Today’s message is an excerpt of Dale’s NEW book, Visiting Heaven, soon to be released, about his journey to heaven following a fatal airplane crash and the extraordinary life that he lived in response to that experience.
Dale is away for a couple of weeks finishing this vital work on this new book Visiting Heaven, combining parts 1 and 2 for Destiny Image. Please pray for Dale during this time.
Lost In The Grand Canyon is one of over 100 stories of Dale’s life that reflect heaven’s faith and power in the face of the world’s circumstances demanding defeat. This story will build your faith and increase your ability to persevere to victory.
Lost in the Grand Canyon – Part 1 of 2
It was Easter Sunday. Paula and I arrived at Uncle Jack’s house in Long Beach for Sunday dinner with our large extended family. Before praying for the meal, Jack asked us to remember Don Johnson and his family in prayer. Don, a member of the local church our family had attended for generations, was missing—lost in the Grand Canyon.
Don had been part of a church group that had hiked into the canyon and back up to the rim on the same day. Realizing he’d left his jacket on the trail, Don said to the others, “Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.” Now, five days later, he still had not returned. Searchers had not found him.
My wife, Paula, and I knew Don and his wife, Virginia, but we weren’t close. Yet as we sat down to eat the Easter feast before us, neither of us could take a bite.
My stomach churned. As illogical as that reaction was, I had learned years earlier to recognize the still small voice of God. The Holy Spirit was definitely speaking to me. I looked at Paula and whispered, “Can you believe Don is still missing?”
My heart was pounding, but my logical mind interrupted. This isn’t my responsibility. I barely know Don. We don’t even attend that church anymore. And it’s Sunday. Tomorrow, I have huge responsibilities in our jet business.
Flight students from several countries had already flown in for a jet-type rating class with my company. I was scheduled to lead the class and conduct pilot training in the morning. How could I possibly leave? Our company had tens of thousands of dollars at stake.
I’m being unrealistic to even consider jumping into the middle of this situation. It has nothing to do with me, I reasoned.
A spiritual and logical tug-of-war was raging inside me. Since the turmoil within both of us was preventing us from enjoying the meal, Paula and I went to the backyard to talk. Before I could catch myself, I blurted out, “I think God is asking us to get involved in this. Not sure why . . . but it feels like the Holy Spirit is saying we have to do something. What do you think?”
I was surprised when Paula so quickly agreed. “I’m feeling that too, and I think you’re right. I don’t know what, but we’re supposed to do something.”
Before experiencing a visit to heaven years before as the only survivor of an airplane crash, I had not been tuned into the Holy Spirit or His way of communicating. But since returning from that heavenly visit, I am always listening. Listening with spiritual ears and discerning with a sensitized heart. When I sense God’s gentle prompting, I am never tempted to challenge it. Instead, I pray for understanding, listen for verification, then obey.
Later in life, I learned much from God’s revelation to Elijah:
“Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11–12
God speaks in a still small voice, and I had learned to hear it. At Jack’s house on Resurrection Sunday, I had no doubt God was speaking to me. And He knew I would obey.
It started with a thought. How can I sit here eating this wonderful meal when Don has been alone, freezing, and without food for five days? Then a scripture hit my spirit with great clarity. I shared it with Paula:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’”
Luke 15:4–6 [my emphasis]
“Oh, Dale! I was thinking that same scripture! We have to search until he is found. God has a plan to find Don!”
I nodded in agreement. “We’re not going to search for a body. We’re going to find Don and bring him home. Just like the lost sheep! Search until he is found!”
It was clear. The Lord was confirming what He wanted us to do. Paula would stay home to handle the pilots, using my other instructors for the time being. She’d run the company as best she could and help me with whatever was needed. I would begin a search for Don.
“I’ll get my car and drive out there to assess what’s happening. The Lord will let us know what to do. Why don’t you call Virginia and find out if she wants to go with me?”
We excused ourselves from the family luncheon. Time was of the essence. I grabbed Paula’s hands. “Let’s pray right now that He’ll guide us and bring Don home like that lost sheep. God will give us whatever we need to accomplish His will . . . and we’ll search until Don is found!”
Within two hours of hearing about the unfolding drama in the Grand Canyon, I was driving toward the canyon with Virginia. All the way there, I focused on building her faith in God’s promises. “Virginia, when God says something, He does it. We’ve got to believe that. We must stay in agreement with God . . . no matter what circumstances we encounter. Can you do that?”
“I’ll try,” she said through tears. “I’m just so afraid. It’s already been five days.”
Statistically, Don had almost no chance. An average of 250 people go missing each year in the Grand Canyon. About 29 of those die from hypothermia. After four days, the chance of rescue drops dramatically to 9 percent. After five days, the statistics drop to less than 1 percent. We would arrive at the scene on day six. The stats were strongly against us, but God had spoken. I internalized the still small voice. Search until he is found! We had to keep our faith intact.
We arrived at the Canyon Hotel late at night. Early the next morning, I connected with the Arizona Search and Rescue (SAR) team to ask about their progress. The team leader, Steven, was an ex-military Army Reservist about my age. His team was mostly ex-military people, plus some civilian volunteers. When I said I was there to help, his face clouded. I introduced Steven to Virginia. He made it clear he didn’t want anybody influencing his search plans and protocol. He told us the best way to help was to leave him alone to do the mission he had been assigned.
About two hundred people had been searching on foot the first day. That number had now dropped to seventy. The SAR team had one helicopter searching from above. And after five full days of looking, there was still no trace of Don.
Chuck, from the church group, had refused to leave. He filled me in. “Don was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a long-sleeved shirt. No hat or gloves. And we don’t know if he ever found the lightweight jacket he lost.”
Even this late in the season, cold, unforgiving snow covered the ground—in places up to four feet deep. I could only imagine what Don was dealing with. Hypothermia was the largest concern as temperatures at night were still dipping below freezing. Search and Rescue told us that after three days in current conditions, survival was not expected. Those pesky statistics were a faith drainer. But God had given His Word. Search until he is found! And that’s exactly what we were doing.
A small group of volunteers had arrived from the church to help us. I identified an area that had not been checked and sent them out on foot in a strategic search pattern. After searching for Don all day with two teams, there was still no sign of him.
Early morning on the seventh day, I was in the lobby near the SAR command center. “What time does the team start searching?” I asked. When Steven revealed that he was no longer looking for a live person, I knew we had to do something different. He was an ex-military bureaucrat who wanted control. He was locked into the statistics, but I was locked into what God had said. Search until he is found! Our much different goals were colliding.
I spoke cautiously. “What if we added another helicopter to the search? Of course, we’ll pay for it and all associated costs.”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Steven was clearly threatened by the suggestion. “Two helicopters in the same airspace are too dangerous . . .”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “I’m an airline pilot and instructor and FAA jet examiner. I own a jet charter company. I know a little bit about aviation. Listen, Steve, we can set grids to stay in different areas, out of each other’s way. Aren’t our chances of finding Don better if we have more people searching?”
“Absolutely not. No way. This is not going to happen,” he barked.
“Look, I’m working for God . . . and I’m helping that woman over there as a volunteer.” I pointed toward Virginia. “You’re working for the State of Arizona. Your assignment is to search and rescue…. Why don’t you search according to your rules, and I’ll search according to mine? I can search where you are not. Let’s work in harmony with each other.”
I had instructed Paula to charter a helicopter and pilot, stressing we needed a Jet Ranger. I knew that would be more expensive, but with high altitudes and strong winds in and around the canyon, for safety, it needed to be jet powered. Having flown a Jet Ranger over New York City many times, I was familiar with its capabilities. I believed it offered the right balance of safety, power, maneuverability, and cost. I told Paula to have it meet us at a specific place on the canyon rim, where we could originate our own search.
Our company had some money in savings. We decided to use it all for the helicopter in order to accomplish God’s directive. I was already paying for several people’s hotel and meals, but that wouldn’t find Don. We needed more eyes in the air. And fast!
Paula wired several thousands of dollars to an aviation company in Las Vegas. Within a couple of hours, the helicopter touched down. Bill, the pilot, was young and eager, willing to do whatever I asked of him. He and I had instant accord. At almost the same time our chartered helicopter landed, the SAR chopper had broken down and was grounded, waiting for a new part that would take at least three days to arrive. The conflict over airspace no longer existed.
It was mid-morning of day seven. Our small group was optimistic and ready to search for Don. I asked Charlie to be in charge of the air search and told the pilot, Bill, to fly wherever Charlie directed as long as it was safe. “Charlie will know where the trails are, and he’ll guide you. Remember . . . until he is found!”
Charlie had been there since the beginning and was familiar with the maps and what areas had already been checked. I would remain at the hotel where I could coordinate the ground and flight search teams, staying in communication with my aviation radios, newly purchased for the task.
We learned a lot from the Rangers—who are good at what they do. They traverse trails, going back and forth looking for clues. Specifically, they watch for clothing debris—usually the first sign of a lost hiker. When hikers become hypothermic, their bodies are dangerously cold, but they actually feel hot. This causes them to shed their clothing. Most of those who die in situations similar to Don’s are naked or nearly so when their bodies are found.
Faith in what God had promised kept us going. Our small team agreed that no one would speak about statistics or finding only a body. Faith was needed to see the miraculous. Faith in God’s promise would bring Don back home alive.
But a fight is a fight. The Bible talks about fighting the good fight of faith. I encouraged the others we’d search, as our battle cry declared, until he is found. Found alive according to our prayers.
The team prayed again. The helicopter took off while the others set out on foot. Three people were in the chopper. Bill flew while Charlie and Mark searched out both sides of the chopper with binoculars. To maximize our efforts, I provided long-range radios for easy communication. Everyone on the team was feeling the pressure of time. No one rested or stopped to eat during daylight hours.
I stood at the canyon rim six thousand feet above the floor. The sheer magnitude made me feel like a bug in comparison as I watched the chopper grow smaller in the sky. It was easy to understand how someone on the trail below could become disoriented and lost. The main canyon branched into smaller canyons, weaving a maze of pathways easy to follow but leading to a dead end most of the time. Gaining perspective from the canyon floor was impossible. It was simply too massive. I whispered another prayer. “Thank You, Father in heaven, for answering prayer. Thank You for bringing Don back alive.”
To read Part 2, click the following link: https://daleblack.org/lost-in-the-grand-2/
Copyright 2022 Eagle International Ministries Inc aka Dale Black Ministries
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“The world has become unaware that it is blind and naked because of the constant watered down version of GODS WORD that is taught on a daily basis. Thank you brother Dale for teaching the full concentrated powerful truth of GODS WORD!” Ron S.
“Excellent message brother Dale! Thank you for your courage to speak the truth of the Word! If only people would realize how foundational this teaching segment is… for living as overcomers and growing up to become recipients of His provision!!” Eric –
“Great message Paula! He’s given us everything we need to be triumphant, in Him.” Sharon
“POWERFUL and BEAUTIFUL testimony of GODS WORD in action! My spirit not only heard what you said but felt what you said. I agree with every word because it’s GODS TRUTH not mans. Thank you for showing us how to stand on GODS WORD!” Ron B.