An Impact Beyond Words

On a late January afternoon in 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. during takeoff. Heroic bystanders and helicopter crews plucked five people from the ice-clogged waters in a dramatic race against time. The rescuers needed to get to the passengers before the ice got to them. Seventy-four passengers and crew lost their lives.

Roger Olian, a thirty-five year old metalworker at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital had just driven across the 14th Street Bridge when the plane went down. People were tying battery cables and plastic bags together to make a rope. Olian said later, “I just took the end of the rope and waded in. I didn’t think I would make it…but I knew I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have made a difference.”

Bert Hamilton had surfaced, one arm broken, on the other side of the plane. The helicopter lifted him to safety first. The four other survivors doubt they would have made it if not for Olian. One said, “I was fascinated by this man…he just kept coming. It was he who saved my life.”

The river was so cluttered with chunks of ice that Olian had to pull himself up and crawl across them, breaking two toes in the process. He was five yards short of the floundering passengers when the helicopter arrived for the passengers. Olian was also hauled in and rushed to a hospital, having been in the icy water for 20 minutes. His car was ticketed and towed away.

Later Olian recalled, “I never actually touched one of them. I didn’t know who they were, but as they pulled me back in I realized that I loved them all.” (Penny Ward Moser, “Survivors and Heroes of an Icy Crash,” LIFE, Vol. 6, January 1983, p.112.)

When you engage people in discipeship, you have the potential of making the same impact on them as Roger Olian did in the icy Potomac River. You won’t give them everything they need, but they will be encouraged to persevere because you moved into their lives.

Think of the people who invested in your life as a young believer. They were individuals who moved toward you with their words, presence or encouragement. They explained the Scriptures, resolved issues and answered questions. They gave you courage and direction to walk with Christ. Their initiative and availability left a lasting impression.

Discipleship is not a classroom program. Discipleship requires a discipler who is willing to step into another person’s life, to walk with him as they he becomes grounded in his relationship with Christ.