fit not to show my whole life. He rewound it back only three months, and I remember saying to myself, Look! You just graduated! You just got married; you just started this new job! Why is this happening? Then a brilliant thought hit me: Get out.
A little box--a very fortified little box--called a gas gauge sits on the floor between the pilot?s and copilot?s seats. My foot got jammed in that box as my seat slid forward. My knees hit the dashboard and slid underneath, causing some serious injury to my left knee. Before I could hit the dashboard with full impact, I broke off the solid steel column of the steering yoke with my chest. The only thing left on that dashboard was a hole.
Between the dashboard and me was still that big steroid-laden camera. My head hit the dashboard, but I was in no pain because I didn?t know any better. I remember saying, ?I?ve got to get out of the door.? I went to lift the door handle, but the door wouldn?t open.
I pushed the door again; nothing happened. Then I thought, I?ve got to get out the window. I don?t remember blacking out, and I don?t remember losing consciousness, but the next thing I knew I was on the outside of the window! My feet were pushing off the sides of the window. (For some reason it seems God had set it up so that when the plane hit, we hit slightly left side down so my side was pointed straight up.) In the water when your eyes are closed, it?s easy to get disoriented as to which way is up. I pushed off, moving my arms, and finally I popped up out of the water.
A witness to the crash told me years later that he remembers me swimming about 10 strokes, then stopping. I replied, ?I can tell you why I stopped. I found out I was in excruciating pain.? After those 10 strokes, I couldn?t swim. Bobbing in the water, I heard a motorboat coming, an aluminum fishing boat with two brothers in flannel shirts. One jumped in the water, grabbed ahold of me, and brought me to the boat. The other brother reached down and helped hold me until a speedboat came by. Somehow I got onto the back end of the speedboat. I looked down at my knee and saw blood all over the place. My pants were shredded, and I thought I was going to lose my legs. The first thing I did as I lay down was look up at my fingers. I moved them and said, ?Thank You, Lord, I can still play the piano.?
People started jumping on board the boat and taking my vital signs. I felt myself going in and out of consciousness. But one thing I did notice before I got out of the water was that there was grease smeared on the left shoulder of my jacket. It wasn?t dirty but rather clean grease--there was no dirt in it! I don?t know how it got there, but I have a feeling there were two angels--one inside the plane who smeared the grease on my left shoulder and the other one on the outside of the plane--one pushing and one pulling to get me out before the plane submerged in 72 feet of water.
When the coast guard diver found the plane the next day, he came back up shaking his head saying, ?How big was the guy that got out??
They answered, ?Six feet one.?
He said, ?No way. There?s no way he should have gotten through that window.?
I sat in a 172 Cessna several years ago and questioned an aviation mechanic. ?Look, I came out this window. Where would I have gotten grease from??
He said, ?Well, there?s grease inside the wings and there?s some down by the wheels, but it?s all dirty and you said your grease was clean.?
I said, ?Right. That?s why I know that there were two angels there.?
Injured but . . .
Once inside the ambulance, they rushed me to the hospital. I found out I was a trauma case. Huh, I wonder why?
I sustained a lot of injuries. In the impact my foot actually got crushed in the gas gauge on the floor. I broke four bones right at the top of my foot. In fact, my foot was so swollen that they had to cut the cast off and recast my foot five times in two months. I had lacerations on my head, two compressed disks in my back, a bruised heart, a broken sternum, and a broken clavicle. Because my heart was bruised, it was doing some weird rhythms, and so they had me in the CCU unit for 48 hours, ready to do open-heart on me at any time. The doctor came in and did the surgery on my knee, and when I finally came out of recovery and knew what was going on, he came into my room, closed the door, and said to me, shaking his finger, ?Son, I don?t know whether you believe in God or not, but He is the one who saved you, because you?re supposed to be a dead man.? I realized one thing right there: life is a gift from God.
Shortly after that I remember my wife asking me, ?You don?t think God?s calling you to be a pastor, do you??
And I said, ?No way!?
She replied, ?Whew! Good! Because I don?t want to be a pastor?s wife.?
The accident had happened on Sunday, and Tom?s funeral was on Friday, so the hospital allowed me to go to the funeral. As they wheeled me into the church in a wheelchair, I was placed in the aisle and had an unobstructed view of the coffin up front. As I sat there, I bawled like I had never bawled before, because that should have been me too. Why was it not me?
The doctors told me I would be in the hospital for 30 days. By the grace of God I walked out in eight, in a special pair of adapted crutches. For months after, I had long discussions with the Lord, screaming, yelling, ?What do You want, Lord? What do You want with my life? You saved my life. What do You want?? I was having nightmares because of the plane crash. ?What do You want?? No answer. Nothing.
So I found myself doing what I wanted to do, in a worldly sense. Making money. We moved from northern Michigan to Chicago, and I started working for that same company I was supposed to work for before. I started selling photographic equipment. Within a year I became the top salesperson, selling $3 million a year.
I became the photographic consultant for the FBI and the CIA. They would call me up, ?Alden, we?ve got to photograph the agricultural crops . . . 10,000 feet . . . blow it up and identify what it is. What do we use??
When digital cameras came out in the early nineties, the cheapest camera you could find on the market was $36,000. I was selling it. I was trained by Kodak in Rochester. When PhotoShop first came out, they sent me off to the Center for Creative Imaging for an entire week--the same place Disney sent their animators to learn PhotoShop. All this ?success,? and I thought I was doing it. Stupid me.
I started handling $20 million for the company--one third of the company?s business ran through my fingers as a national accounts manager. And I became hungry for more money. A guy came to me as I was doing a sales pitch one day. He said, ?Hey, you know what? You know how to sell, you know how to photograph, and you know digital photography! I could use someone like you.?
My first response was, ?Money talks.? I started working for him. I had set a goal for myself to become a vice president. I didn?t care how it happened. I just liked the title. I got it.
At 30 years old I was vice president of marketing for a graphics company in Chicago. The two biggest clients that I photographed for were ACE Hardware and the World?s Finest Chocolates. ACE was nice; World?s Finest was better. When you?re photographing chocolates, what do you do with all the samples? You can?t throw them away. . . . That was a joy, or so I thought.
One Sabbath morning I woke up at 4:00.
Wide awake, I heard the voice of God very audibly, ?Alden, there is much work to be done, and the workers are few.?
I was a little nervous.
I said, ?What do You want, Lord? You?re not calling me to be a pastor, are You?? The next morning--Sunday--same time, same situation, same words. And I answered the Lord not like Samuel did.
I replied, ?No. What do You want, Lord? I can?t be a pastor! I?m a vice president!? I soon discovered that God had other plans.
Two weeks before Christmas that year, the boss with whom I shared an office walked over to me scratching his head. ?Alden,? he said, ?I don?t understand what?s going on. We were so busy; we were making so much money, and now we are so slow. We have never been this slow before. I hate to do this, but I have to lay you off. I?m sorry.?
I was devastated! Asian pride! How can you stand in an unemployment line with a pink slip! That was so demoralizing for me! If you?ve ever done it before, you would know what I mean. God had finally gotten my attention, but He still had not touched me yet.
God opened a door to allow me to be the youth pastor at the Hinsdale church. But I just didn?t walk into it. The youth pastor for the church, Russ Laughlin, had come up to me two years before and said, ?Hey, I think you would do well working with our youth here. Come!? So I did. I started working with him part-time.
God spoke in April. Pastor Russ announced at the end of May that he was leaving. They had no youth pastor for six months. They couldn?t find anybody.
So when I sat down with the senior pastor, right after I was laid off, and told him I thought God was calling me to ministry, we went right to the Illinois Conference. They hired me on the spot as the youth pastor.
God had opened the doors.
The Word of God
Philippians 3:7 reads: ?But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.?
Like Paul, I had gained a lot of things. Not so much in wealth but in status. But these things weren?t (and aren?t) important. Jesus says in Matthew 16:26: ?For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul??
This is what Paul?s saying. All things that were gain to me, these are loss! Philippians 3:8: ?Yet indeed I also count all . . . I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.?
This is the message I believe God wants all of us to hear.
Life is a gift from God.
And here?s the second part. What you do with your life is your gift to God. It has nothing to do with anybody else. He doesn?t want just one year or one semester. He wants your entire life. And for a Christian there can be no crown, no reward, without a cross. The world offers crowns without crosses. If you want a real crown, an eternal crown, you?ve got to die on the cross--self must die. But God is faithful to those who are faithful.
As the hymn says, ?More about Jesus.? That?s what it is all about. It?s all about Jesus. More I would know. The chorus goes, ?More, more about Jesus; more of His saving fullness see, more of His love who died for me.?
More about Jesus I would know.
1 Wings have a special shape called an airfoil. This shape gives strength, a smooth airflow, and better lift. The top half of the wing is curved more than its underside, and thus air flowing over it moves faster than air beneath it. As a result, the air exerts less pressure on the wing?s upper surface, and higher pressure below produces an upward lift. The amount of lift is determined by the angle at which the airfoil is inclined to the air. Banking a plane will cause the lift area to be reduced (information from www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1988/6/88.06.01.x.html).
2 Planes are smooth-surfaced and are shaped to reduce drag (the resistance of the air to the plane flying through it). Flaps and spoilers are designed to help with lift on takeoff and landing. The flaps are movable extensions of the wing; they increase the wing area to provide extra lift when it is needed. In normal flight the flaps are retracted into the wing and the spoilers are kept lowered (information from www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1988/6/88.06.01.x.html).
Alden Ho is a professional photographer, international youth/young adult speaker, and director of Wheel Salt Ministries in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Ho, one of the official photographers of the 2000 and 2005 GC sessions, spoke this testimony at the 2004 General Youth Conference in Sacramento, California. His Web site is aldenho.com.