Living Faith

Mountain Men to the Rescue

All they could hear was the hum of the car’s engine and the rapid beating of their hearts.

Dick Duerksen
Mountain Men to the Rescue

The Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States includes the states of North and South Carolina, both of which are rich in American history and known for their flowers, fruits, and fields of cotton. Many folks, when they think of the Carolinas, see the deep blue-green Atlantic Ocean bordered by long stretches of warm white sand. Others see hot days on wide roads shaded by trees covered with white magnolia blossoms.

Few remember that the Carolinas reach well into the Great Smoky Mountains, where the weather is often cold and the snow deep.

Driving Up the Mountain

On a warm Friday in March of 1965, conference president Willard B. Johnson and his wife, Daisy, were preparing for a weekend with church members in the town of Warrensville, way up in the Northern High Country. Knowing that their nice spring weather might turn cold and frosty in the mountains, they packed their car with warm blankets, extra water, and a shovel. “Just in case.”

Mrs. Johnson made sure they had thick coats and gloves. “You never know when it might snow up there,” she reminded Pastor Willard.

Not to worry, he thought as he put the blankets and jackets in the back seat of their car, right beside the briefcase that held his Bible and sermon notes.

One of the best parts of being a conference president is that you get to visit many different churches, share the good news of God’s grace with Christian friends, and eat delicious local food. Pastor Willard and Daisy were looking forward to this weekend and had even brought some gifts for the members.

Down at their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the sky was clear, and the thermometers promised a warm weekend. The farther north they drove, however, the colder it became. Clouds quickly covered the sun, and they had to turn on the car’s heater.

Then it began to snow. Not a lot, but enough to make them wish they had left earlier in the afternoon.

They talked about turning around and calling the members to cancel their Sabbath appointment, but decided that God really wanted them to continue on, even in the deepening snow.

It was easy to drive when the snow was melting quickly on the road. It was more difficult when the snow covered the pavement and began to bend the tree branches down toward them.

They prayed together, reminding God that they were on His business and that they needed His protection, asking for God to guide them through the storm and keep them safe.

Before long the snow was more than four inches deep, covering the road and making it hard to see where the road ended and where the deep side ditch began. Both Daisy and Pastor Willard remembered driving this road once before, but that time they had been able to see down into the deep canyon beside the road. Now they imagined slipping off the road and careening down the canyon walls.

They prayed more, with their eyes wide open, trying to sit on their seats as lightly as possible.

The storm clouded away all light, and the snow snuffed out all sounds. All they could hear was the hum of the car’s engine and the rapid beating of their hearts.

Off the Road

There was no other traffic, and Pastor Willard tried very hard to keep the car in the center of the road, but the snow was now so deep that the tires seemed to go where they wanted more than where he guided them. “Where they wanted” was more and more toward the canyon side of the road!

Then the right-side tires caught the edge of the pavement, and the car jumped off toward the deep ditch.

Pastor Willard tried to drive the car forward and backward, hoping to inch it back up onto the pavement. Instead, the car slid farther and farther off the road, down toward disaster. Then the car stopped, stuck in the deep snow.

They prayed again. Aloud again. Together again. Urgently pleading with God to stop the snow, to give the car more power, and to “please send help!”

For many long minutes nothing happened. Then, slowly, the car’s rear window began to show some yellowish light.

“Someone’s coming!” Daisy whispered.

“I think so,” Pastor Willard answered. Then he opened his door and slipped out onto the road.

The light grew brighter as the glowing headlights of a Jeep Wrangler approached, just the kind of vehicle that you would expect to find where the roads were bad and the weather unpredictable. The Jeep pulled up beside them, and two huge mountain men, dressed in jeans, warm hats, and bright plaid logger coats, came over to the Johnsons’ car.

“Follow Our Tracks”

Now, you need to know that Pastor Willard was a very large man, standing well over six feet tall and weighing enough to be a formidable football player. But when the two mountain men met Pastor Willard in the snow, they were so huge that big Pastor Willard looked very small standing beside them.

The mountain men laughed and smiled as they hooked a towing chain up to the pastor’s car.

“Get ready to press on the gas,” one of the men said. “We’ll pull you out of the ditch and back onto the road.”

Pastor Willard followed their directions, and soon the Jeep was pulling the car out of the deep snow and up onto the pavement. In a few moments they had the car back in the middle of the road. Even though the car was still in deep snow, Daisy finally let out the breath she had been holding. The mountain men disconnected the chains, waved, and started to say goodbye.

“Don’t leave yet! I need to pay you for your work,” Pastor Willard said. “You saved our lives!”

“No need to pay us.” They smiled and laughed as they got back into their Jeep. “Helping you was a pleasure for us! Now, just stay in our tracks. You’ll drive more easily when you follow where our tires have gone before you.”

Pastor Willard drove very carefully, following right in the Jeep’s tire tracks. As they went around a large curve, the Jeep drove farther and farther ahead of them, and then disappeared into the snowstorm. Pastor Willard drove on for a long time, his eyes locked onto the Jeep’s tracks that continued in the middle of the road.

Then the tracks disappeared.

At first Pastor Willard was afraid, but relaxed when he saw the dim lights of a town far up ahead. “It was as if the Jeep had just driven up into the sky,” Pastor Willard told the church members the next morning. “You know,” he added with a wide smile, “we think we know what our angels look like. And we even know what kind of car they drive.”

Dick Duerksen