his past January, my wife, Ramona, and I were in Hawaii, where I was speaking. I know, I know—it’s a tough life. All that sand in your shorts.
We were enjoying breakfast when suddenly at 8:07 a.m., the world went crazier than a cageful of monkeys.
A zillion cell phones buzzed and a message flashed on-screen: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
I’d be a liar if I told you my first thought was, Yippee! I have a family. Grandkids. A ministry.
Below, pandemonium breaks loose. People panic. Some scream and flee through the streets. Tearful goodbyes are said. Underground parking lots fill up.
“It’s from North Korea,” says someone. “It takes a ballistic missile 20 minutes to get here.” Eleven minutes have come and gone.
With nine minutes left to live, Ramona and I descend nine flights of stairs. A lady is carrying a Bible. “That’s a good book,” I say.
“The best,” she smiles. “Especially this morning.”
Call us delusional, but we stop and talk about heaven, about the good news of Christ’s love. “We’re in God’s hands,” we agree.
With six minutes left of our lives, Ramona and I turn west onto Lewers Street, and toward the Pacific Ocean.
A hundred thoughts flood your mind when you have five minutes to live. The kids. Is there anything unsaid? No. They know we love them. Know we’re ready to go. Know where the will is.
“I wonder if we’ll see the missile?” I say. “Let’s watch.”
Four minutes to live and I’m thinking about Kim Jong-un. Can he pinpoint this tiny island 4,600 miles away? Stranger things have happened.
Three minutes left to live, and a man stops us. He’s furious at world leaders.
“We can’t put our hope there,” I say. “Our hope is in Jesus.”
I’m braver than normal. What’s the man gonna do? Kill me?
With two minutes left, it’s important to know your worldview works. I’m happy to report that Christianity does. I’m a little jittery, but filled with peace. For many, fear reigns. One lifts a manhole cover and pushes a child below.
I hold my wife’s hand and say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (see Psalm 46:1-2).
One minute to live and we are laughing. Laughing at how timely these ancient words are. There are the mountains. There’s the sea.
My watch says time’s up. I pause. “We’re still here,” I say.
“Shoot,” says Ramona. We laugh again. Most of her family are in heaven, and there are days she’d love to see them, but today isn’t that day.
It takes a whopping 38 minutes for authorities to issue a retraction. Someone hit the wrong button. Oops. How prominent is this button? Did they hire a bit of a joker? What if his eyesight wasn’t up to par? Maybe he pushed the button thinking it said, “Go for lunch,” when it said, “Go for launch.”
It’s too early to go for lunch, so we continue our walk along Waikiki Beach. It’s the emptiest I’ve seen it, but people are beginning to return. I want to yell, “Don’t go back to the way you were. This is not the land of the living; it’s the land of the dying. Are you ready? You have one life to live. One story to tell. Write it well.”
Perhaps we should have more missile scares. We’d be a little more aware that we’re not here long. A little more prepared to share the hope of Christ.
At 10 a.m., a friend emails to ask me if we are OK.
“Yeah,” I reply. “But, trust me, it’s been a blast.”