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Available at 11:59 p.m.

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Dave Roever tells a story about how God used him when he least expected it.

When I’m on tour speaking to our troops, I am classified as a Distinguished Visitor. With the Air Force, I am designated an 0-7, which is the same as a one-star general. My 0-7 designation is only for protocol, but it allows me to work with the generals in the field and gives me access to thousands of troops. It grants me nearly unrestricted travel in military zones.

One night, a general and I landed in Baghdad and pulled up alongside a gigantic C-130 cargo plane used to transport troops and equipment into the battlefields. Normally, C-130s are loaded with trucks, armaments, food and other supplies for our troops. I suspect even a tank could fit inside. But what was about to be taken aboard that night was the most priceless “cargo” I have ever seen a C-130 carry. In fact, I could have picked up that cargo in my arms. The cargo was a fallen hero, a young American soldier who had given his life on Thanksgiving morning.

It was 11:59 p.m. I watched a truck back up to the C-130. Soldiers stood at attention on both sides of the loading ramp. In the oppressive darkness, the remains of a young warrior were loaded onto the C-130. During this moment of honor and loss, I choked back tears.

The chaplain recognized me and invited me into the giant plane. I went with him, but I felt out of my element. I hadn’t been there when this young American was killed, didn’t yet know his name or unit. I had just arrived in the country, and here at the very beginning of my commitment to the troops, the emotion of the moment staggered me. I stood with the chaplain behind the remains of this hero, and as the brilliant flag was draped over his casket, the chaplain asked me to pray.

So I prayed. I prayed for his mother and father, for the other soldiers who’d stood beside him with blood, mud and gunpowder on their faces. And then I prayed for this fallen hero’s very best friend. That friend back home who might not get all the information about this tragic event—the kid he grew up with. I remember being very specific about this: Not just a friend, but his very best friend. “God, send someone to comfort this soldier’s very best friend,” I prayed.

The engine of a Black Hawk whined as it spooled up, turning the giant blades that swished through the thick, suffocating night air. As I finished praying, I saw my general friend tap his watch and circle his finger in the air. Time to go.

Returning home

I did 70 missions that trip, visiting and encouraging troops in the field. It totally exhausted me—physically, mentally and emotionally. When my tour ended, the flight home brought me through the giant Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Waiting at the gate where my next flight was to depart, I read the sign that said the plane was scheduled to depart at 11:59 p.m. How ridiculous, I thought. 11:59. Why not just say it was a midnight departure?

But something began to happen in my spirit. For some reason, that posted departure time—11:59—reminded me of the parable about the shepherd who left his 99 sheep to search for the one that was lost. He couldn’t rest until he had found that one. And so I began to wonder, What is missing here? Something felt very unfinished.

After a while, the gate agent stepped out to inform us that because of a malfunction on the instrument panel of the plane, the flight would not leave until 3:00 a.m. Dead on my feet, I walked across the aisle to another gate that was closed for the night. I sat down alone in a sea of empty seats, thinking I might get in a few hours of sleep. Just as I got somewhat comfortable, a guy walked up and had the audacity to sit down right next to me! His shoulder was actually touching my shoulder!

I became extremely irritated, and pointed to all the empty seats around us. “DUDE,” I said.

“Sir, I’m sorry,” he replied, “but I saw your desert boots and backpack, and I wondered if you were coming home from this war.”

I could hardly answer for frustration. His shoulder was touching my shoulder, and he was talking when I wanted to sleep! But I began to tell him what I do in the war zone. I explained my role as a resiliency coach, working as part of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program that is required for the warriors. I told him that my mission was to try to minimize the suicides, divorces and other tragic consequences in which soldiers find themselves after returning from war.

When I finished explaining this, out of courtesy I asked, “And where are you coming from?”

He told me he had been to South Texas for the funeral of his very best friend.

“Very best friend”

The words were clear. Very best friend. I felt my hairpiece stand on end. I could almost feel the rush of blood through my ears—and one of them is plastic. I felt a shudder go through my body, and goose bumps popped up on my arms.

“Your very best friend?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. He was killed.”

“In Iraq?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thanksgiving morning?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Striker Brigade?”

“Yes . . . sir,” he stuttered. His shoulder was not touching mine now. He was leaning back, way back, with his body pressed hard against the far side of his chair. “Mister, who are you?” he asked.

“I am the answer to my own prayer,” I answered.

We both wept. He wept because he realized that in the loss of a friend, he had met someone who could answer questions to which no one would know the answers without having been there. I wept because I realized that God had sent me across the world to be the right man, in the right place, at the right time to show someone that Jesus loves him personally.

This young man was not lost in the events swirling in a world of war, separated by thousands of miles. Through time and space, God found him in an airport. So we sat together, talking. I was happy that my rest had been interrupted in order to introduce the best friend of a fallen warrior to a brand-new, very best Friend named Jesus.

That is how much Jesus loves each of us. Is one more important than the other 99? Absolutely not! Everyone is important. There will always be the 99, and there will always be the one with whom we can share the love of Jesus Christ.

Lord, You can disrupt my downtime, any time.

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