By Joy Allmond | First Published: May 12, 2016
Lolita Jackson speaks at Christian conferences and events around the country.
Lolita Jackson had a thriving career in the financial industry and had worked in the Twin Towers for several years. She was there in 1993 when the World Trade Center was bombed, but nothing earthly could have prepared her for what she would experience eight years later.
On a clear Tuesday morning — Sept. 11, 2001 — Jackson attended a departmental meeting in a 70th floor South Tower conference room, which boasted a panoramic view and faced the southern portion of the North Tower. From where she sat, she had a clear view to the outside world through the window. She was waiting for her turn to speak, but at 8:46, horrific sights overtook her senses and captivated everyone in the room.
American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. This screeching, flaming mass of destruction would change thousands of lives—including Jackson’s. Everyone in the conference room had been present during the 1993 bombings, so they wasted no time in moving toward the stairs. While there was trepidation amid Jackson and her colleagues, Jackson felt an overwhelming sense of peace cover her like a blanket: “From that moment on, God was a very real presence to me, as though He were holding my hand throughout my entire escape."
As the group descended the stairs, Jackson found herself walking with a colleague named Robert as he unsuccessfully tried to call his wife from the staircase, which was surrounded by concrete. Once Jackson, Robert and the others reached the 59th floor, they were instructed to exit the staircase and take the elevator to the 44th floor “skylobby.”
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Robert wanted to continue trying to get in touch with his wife, so he told Jackson he was slipping into an empty office to find better phone reception. As she started to accompany him, she heard a voice say, Don’t go with him! She knew—without a doubt—that she heard the voice of God.
Jackson then took the elevator to the 44th floor skylobby, where she saw hundreds of her building mates awaiting further instructions. At 9:03, the second plane struck the World Trade Center— this time, their building. The South Tower moved a few feet in one direction and the building felt as though it would fall over. Jackson believed she was going to die; yet, she had a supernatural calmness in her spirit.
“I knew that if I were to die at that moment, I would be OK and would go to Heaven. I had never viscerally felt that before,” she said. “Then the building righted itself and I absolutely knew I was going to get out. I was perfectly calm.”
After the building settled, everyone around Jackson gravitated toward the same staircase. She was immediately reminded—from her 1993 experience—that the escape would be slowed if everyone attempted to use the same exit route, so she opened the door to a different staircase and signaled for others to join her there. Several dozen people accompanied her as she descended the staircase closest to the point of impact.
Jackson was out of the building at 9:26. She heeded instructions to refrain from looking up or using her cellphone, and to simply keep walking. Once she was two blocks away, she turned around to take in the chaos and destruction around her. As she stood in the middle of the street—still in shock—a man, whom she knew, approached her and urged her to get on a subway, since she lived in Manhattan and those subways were still running. A few minutes later—at 9:50— she walked down the subway stairs to catch what she would find out later was the last train home.
At 9:59 the first building collapsed. Had Jackson not taken the man’s stern warning, she could have been trapped and suffocated by the smoldering ashes or struck by crashing debris. She later learned that her colleague Robert—who had stayed on the 59th floor to call his wife— was killed. Just minutes after Jackson entered an elevator to go to the skylobby, Robert had followed suit.
The second plane hit the building while Robert was on the elevator, snapping the elevator cable. Jackson realized that if she had not heeded God’s protective instruction not to go with Robert, she would have died in that elevator. “The realization of that—of God clearly keeping me out of harm’s way—changed me forever,” she said. “In the darkest moment I knew He was right there, and that is something I always know, every day.”
Like many mothers who fear life-altering injury, Cassandra Kelly never wanted her kids to play football. But her son, Zac Etheridge, not only played football, he was recruited by one of the country’s top programs, Auburn University. And on Oct. 31, 2009, Kelly’s worst fear appeared to come true. During a game against the Ole Miss Rebels in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, Etheridge—then a safety for the Tigers—collided with Rebels running back Rodney Scott.
Zac Etheridge and Rodney Scott lie on the field after their collision on October 31, 2009.
As a result of the collision Etheridge landed on top of Scott and was not moving. Both instinct and training tell football players to get up off the ground as quickly as possible. But Scott had a counterintuitive sense to lie still.
“I waited for him to get up, but I just think it was God in me telling me not to move,” remembered Scott. “That’s all it could have been—God making me wait.” The crowd in the stadium was stunned to silence as they gazed at what appeared to be two lifeless bodies. Players from both teams knelt in prayer as medical personnel rushed the field to examine Etheridge and Scott.
“A lot of people thought I was unconscious, but I was awake the whole time,” Etheridge said. “I felt everything. But the first thought that entered my mind was Jesus. All I could say was, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’”
Several minutes later, Etheridge was carried off the field on a stretcher as he gave a thumbs-up, signaling that he was coherent and eliciting cheers from the fans. It was discovered at the hospital that Etheridge suffered a cracked fifth vertebrae and torn ligaments in his neck. But more important, it was also discovered that the supernatural intuition that kept Scott lying still also kept Etheridge from permanent paralysis—or worse.
Because that day marked an intensely traumatic moment in his life, Etheridge doesn’t like to relive it. But at the same time, he can’t help but tell of the Father’s great love and protection.
“My mother has always loved the Lord. And she’s always prayed for me,” said Etheridge. “There’s no doubt that God heard her many prayers for me and protected me because of them.”
It was 1991, and the Liberian civil war—begun largely due to a conflict between the Gio and Krahn tribes—was at full throttle. Missionaries Jeff and Kim Abernethy were living with their three young daughters in Pehe, Ivory Coast—the town of the Krahn tribe—to minister to Liberian refugees.
Their friend John, a man born into the Gio tribe, traveled with his son to visit the Abernethys in Pehe. After several hours with his American friends, John and his son walked back to the main road to wait for the bus that would take them on a two-hour trip back to the Liberian border town where they lived.
Jeff and Kim Abernethy have served as ministers to students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for more than a decade.
While they waited for the bus, a local heard John talking to his son in their Gio dialect. The Krahn Tribesman pointed his finger at John and said, “I know you. You killed my mother. You are Gio. You will die today.”
That’s all it took to start a frenzy. Within minutes, John who was innocent, and his son were surrounded by a mob threatening to kill them. Someone broke up the crowd long enough to allow John and his son to get a head start on running back to the Abernethy’s house-where they were having dinner with another missionary family.
As the two Gio men approached the missionaries’ house, Kim heard yelling getting louder as the people from the bus stop were running behind them. Once John and his son were inside, she closed and locked the door.
“To the townspeople of Pehe, it appeared as though the American missionaries took the side of the Gios,” said Kim. “Harboring our friends was a split-second decision we had to make, but we didn’t regret it. And in the moment, you realize how much power one split-second decision can have over your future.”
Shortly after the Abernethy’s barricaded their friends inside, it became dark, and the angry mob that followed John grew more than 400 people. The mob surrounded their home, demanding they give over the “traitor.”
Mark and Nancy Sheppard, the visiting couple, also had three children. The situation became so dire that the four adults covered the window in one of the bedrooms and placed all six children under the bed for protection. “Things got so ominous,” Kim said. “The mob started throwing torches and stones at the windows.”
The missionary men sent for a local pastor—to come over and diffuse the rage. The pastor finally for the crows to agree to step back and let John and his son leave, unharmed. Jeff and Mark decided they would drive John and his son to the bus stop Mark brought the car through the crowd around to the front of the house so the others could enter safely. Meanwhile, Jeff and Kim prayed together and hugged.
“I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” Jeff told Kim. “Be brave.” As the men moved through the mob, it parted like the Red Sea. They got in the car and Mark turned the key.
The car wouldn’t start. Jeff, a skilled mechanic, got out and checked under the hood. Everything seemed fine. He looked up to the heavens and cried out to God for help—and for protection. He felt God had heard him, so Mark tried starting the car again. Nothing.
Feeling hopeless, the men ran back inside, dodging the increasingly restless crowd.
“There was a brief moment when the deceiver whispered, ‘You thought He heard you,’” Kim said. By then the crowd was at the windows and the door, screaming, yelling and determined to kill John and anyone else they could. Then someone began pounding on the door. It was Wilson, one of their interpreters, who happened to be from the Krahn tribe. As it turns out, the pastor who initially calmed the mob had sent Wilson to the next town to get the police. Wilson had boarded a bus to get the authorities, but he didn’t make it. About half a mile out of town there was a roadblock; some of the angry townspeople started a bonfire in the middle of the road. When the bus approached the roadblock, Wilson heard one of the locals say to the bus driver, “You can go, but when the white men bring out the traitor, they all die. We will burn the car with them all inside.”
The bus was stopped, so Wilson took the opportunity to jump off, run to the missionary house and warn his friends. “When Wilson came to our home and told us this harrowing story, Jeff and Mark just looked at each other in silence,” Kim said, tears of gratitude pooling in her eyes. “While Wilson was still there, the police came and sent everyone away. We still do not know how they learned of our situation. “Had the car started, all four of them would have been killed at the hands of the angry mob that awaited them at the bus stop,” she said. “All these years later, we are still stunned by God’s grace and mercy.”