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Uncommon Valor: John Testrake



Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”


In 1989 I arrived in the capital city of Angola, southern Africa, to begin making good on my commitment. Those were wild days of civil war: roads littered with landmines, nightly military attacks on citizens and foreigners alike, wide-spread hunger, and epidemics of cholera and typhoid. Travel to the interior was especially risky. Yet it was to churches in the interior city of Huambo to whom I had made my pledge to launch a new healthcare project.


Mercifully, Mission Aviation Fellowship had just stationed a plane in Angola, upon which so much of my initiative depended. The pilot, an older man, was very warm, competent, and engaging in character. After several days I finally discerned that he was John Testrake – the hero of TWA Flight 847, hijacked in 1985 from Athens to Beirut and Algiers; the pilot who negotiated the release of his passengers all the while with a gun to his head.


Years later, Testrake’s grandson was my student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. “My grandfather died when I was young. What was it like?” questioned the young man. “John Testrake,” I replied, “was a man of deep spiritual faith, fulfilling his ‘routine’ duties with excellence. Then, when suddenly confronted by crisis, he decidedly led with wisdom and valor.”


Whether negotiating with terrorists, traversing the African outback, or confronting any myriad of challenges, may you and I decide with similar wisdom and valor what to do with the time that is given to us.

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