It was a day like any other day until it wasn’t. Tuesday, after climbing to 32,000 feet from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a huge blast shook the Boeing 737-700. A quick glance at her instruments told Captain Shults two things had happened, both of them bad: rapid depressurization of the main cabin and major engine failure.
Apparently, years of training kicked in. Captain Shults began a rapid descent and prepared to land the crippled plane at Philadelphia International Airport. In the audio that has become available, you can hear Captain Shults calmly tell air traffic control, “We have part of the aircraft missing.” She successfully landed the 737 and then, according to WPVI-TV, she “walked through the aisle and talked with passengers to make sure they were OK.”
Shults was one of the first women to fly F/A-18 Hornets for the Navy and reached the rank of Navy lieutenant commander before leaving in 1993 to join Southwest. A devout Christian, Shults, according to the F-16 blog, said that sitting in the captain’s seat gave her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”
Work as Ministry: Responding Well in the Moment
While most of us will never have to land a crippled 737, what can we learn from Tammie Jo Shults about the opportunity each of us has to witness for Christ while we are doing our work?
Ken Eldred, entrepreneur and author, suggests in his book, The Integrated Life, one way to help Christians integrate their faith and their work is to see it as “A ministry OF work: serving and creating via work itself.” He suggests there is an importance in the work itself, all the work we do has intrinsic value no matter how insignificant it may seem. And because it is all important, it is all done to the glory of God.
To Christians, all work is a sacred calling from God. As A.W. Tozer writes in his classic book, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine:
Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.
Understanding this great truth should help us maintain a level of excellence in everything we do. Tuesday was not the first time Captain Shults had landed a 737 with only one engine. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters on Tuesday:
They’re in the simulator and practice emergency descents…and losing an engine…They did the job that professional airline pilots are trained to do.
Captain Shults likely saw this work as highly significant even though she probably hoped and prayed she would never have to execute the real thing.
She was able to do on Tuesday what seems impossible because for over 25 years she has been working diligently on becoming excellent at her craft. Far too often, we get discouraged and bored doing the same things over and over, but it is often these very exercises that equip us to become excellent at our work regardless of what we are called to do. And it is this idea of perfecting our craft, being excellent at what we have been called to do, that was on display in the cockpit of Tammie Jo Shults’ 737 on Tuesday.
Significance in the Mundane
Finally, what we do today is important, it counts for eternity even if no one else sees it. Lesslie Newbigin writes in his book Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History:
Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day [at the final resurrection] to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s kingdom….All who have committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by Him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed Kingdom.
When we see everything we do as a faithful act of service, nothing is insignificant—everything we do matters.
Pilots joke that their work is hours and hours of sheer boredom punctuated by a few seconds of absolute terror.
After Flight 1380 landed Tuesday, one of the passengers suggested they all had been saved by divine intervention. “God sent his angels to watch over us,” she said.
Tammie Jo Shults was certainly an integral part of that divine intervention.