One Man’s Prayer
“Ask and you shall receive.”
a true story
By Ray Westbrook
It was a cool day in Costa Mesa, California that fateful February morning in 1976. I arrived at my Photography Studio around 8 am. Business was good and life was very good. Just 3 years prior I had found my way to Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and had turned my life over to Jesus. He started working on me right away; there was a lot to do.
I held a commercial pilot’s license for over 10 years at the time and was a partner in a 1973 Bonanza aircraft.
I was always looking for constructive ways to use my flying abilities instead of just “boring holes in the sky.” I joined a group of men called “The Christian Missionary Pilots Association.” It was an all-volunteer organization that would offer their planes, gas and time for the Lord’s work. Because we could go long distances in a relatively short period of time, our mission was to fly food and supplies to the various mission fields in Mexico and to the Indian reservations in Arizona. It was a very rewarding undertaking.
As the events of that February 4th morning started to unfold, word flashed over the television and around the world that a terrible earthquake had struck the country of Guatemala in South America. As more information became available, it was suspected that thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands of residents were injured. This was a major disaster! It was also reported that they could not get the medical supplies and food to the outlying remote areas because of the damage to roads and the entire infrastructure of the country.
I learned that a friend of mine, who was the Chief Pilot for Douglas Aircraft at the time, was going to fly a new DC10 (with no seats in it yet) full of donated food and supplies down to Guatemala City. All the various governments of the world were marshalling to take provisions to this desperate country.
After a week or so, we received word that the government of Guatemala had put out a desperate plea for surgical gloves. They said the few gloves they had were falling apart on the Doctor’s hands while in actual surgeries.
The Missionary Pilots Association asked for volunteers to fly these gloves down to Guatemala City ASAP! Since I was self-employed and could get away, I volunteered.
The next day I received my many required vaccinations and prepared to go. We had one problem; we could not find any aviation maps on such short notice. Try as we might, we could not locate a map. I had never flown that deep into South America. Our normal flights were only a few hundred miles. This flight would be around 13 hours or more, one way, and 2000 miles over very rugged mountainous terrain.
We finally located a map, such as it was. It was a very large wall-planning map approximately 4 feet by 6 feet and very old. Using this map turned out to be quite a challenge. Even though the Bonanza is a luxury airplane, it is still much smaller than an average small car interior. We would just have to make due.
We were given a letter by the Guatemalan government to officials in Mexico stating that we were on a mercy mission in hopes this letter would help expedite our travel.
As we were loading the car with five thousand pairs of surgical gloves, I spotted a box of 500 “Gospels of John” in Spanish. I knew they would probably be confiscated as we entered the country, but I thought “what the heck” and threw a box of Gospels into the trunk of the car. I thought, “if God wants them in, they would get in!”
We were going to have to fly at very high altitudes at different points when entering into Guatemala. As I recall, some of the mountain ranges were in excess of fourteen thousand feet. A pilot flying higher than ten thousand feet over a period of time can experience hypoxia; which means a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues. The result of this condition initially is blue lips, fingernails turn bluish and very bad headaches. If you fly high enough and long enough you might even pass out. My plane was not equipped with oxygen and the only oxygen we were taking was a couple of little round bottles with a nose and mouth mask. As I recall, they had a total of about 15 minutes of oxygen in them.
We gassed the airplane and “kicked the tires,” as they say, and we were off. We departed from Orange County Airport in Santa Ana, California. Our first leg was to Phoenix, Arizona. From Phoenix on to El Paso, then on to Brownsville, Texas, which is right at the edge of the north east coast of Mexico.
As we were ready to depart from Brownsville into Mexico, we had a yet another problem. Mexico was overcast, almost the entire country. Even though I was an instrument rated pilot, we had no instrument charts or approach plates needed to fly on instrument flight rules. We would have to “scud-run” (fly low and under the overcast) almost our entire flight over Mexico.
The ceilings were low; a couple of hundred feet. We took off and stayed out over the ocean figuring there wouldn’t be any towers out there that we might run into. We were off shore a 100 yards or so, however, we had to constantly maintain sight of land. Most of the first couple of legs we were around 50 feet off the water. At 175 knots or so, it’s like flying a jet fighter, the land and water are speeding by very fast. God was with us and we made it Tampico, Mexico. The next day we were again 50 feet over the water to Vera Cruz. From Vera Cruz we headed for Guatemala City. It was almost comical when we had to fold and re-fold our wall map into a section that was useable inside the restrictive cockpit. As we started unfolding it there would be MAP everywhere. We had to continually keep re-folding it as we moved over the terrain.
As we approached Guatemala, the mountains loomed formidable. Several times we had to climb high and use our little oxygen bottles. Finally, we came within radio range of Guatemala City Airport.
We soon found out that procedures were quite different in Guatemala than in the United States. I made our radio call “November 1696 Whisky, 50 miles north, inbound for landing”. The reply was not what we were expecting at all and was in very broken English; “Cleared to Land”. That was the first red flag for normally they will call your traffic, or start sequencing you in line with other airplanes in the area. We started to hear many other airplanes call in: a 747 heavy, a light twin, an Army Fighter and the response was always the same; “Cleared to Land”. No sequencing, no traffic, no nothing, just “cleared to land”! As we approached the airport, we just had to avoid the other aircraft in the area. It was a little un-nerving, to say the least.
We were finally on the ground in Guatemala City, however, we didn’t know who to see or where to go. There was confusion everywhere. Much of the airport, including the tower, was destroyed. There was hustle and bustle all around us. We needed help. What do you do when you need help, pray!
The answers to our prayers on that trip were very different than usual. I had learned one time at Calvary Chapel about instant answer to prayer from a speaker, an Astronaut named White I believe. He was the Astronaut that read scripture from the moon. I remembered what he said, “while on the moon, when we were in trouble or needed something, we would pray and the answer would be immediate.” That’s the way it was in Guatemala.
So we prayed to God; “we need help; where do we go”? Instantly a man walked up and said, “you look lost, where are you going?” Through him we found out where the surgical gloves were needed. While unloading the plane, I simply took the box of the “Gospels of John” from the plane and again tossed them into the trunk of the car and later took them into our hotel room. No official had questioned us as we expected.
Our initial mission was now over, however, there were so many needs everywhere that we just dug in and helped where we could. I teamed up with an Assembly of God pastor as sort of an air taxi service for him. The Assembly of God denomination lost over 85 churches in the quake! Most other denominations also lost many of their church buildings. We flew out to many of their outlying churches and missions. I remember the day we flew out to a small village called Coban. While we were in the village, the anti-government guerillas took the mayor out and shot him! It was a very scary place.
The hotel room we stayed in was also a disaster. All of the plaster had fallen off the walls and was scattered over the floor. We were in Guatemala for just a little over two weeks. In that two week period, I experienced over 20 “aftershocks”, however, these “aftershocks” were huge. Having been raised in Los Angeles, California, known for its earthquakes, I had gone through dozens of earthquakes in my life, but these “aftershocks” were so big that one shock threw me from my bed across the room and into the wall!
It was interesting to me that when we were in a public place, like a restaurant, and an aftershock would hit, it only took a few seconds and we were sitting alone in the restaurant. Folks that had just experienced the “Big One” cleared out fast! The local people were obviously terrified of a repeat of the main quake.
The earthquake that hit February 4, 1976 was a 7.5 on the Richter scale. I’ve personally gone through quakes that big, however the difference stated by most people I talked with said “it was like it lasted forever”. Most earthquakes I’ve been in lasted 30 seconds or less. This one evidently lasted several minutes. If something shakes long enough, eventually it will fall down. We later learned that 22,000 people were killed and over 74,000 were injured. One million were homeless, one-sixth of Guatemala’s population!
Out of this chaos and tragedy, we were hearing marvelous stories of many miracles from almost everyone we talked to. God was with these people and working on their behalf in their time of need.
I ended up playing a dual role, one was a pilot and the other was a photographer. I was taking photographs of the entire disaster; which were later used back in the states to raise money for these needy people. However, the Guatemalan people did not know my motives for taking these photos and I received a lot of dirty looks from those I photographed. I suppose they thought I was just a heartless tourist.
We were heading out to a village one morning that was hit especially hard and I was to take photographs. As I was leaving the hotel room, I noticed the box of “Gospels of John” in the corner. I had forgotten about them until now. I picked them up and tossed them into the trunk of the car.
Upon arriving at the village, we drove around surveying the damage and taking photographs. It was dusty and miserable. It seemed that no structure was left standing in this town that was higher than my shoulder.
Suddenly we saw about eight men with ropes pulling down a partially standing wall. I said, “Hold it, I want to shoot this”. I jumped out of the car and started dashing around taking photographs of these men busy with their task. As I was finishing and about to leave, I looked down at the rubble. I was standing on what appeared to be part of a sign. I could make out faintly the word “Christo”. I hollered at the others in the car, “I think this was a church”! They got out of the car and several of the men that spoke Spanish started to inquire as to what sort of building this was. It was a Church! We started asking for the pastor. We found the pastor, a little man in stature, but a mighty man of God. He and his entire family had miraculously survived the quake.
This pastor was telling us how the people of the land understood this quake to be a judgment from God, and their attitude about the quake was to “get right with God”. He told us how he was holding a revival meeting that very night and was expecting hundreds of townspeople to come out to hear the Word of God; many for the first time.
In telling us of his plans for the service, he emphasized how he was trusting God to provide literature for his meeting. He had been praying for over a week that God would provide it in time for this meeting. As he tried to scrounge up some literature, however, there was none to be found anywhere.
Literature was not high on the priority list. They were still finding the dead and burying bodies in open pits. There was no chance this pastor was going to get literature from anywhere in Guatemala. It was just hours before his meeting and he still had faith that God would provide literature, and God did.
I took him to the trunk of our car, opened it and handed him the 500 “Gospels of John”. We all were standing there with tears in our eyes because of the faithfulness of God to this little pastor out in the middle of nowhere. With man things often seem impossible, however, with God all things are possible.
We determined later that almost the exact time the pastor started asking God in prayer for the literature, was the very same moment I felt the urge to toss those Gospels in the trunk of the car on the way to the airport.
We don’t always know when and how God is using us, I’m sure He is using us every single day. Sometimes it is our good fortune to have God let us in on just what He is doing in our lives, and the lives of others.
"And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."