John L. Testrake died of cancer earlier this month. He was the TWA pilot who became famous during a tense 17-day hijacking in 1985. A group of Shiite terrorists took over his Boeing 727 about 20 minutes after takeoff on a flight from Athens to Rome. They flew to Beirut and threatened to blow up the plane if Israel did not release a number of Arab prisoners being held in southern Lebanon.
It was one of the most brutal hijackings ever. Several passengers and crew members were beaten savagely, and an American Navy man was killed. Captain Testrake followed his captors’ orders when he had to. He scolded them when they made demands that added more risk to the flight of his plane. His radio transmissions were broadcast around the world.
Photos of an unshaven Captain Testrake calmly giving an interview out his cockpit window while a man held a pistol to his head were published worldwide.
Through it all, John Testrake kept his composure. He read his Bible. He prayed. He exhibited the serene confidence of faith in a time of crisis, and a watching world admired him.
People seldom become heroes on the spot. They act heroically because they have been tempered in the fire already. That was certainly the case with Captain Testrake. He had previously had to deal with the accidental deaths of two of his five children. He had lost his first wife to cancer nine years before the hijacking.
The calm demeanor and unflinching courage he showed in the cockpit of his plane had been formed in the crucible of his personal struggles. His character was merely displayed – not created – in his moment of public crisis.
You may never have such a time before cameras. One thing is sure, though. Nobody will be prepared for a public testing who has not already come to know God as his strength and refuge in times of private trial.
If something is putting your faith, character, or courage to the test today, be resolute in your response. Let God temper and mold you for what yet lies ahead. He may need you to act heroically someday in an even larger arena, and you could forfeit that opportunity if you lose heart today.
The FAX of Life