by David Sisler
Wednesday, March 1, 1950. Beatrice, Nebraska. West Side Baptist Church. 7:30 p.m.
It was choir practice night. Practice didn't begin until 7:30, but choir director Martha Paul demanded punctuality. If they weren't there by 7:25, she considered them to be late. The West Side Baptist singers were always on time.
Except for March 1.
The Reverend Walter Klempel, his wife and their eighteen month old daughter were late. The baby had stained her dress and Mrs. Klempel had to iron another one. Pastor Klempel was proud of the accuracy of his watch that night it was five minutes slow.
Marilyn Paul, daughter of Martha Paul, and the accompanist for the choir, took a fifteen minute nap. The nap lasted for thirty minutes. Both she and her mother were late.
Herbert Kipf was writing a letter to denominational headquarters. "It seemed very important to me to get it in the mail that evening," he said. "I was going to drop it in the mail on the way to church." He was late.
Lucille Jones was listening to "This Is Your Life." The program that night featured Edgar Bergen. Lucille was responsible for picking up another choir member, Dorothy Wood. They were both late.
Ladona Vandergrift was wrestling with a geometry equation. She was late.
Royena Estes car wouldn't start. She was supposed to pick up another choir member, her sister Sadie. They were both late.
Harvey Ahl's wife was out of town. Harvey and their two sons went out to dinner with a friend. Enjoying pleasant conversation, they forgot about the time. Harvey was late.
Joyce Black lived across the street from the church. "I was just plain lazy," she said. "I didn't want to get out in the cold. I kept putting it off. At last I couldn't put it off any longer." She was late.
Joyce Black stepped out of her house at 7:30 p.m. As she closed the door of her house and started across the street, the church disintegrated. It would later be determined that a leaky gas line underneath the church had been the cause for the explosion.
According to records the old furnace of the West Side Baptist Church was directly below the choir loft, the empty choir loft.
But because the pastor, the choir director, and all of the choir members were late for practice late for the only time any one could remember no one was in the church when it exploded. No one was killed. If the disaster had occurred on February 22, one week earlier, more than a dozen people would have died.
Marilyn Paul said, "God didn't want us there. We were spared. I'm very grateful."
Lucille Jones said, "If I hadn't've been listening to This Is Your Life,' my life would have been over."
Herbert Kipf said, "Ten to fifteen people scattered throughout the city, kept from being there by differentevents that is more than coincidence."
Commenting on the story which was featured on Unsolved Mysteries Robert Stack asked, "Was this simply a remarkable coincidence, or the careful design of a Greater Power?"
What part does chance play in our lives? Is "Luck" another name for Jesus? Is there a careful design at work in our circumstances? Are we subject to capricious fate? Or are we like the predestinarian who after he had fallen down, and broken his arm, got up, dusted himself off and said, "I'm glad that's over with!"
There is a very special sense in which "the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy." The God who knows us by name and numbers the hairs of our heads is obviously concerned about every single detail in our lives.
Chance? Maybe. Luck? Possibly. Jesus? Without a doubt!
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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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