Life-threatening experiences

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In my 89 years, I’ve experienced many exciting and interesting events and places. For example, I’ve visited 84 countries. I’ve been on 140 cruises-many of them as a destination lecturer.

I’ve been to six continents and been to many great cities: New York, Washington D.C., Havana, Moscow, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, Berlin, Cairo, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bombay, Nairobi, Istanbul, Vancouver, Anchorage, Toronto, Bern, Sydney, Mexico City, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Venice, most of the great cities of the USA. Plus, scores of other great cities.

Perhaps one of the most important events in my life was what I call Life Threatening Experiences. I recall four of such experiences. I am eternally grateful to Almighty God for my survival.

The first incident happened in 1965. I became a volunteer Chaplain and therapist aboard the S.S. Hope ship. It was a medical ship that would spend one year in a third world country, providing medical aid to the needy. Hope stood for the words, Help Opportunities for People Everywhere. I was on it twice, first in Cartagena, Colombia and the second time in Tunis, Tunisia.

The life-threatening experience occurred in Colombia.  In addition to surgeries and lectures aboard ship by doctors, nurses and paramedics, the ship had a smaller boat-about 30 feet long, that would go up the Magdalena River and immunize children against polio, smallpox and diphtheria.

Twelve of us went. My job was primarily as a gofer; carrying equipment. The river was narrow, and after 30 miles, we were suddenly ambushed by Colombian rebels. They forced us ashore and lined us up to kill us or hold us for ransom. With arms raised, we expected to die. Fortunately, one of our group spoke fluent Spanish and explained our mission. To immunize THEIR children from the diseases.

The terrorists never let us out of their sight.  Me especially. I didn’t know squat what I was doing. I had learned the essential Spanish. The kids were lined up to take a pill from me. I would hold the back of their head, and smiling I would say, “Abre la boca.” Open your mouth, then I’d pop a pill in their mouth and say, “Traga.” Swallow. And they would. At the end, I remember feeling very medical. Fortunately, we were happy to get back to the big ship. A life-threatening event.

In 1982 John Robinson (USC football coach) and I were the keynote speakers at a Business Executive group meeting in San Francisco. I flew home from San Francisco.

It was a life-threatening experience. Thirty minutes out of LA the pilot notified us that our landing gear was not working and he expected an emergency landing. All loose luggage was stored in the restrooms. We were prepared for the crash.

As we descended to the airport, we could see dozens of firetrucks, foam on the landing strips and ambulances. It was a life-threatening event. Prayer and anxiety prevailed. At the last minute, we were notified that the landing gear was working. Pandemonium broke loose. Relief and shouting for joy prevailed. My first action upon getting off the plane was to visit a restroom.

Another life-threatening experience for me happened in Africa-Botswana to be exact. After my retirement as a minister I went around the world. When I arrived in Kenya, Norm Osborne met me and we hired a guide and his safari truck to take us to Botswana. Serengeti was on our agenda.

It was October, 1997 and we had seen scores of wild animals from giraffes, buffaloes, wildebeests, monkeys, rhinos and elephants at a distance.

One day our guide said he had a surprise for us. At midnight, we would visit a herd of elephants. I had plenty of reservations, but I agreed to go. Norm was all for it.

The night was pitch black. We finally pulled into a forest of trees and turned off the lights. Silence, quiet and a sky filled with stars and an invisible moon.

Suddenly from the dark came a screech and a loud trumpeting. A thundering pounding of huge, lumbering feet breaking down trees and heading our way. The thundering herd of elephants.

Our guide screamed, “Let’s get the he. out of here.” Thank God, the engine started and we sped out of the forest with the herd close behind.

His only comment, “We got too close to the baby elephants.” You and I can only imagine what would have happened if the safari truck had not started.

My final life-threatening experience was on a wild white-water thriller. I’ve been on ten of them, most in level 3-5. It was August, but with cold weather, raging river and eight people in our raft. I was right in front of the guide.

We started into devil’s gorge. We were at the mercy of the wind and waves. Unfortunately, it hit the side wall and I was thrown head over heels out the back, grabbing the guide as I catapulted into the wild river.

I went under the rubber raft and I thought I was a goner. Suddenly the raft rammed the wall of rock again and I was thrown back into the gorge. Thank God, two of the other men grabbed my life jacket and threw me to the bottom of the raft. I was in shock-the water was freezing. At the bottom of the rapids, a fire was built and I was rubbed down-along with the guide that I had grabbed on my way out.

The group made me row to the end of our voyage to keep me moving. It was a life-threatening experience.

Amen. Selah. So be it.

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Doc Abersold is a 87 year old man who has his Ph.D. in two emphases: Behavioral Medicine and Humanistic Psychology. He has been on 130 cruises - many as destination lecturer and has visited 84 countries.

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