James Stecker, Ton te Sligte, and two other members of the Amsterdamsche Club voor Zweefvliegen (Amsterdam Club for Glider Flying) excitedly pulled into the parking lot of Ramstein Air Base. They were going to see one of the best air shows in Europe.
After arranging a place to meet at the end of the show, James and the others split up to look at displays and watch flight demonstration teams perform. After several hours, James and Ton found a place to sit right by the runway, front and center.
Near the end of the airshow, the Italian Frecce Tricolori performed the daunting Pierced Heart maneuver. Of ten airplanes, five would fly left and four right, making a heart shape with smoke. The tenth plane would loop back and fly through the heart like an arrow. To ramp up the drama, the “arrow” would streak through the bottom where the others were crossing.
That day, the “arrow” plane struck one of the five planes making the left side of the heart. The pilot died on impact. The plane he hit knocked into another plane, and both crashed onto the runway. The first plane exploded into the crowd where James and Ton had been. Yet incredibly, the two were nowhere near harm’s way.
Only minutes before the Frecce Tricolori performance was to start, Ton became thirsty. “He wanted to go back to the concession stands where they were selling snacks and sodas,” James recalls. “That seemed a little crazy, when we were in the best place to see the best part of the show. But I never said a word like that. I just thought, No, I’m gonna let him enjoy today and just do what he’d like. I was representing the U.S. Air Force by taking these Dutch people to an American base for the show. I wanted to give them the best impression.”
This wasn’t typical for James. His wife, Shelly, states, “If it had been me and our kids, he would’ve handed us cash and told us to get it ourselves.”
But that day, James chose kindness. He went with his friend to the concession stands.
After getting sodas, they sat on a bench quite far back and saw the initial explosion. “I didn’t think it was real for a split second,” says James. “They fake explosions sometimes for drama and my first thought was that’s what happened. I quickly realized No, that’s not what happened.”
Chaos ensued. People were critically burned. They screamed and ran as ambulances rushed to help. In the end, 70 people died due to the crash. But James, Ton and the other members of the glider club survived. James did something out of character that day, showing kindness in a small way.
Often, we have a similar feeling. We think about helping someone with their hands full, or giving money to a homeless person, but then don’t. It’s out of my way. They’ll spend it on drugs. We give excuses to the voice in our heads.
The Bible speaks to such situations. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12, NIV).
I challenge you to stop. Help someone carry their things or give a dollar and possibly change a life. I can’t promise it will save you from an accident, but it might make you feel good to do something God asks. It might make another person’s day. Kindness has a ripple effect. One small act by you could be life-changing, or, as in James Stecker’s case, lifesaving. God can make a friend thirsty and quietly ask you to show kindness. Listen to that voice. You could help save a life for Him.
Lacey Stecker is a freshman at Union College studying communication.