On July 9, 1960, Jim Honeycutt took his co-worker’s children for a boat ride on the upper Niagara River. Jim wanted to give the two kids, 17-year-old Deanne Woodward and her seven-year-old brother Roger, a great view of the rapids, so he took their boat past the marked “point of no return.” Soon, he was being quickly swept downstream, and his efforts to turn back were useless. The boat flipped, and Jim and Roger were rushed toward the brink of the Falls, while Deanne was rescued by John R. Hayes, a New Jersey police officer, who leaned over the protective railing and pulled her out of the water.
Mr. Honeycutt and the young boy fought with all their might, but were no match for the three thousand tons of water that crash over the Horseshoe Falls each second. Predictably, Honeycutt plunged to his death. But Roger, unable to swim, was spotted by Clifford Keech, Captain of the Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat, who saw his orange life jacket popping up within the white water. Keech threw the boy a life preserver, and Roger Woodward became the first survivor to go over Niagara Falls.
In 1990, Roger Woodward returned to Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the thirtieth anniversary of the event. He shared his story with the Glengate Alliance Church, telling of the panic that gripped his heart as he was thrust into the rushing waters. “I was scared to death. I can remember going through the rapids and being thrown into the water and being beaten up pretty badly. My panic shifted to anger as I saw people up and down the shoreline and wondered why they wouldn’t come out and rescue me.” How did the seven-year-old boy survive? “It wasn’t the hand of fate,” he says. “It wasn’t the hand of luck. It was the hand of God that saved my life that day and saved my sister so that we could one day come to know Him.”
Last week, Beth and I visited Niagara Falls. We rode the Maid of the Mist boat and observed the very spot young Roger went over the Falls. Indeed, it was the hand of God that saved him. While there were great numbers of tourists on either side of the Falls that historic day 55 years ago, God did for Roger what no person could possibly do. I’m sure many of them were well-intentioned. But none of them were a match for the raging Falls of Niagara. The boy himself did not know how to swim. All he knew how to do was take the life preserver that was thrown in his direction. That was a decision he had to make for himself.
Each of us were headed toward the inevitable falls. Our efforts could not save us, our friends could not reach us, and our works could not help us. The words of the Psalmist come to mind: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit . . . he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). The miracle of Niagara Falls can be your miracle. The Captain has provided your life preserver in his Son, Jesus Christ. There is no more work to be done, but there is a decision to be made. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Like Roger Woodward, you have been preserved for a moment like this. It isn’t the hand of fate. It’s not the hand of luck. It is the hand of God that is reaching out to you today.