John Testrake, Hero, Man of God

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Meditations

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Psalm 8:9

I sang a song based on this scripture in the pitch of night before the dawn today. My mind drifted to precious memories of an old friend, John Testrake. John loved that song and I loved John. He passed away in 1996, age 68, too soon. I and so many others miss him but John’s legacy lives on in my heart.

John Testrake burst onto the international scene on June 14, 1985. He and Phyllis, his wife, were looking forward to a brief holiday in Rome. That morning John, an international pilot for TWA, took off on a Mediterranean junket. Shortly after takeoff, terrorists armed with pistols and grenades hijacked the plane. 17 days of terror ensued on the tarmac of Beirut. John witnessed the brutal murder of a young Navy man, Robert Dean Stethem, 23 years old. Most people recall the iconic picture of John leaning out the window of the cockpit, a gun to his head: calm, steady and strong. The whole world watched, John’s life changed forever.

I was on vacation in the Bahamas when this happened. I woke up to CNN, I saw a picture of John and Phyllis. Stunned, I woke Lynn up. “We need to get home immediately.” We packed up and headed to the airport and caught the first flight home. On our way to Richmond, Missouri, in the car, Phyllis called. She was under USA protection. I prayed with her and told her we were headed to the church. Our church family joined in prayer together over the course of two hours. John and Phyllis were family.

The world saw the pilot. I knew the man behind the spectacle. I cut firewood with John. I helped him build his deck. We shared life together as couples in a Bible study once a week. I squealed in terror every time John did loop to loops in John’s private plane — much to John’s delight! He was a man’s man, he was God’s man.

When John spoke, we listened. He was gracious but tough. This Korean War veteran stood steeled by life. He lost a wife and child in a horrific auto accident. He lost another son in the prime of life. John comforted his comforters one by one, at his son’s wake. Two words, Jesus Christ, were never far from his lips. The demonic threats and abuse of terrorists were not going to overwhelm John Testrake.

John became a coveted celebrity after the ordeal resolved itself. He used the platform to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. John flew his plane to speaking engagements around the country over the course of the next ten years. I last saw John at an event promoting missions aviation. In John Testrake, God bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. And the lyrics of that song?

O Lord, our Lord How majestic is your name in all the earth O Lord, we praise your name O Lord, we magnify your name Prince of peace, mighty God O Lord, God Almighty

John, I’ll see you soon. Soon, very soon.

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