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Kody Kostenko dateline 2-17-2017 Belize
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Greetings friends! 

Lyli and I are at MOVE. We got here Wednesday night after a 36 hour trip that started with a round-about ride to the airport because of closed roads with the Oroville dam spillway crisis and subsequent evacuations. We continue to pray for those at risk in that precarious situation. Once on the plane at the airport in Sacramento, we waited on the ground for two hours while a crew remedied a mechanical situation and we missed our connecting flight. We were able to rebook for the next morning and spent the night in Minneapolis compliments of Delta. Anyway, we are very glad to be here, for what promises to be a challenging, busy and rewarding year. We had orientation on Thursday and Friday with the 14 students for this session who hail from a total of six different countries. Classes start Monday. Also, a group from Weimar Academy is here helping on construction and maintenance projects and doing health evangelism meetings in the evenings. Tonight it was my turn to translate for them. Tomorrow I am slated to give a mission report and preach at a different church in the area. MOVE lives up to its name. :) Anyway, I will try to send more reports later, but for now I had to get this story out to you about how God saved our lives last month, and what I learned from it. I call the story:

 

                                                              A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

 

“Sorry to abandon you all, but I’m scheduled to share a testimony at the Spanish church in Chico” I informed my parents and their guests. Lyli, my wife, had told me she was going to stay and sleep, so I was surprised to see her get up. 

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to” I told her, “Although I’d be glad for your company.”

“Wait for me then” she said.

A few minutes later, we prayed for safety and headed north on Oro-Bangor Highway while a gentle drizzle darkened the asphalt.  I was still trying to decide what story to share at church. Something encouraging, of course, as my friend Daniel Orozco had dubbed these short testimonies “words of encouragement.”

“I should have had you speak tonight.” I teased Lyli. “That’s what the guy at the Friday night vespers did. His name was on the program, but his wife spoke in his place! You could tell how God saved you in the plane crash.(1) And you can’t use the language excuse because there’s going to be a translator.” 

“Oh no! No way, take me home right now!” she laughed. 

We continued to chat until we passed the first corner after Swede’s Flat. Lyli was about to recline her seat for a nap when we entered the second bend: a long, sloping corner cut out of a high bank that keeps the road ahead completely out of sight, until, when the curve finally dissipates and slopes down into a straightaway, in the last possible second, I saw them.  

“Kody!” Lyli gasped and instinctively braced herself.

Three vehicles dead ahead: two parked trucks, their drivers outside, partially blocked my lane, and the third, an oncoming van, approached rapidly. There was nowhere to go. I was already on the brake, but the back of my car broke traction immediately and swung left. The brakes were locked out of any possible response. We slid sideways toward the parked trucks for an instant, while my adrenalin arms cranked the steering wheel left. Behind us (I learned afterward) the van whizzed by, hugging the narrow shoulder. In a shade more than a mere car’s-length shy of hitting the stalled pickup, my tires suddenly gripped and we hurtled across the opposite lane and off a sharp embankment. Lyli screamed. All I saw was countryside and trees. 

In that helpless moment of terror a strange calm came over me. I closed my eyes. (2) If I died, at least no one would have to close them for me. I think I started to pray, (better late than never) but if I did, I didn’t get past “Oh Lord” before I felt impact, followed by an abrupt spin that stopped us dead. 

Except, we weren’t dead. I opened my eyes. We faced a large oak tree on a steep slope, a flattened section of fence, and the highway above. A lone tennis shoe from my trunk decorated the downed fence.  I looked over at Lyli. She was in one piece, and I didn’t see any blood. Oh Lord, this is the last thing she needed. Please, don’t let her be hurt! 

 “Are you okay honey?” I asked.

“I think so. But my head hurts.” 

“Where?” 

“Right here,” she touched the back-left side of her head. I looked closer but could see no obvious signs of injury.

“Do you feel dizzy?”

“No, it just hurts.”

“Just sit still for a minute,” I told her. “Don’t try to move.” 

“Are you okay?” she asked. 

“Yeah, I’m fine. My elbow and thigh hurt, but I don’t think anything is broken. I just feel like I’ve been kicked.” 

I carefully turned to inspect the vehicle. The smashed rear-right passenger door bulged inward behind Lyli’s seat, and the entire rear-end of the car was crumpled up like a wad of used paper. Shattered window glass decorated everything. 

“Well, the car is obviously totaled” I reported. 

“Can you call your parents?” Lyli asked. 

I pulled out my phone. “There is no signal here.” I opened my door go get out and saw a frightened looking young man hurrying down the hill in our direction. 

“Is everyone okay?” He called out. 

“I’m fine!” I replied. “I’m not sure about my wife.” I circled the car and met him at the passenger door. “She had a blow to the head.”  

“I’m Daniel. I’m an EMT and I volunteer at the fire station just up the road. I’m the one from the stalled truck. The man who stopped to help me is directing traffic.” 

He opened the passenger door and began to ask Lyli questions, also recommending she not move until the paramedics arrived. 

A large man with a long white beard appeared at the top of the bank. “I was in the oncoming van. My wife went ahead to find a house where she can call 911.”

Daniel asked me if I had my keys so he could turn off the car. 

“They should be in the ignition,” I replied. They weren’t. Strangely, the keys were nowhere to be found, so Daniel and the other man disconnected the battery. 

During the following long minutes, we piled Lyli with jackets to try to keep her warm and from going into shock. Lyli meanwhile silently prayed that my parents would show up by some miracle. A couple of fire trucks arrived, and the firefighters repeated Lyli’s interrogation. 

“What county are you in?” 

“We’re not from here!” Lyli protested. “What’s a county?” She glanced sideways at me for help. 

Un condado”  I translated. “We are in Butte county.”

“How many quarters are in a dollar?” the questioner continued. 

“I don’t know! I don’t use quarters.” 

 I had to explain to the firefighters that we are missionaries just home visiting my parents. 

 “You’ll just make her head hurt worse with those kind of questions!” I attempted to lighten the tension.

“Oh, okay.” The fireman laughed. “How about this one? Who is the president of the United States?”  He obliged with what would surely be a no brainer.

“Oh, the new one. I can see his face, but I just can’t think of his name!” Lyli was mortified. Now they must really think my head is damaged! She thought. 

Somewhere in the midst of the questioning the highway patrol arrived, and so did the answer to Lyli’s prayer. 

“Look, Kody, there’s your mom and dad!”  She pointed excitedly to the road above. “God answered my prayer!” Sure enough, I saw the Prius and Dad’s face of consternation looking out the driver’s window. Moments later he and Mom were both scrambling down the embankment. What a relief it was to see them!

“We’re okay!” I waved, hoping to share a little of our relief with them. 

The firefighters got Lyli in a neck brace and on a backboard and carried her to the ambulance while I gave my report to the police and Mom and Dad gathered our things out of the car and somehow found the car keys lying on the ground. Afterward, I joined Lyli in the ambulance. All of her vitals were stable and there didn’t seem to be any serious damage, but because of the nature of the crash scene, the dispatchers sent us to the Enloe trauma center in Chico. On the way I called the church in Chico. 

“I’m really sorry we aren’t going to make it to the meeting tonight. We’ve been in an accident and we’re on the way to Enloe. But you can share a testimony for us if you would. The word of encouragement is that God saved our lives!”

At the hospital the emergency staff took Lyli in for CAT scans and X-rays. We were overwhelmed with gratitude for the kind visits of concerned church family members, including one who works at Enloe and got the process speeded up. The scans came back good, so we were released to go home by around 10:00 pm.  

The next day Dad and I went out to look at the crash site. Strangely, we couldn’t find any skid marks. Our tracks on the embankment were almost exactly straight down. We most likely would have rolled the car or hit the oak tree head on if our trajectory had been any different. Just two “we would have, ifs” on a very long list of possible scenarios that ended with us dead or severely injured, and likely killing someone else too. Dad can’t quit talking about it. I guess that makes two of us.

If trying to calculate correctly in those fragments of seconds before a crash is anything like the results of your first cold-turkey multiplication time test, than you know that working through the aftermath is more like raw calculus. First there was the totaled vehicle disposal to resolve to avoid more storage fee accrual with the towing company. Dad told the tow-company owner about our situation and the Lord must have softened his heart because he cut our bill by nearly two-thirds! Then there were calls to the car-insurance company, first responders, Nor-cal Radiology, the hospital billing department, and a MediCal application and interview, and so forth. We are still dealing with all that. But I can’t be anything but grateful. Instead of asking “why me?” the question I have right now is “why not me?” Why am I still alive? Some people say God must still have work for me to do, and of course they are right. There is no such thing as an unemployed Christian! But beyond that, I know that God still has work to do on me. My wife and I both pray that when our time comes we will be ready to meet our Lord in peace. Our every breath is an intake of grace. Oh Lord, don’t let us waste it! Would to God we would live henceforth with “no reserves, no retreats and no regrets.” (3)

Ironically, just a week or two before the accident I attended a Spanish small-group study and shared a story about a time that everything went wrong for us and how afterward I was proud of myself for controlling my temper, but God spoke to my heart and said “this problem is not all about you. Did you ever stop to think about what I might be trying to do here for the other people involved? Are you willing to cooperate with Me in this?” 

I need to see things the way God does. As a Christian, nothing that happens to me can really be about me. Somehow I need to stop seeing myself as the protagonist. The honor of God is at stake here. People’s salvation is at stake! If only I could lose my self-love and self-pity, I would see that, while God is working on me, He is also working on something a whole lot bigger. If I would be others-centered when I’m tempted to feel like the victim, that would be a marvelous work of grace. That would be the faith and character of Christ in action. That would be God vindicating His wonderful name, remaking this poor wretch into something good for His glory. Only eternity could tell the results. 

In the case of this accident, perhaps Daniel is part of the bigger picture. He’s practically a neighbor, he lives across the highway from my parents, but they had never met before. After the accident he called and even came by the house to see how we were doing and offered to help with anything he could. 

“I’m so glad you are okay! God surely had his hand on you!” he marveled. “I know it’s easy to second-guess yourself and feel guilty, but it’s not your fault, so don’t blame yourself” he counseled. 

“Well I hope you take your own advice too.” I told him later when he kept repeating how bad he felt for being the cause of the accident. “It’s not your fault your truck broke down right where it did. We don’t blame you, so don’t blame yourself either.” 

“Thanks” He smiled. “You are a true Christian.”  

“Praise the Lord, He’s still working on me” was all I could say. 

As it turns out, Daniel has been on a job with one of our church elders, and got our contact information from him. 

Oh Lord, help us be attentive to your providences and complete faithfully our tiny part in Your big picture! That is what we are living for.

 

[1] Lyli was on her way back to the school in Bolivia back in 2008, when the single-engine Piper Malibu mission plane began to lose oil pressure. It was night, and they were off the coast of Nicaragua. The pilot headed for land, but the engine didn’t have enough power to make the nearest lighted runway. They searched for a closer, unlighted runway, but couldn’t find it in the dark. In the forced landing that followed, Lyli suffered lacerations to her intestines and compression fractures to L5 and S1. The latter was only discovered over 48 hours after the accident when the nurses had her walking after the emergency surgery on her colon, and she began to lose feeling in her legs.

[2] On the phone several days later, my wife described our wreck to a friend: “It was like a movie” she lowered her voice and giggled, almost embarrassed. Unlike me, she kept her eyes open the entire time.

[3] Quote from a real missionary named William Borden. Read his story here and be inspired. https://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/regret.htm

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Kody & Lyli Kostenko