HONOLULU—Buck Run Baptist’s pastor and Southern Seminary professor Hershael York’s Hawaii vacation with his wife, Tanya, and 85-year-old mother became what they thought was a near-death experience in a matter of minutes.
He and Tanya had decided to take his mother on a long vacation to Hawaii’s Big Island, while her health permitted. On the morning of Jan. 13, their phones rang out with the alarming message: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
“I thought it was a cruel joke for somebody to do that to my mother-in-law. But the tone came again. And I checked my phone and sure enough it said it on my phone,” Tanya said.
At first look out the window, it appeared to be a peaceful Hawaii morning. But soon after, the fire alarm began to sound a noise similar to that of static—”like someone had left a mic on in our room”—and people were running across the hotel’s lawn.
“With the reality of the threats and tensions with North Korea, it started to sink in. Surely this can’t be real. It felt very surreal at this moment, and then maybe five minutes passed and there was no resending of it,” she recounted
Hershael began to surf the news stations, but no one was reporting on it yet. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law remained calm and kept getting ready for the day. “It was as if she’d gotten an alert that there would be two inches of snow,” Tanya said.
About 30 minutes later, their son, Michael, sent a screenshot of an official announcement that this was a mix-up of human error, a fact that a local news station would mention as well. But across the Hawaiian islands, panic had already ensued, with reports of parents putting their children in storm drains. Throughout the day, the Yorks had conversations where people recounted that they “still (were) not over this.”
Tanya’s first step during their time of impending doom was to text her two grown sons, Michael and Seth. She said, “We just got an inbound missile threat to Hawaii … should it be real… love you guys intensely and be faithful and I’ll see you in Heaven!”
Michael responded with “Praying” and immediately went to researching the situation.
Seth didn’t see the message until after the threat was resolved. “Man, I’m sure glad I’m just now seeing this,” he responded.
Later Seth used the opportunity on social media to quip that his mother’s “real” last words to him were “I always loved you the most.”
Hershael spent his time “thinking through logistics. That’s his personality type,” Tanya added.
Next, Tanya spent time praying for all the people that needed Christ in their lives. “I just started specifically praying for people as rapidly as I could get them out, letting Him know, ‘Here’s all my petitions, getting in before it’s over.'”
After the threat was dismissed, the family continued with their plans, including their stop at the farmer’s market, like nothing really happened.
What Tanya took away from the situation though was this: “His grace is sufficient.”
“God promises grace for every moment, and it’s really comforting to know that, even in a moment of thinking that’s your last moment, first of all, you’re excited about seeing Jesus and you’re not scared. Secondly, you know He will give you the grace to handle whatever it is,” she said.
Tanya added, “Even in the moment of realization that this is my last moment, it was good to know that I wouldn’t go out screaming and kicking.”(WR)