Tumbling Into the Dark
About the Guest
Sometimes the unimaginable happens. Today Robert Rogers shares how an ordinary Labor Day weekend turned into an unbelievable tragedy when his minivan carrying his family of six was swept off the freeway in a turbulent flashflood. Hear him reflect on what he was thinking and feeling in those final moments before the van was totally engulfed in the raging waters.
Sometimes the unimaginable happens.
Tumbling Into the Dark
Robert Rogers: It was about a foot or so high maybe more than that up to our bumper and it was all around us. We could just make out what we could see because of our headlights because it was pitch black. It was about 9 p.m. now and very difficult to make out anything. We could see other cars getting through but we could also see debris starting to float over the free way…tree limbs and that sort of thing. It was flowing over this concrete median so now it had pinned our van up against the concrete median so we had no lights, no power, of course, no engine and no way to get through this. All we could see was water.
Bob: That night in August 2003 is a night that Robert Rogers will never forget. The night that changed the direction of his life forever. Stay tuned.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.
Bob: There are days when life kind of take over and the unexpected grabs you and changes the direction of everything. I think most of us can look back and remember those days when out of the blue what we didn’t expect came true, do you know what I’m talking about?
Dennis: I do. There’s no drum roll. No one warns you that what you’re about to enter into is about to dramatically impact you for the rest of your life. Last summer for our family we experienced that in the death of our little granddaughter, Molly. She lived for seven days. What started out as a time of celebration well it wasn’t long into that celebration of that little life that we soon saw that we had a major tragedy on our hands. We have a guest today who this is extraordinary. I think back to Molly’s home going last summer and I can’t fathom the anguish and the grief and the depth of hurt that our guest here on today’s broadcast experienced. Let me introduce our listeners to our guest Robert Rogers. Robert welcome to our broadcast.
Robert Rogers: Thank you so much Dennis and Bob. It’s an honor to be here.
Dennis: Robert lives in Ft. Wayne, Indiana right now. He is an electrical engineer. You have to kind of grab hold of this. Bob earlier when we were together picked up on this he’s an electrical engineer who is also a songwriter/pianist.
Bob: You haven’t done a whole lot of electrical engineering in the last 5-7 years have you?
Robert Rogers: Not in the past five years. About 13 years prior to that.
Bob: But lots of piano playing over the last 5-7 years right?
Robert Rogers: Yes, indeed. Every since I was 10 years old I’ve always loved piano and played quite a bit.
Dennis: Yes, well back in 2004 you formed a ministry called Mighty in the Land. By the way that wouldn’t happen to be after Psalm 112:1-2 would it?
Robert Rogers: How did you guess? Yes, indeed.
Dennis: That’s my life verse.
Robert Rogers: Is it really?
Dennis: It’s interesting. So when I saw the information about what you’d done and our listeners are going to understand why you formed that ministry. He was married to his wife, Melissa, for 12 years. They had four children together. They were having one of those days, Bob, like you were talking about. A normal weekend kind of a celebrating the weekend experience. In fact you awakened on Saturday morning to have some kind of flap jacks. Daddy’s flap jacks.
Robert Rogers: Daddy’s famous flap jacks.
Dennis: At our house it was Dad’s French toast. Deep friend French toast. Tell us what happened on that weekend.
Robert Rogers: Well it was kind of a typical Rogers weekend. We had a family Friday fun night the night before with popcorn and movies and ice cream. We gathered around the piano afterwards and sing and dance. The kids almost wore a hole in the carpet from all their dancing around in circles. Just to put a little background on it. Our kids each came here with a lot of difficulty and as any parent knows any childbirth can be a challenging experience. But two of our children, Makenah who was 8 years old then and then Nicholas both came by C section. And then our son Zachary was born naturally but after his birth we found out he had downs syndrome. And so each one of those three births were very challenging. I can share much more about those as we go forth. Our fourth child, Alenah, we adopted from China just 8 months prior to the date you’re referring to. That’s a whole journey of love as you and many listeners I’m sure well know. So we poured and invested heavily into the lives of our children. We’re all about family. We love God most of all and a close second was our family.
That Saturday morning August 30 of 2003 we woke up and had a marvelous breakfast of pancakes. I’d make Mickey Mouse pancakes where you can pour a big circle in the middle and two little ears off to the side and our kids just loved that and they devoured them completely. Zachary with Down’s syndrome couldn’t talk a whole lot. He could make a lot of fun grunts and noises. He had a cleft palate as well. One of the challenges of Down’s syndrome so we taught him sign language. But he would just hoot and holler and hooray and sing and have a blast at the breakfast table so we were just having a good old time as a family. But we had to kind of move on because we were on our way to a relatives wedding that morning. One of Melissa’s uncles was getting married three hours away in Wichita Kansas.
Bob: This would have been Labor Day weekend?
Robert Rogers: Correct. Of 2003. And if you recall that summer much of the Midwest experienced a drought of terrible proportions and we were all praying for rain. Unfortunately we got everything we asked for in one weekend in about one day’s time. Over 10 inches of rain came down and just saturated that area of Kansas. It was part of the Hurricane Isabella storm system evidently that had drifted over the Midwest and it just kind of hovered there.
So it was drizzling and raining most of the trip down there and we made it in good time and safely thank God. We were in Wichita and had a marvelous time at the wedding and the reception was right there at the church and you know how kids are just running around at the reception and playing with their cousins. Grabbing cake and peanuts off the tables and just having a grand time.
Many of them had not met our daughter Alenah from China yet. We had just had her for eight months so this was the first chance that a lot of Melissa’s relatives in Kansas had the opportunity to gaze upon her. She was almost two years old just a few months shy of two. She was walking well and the hit of the party. She was wearing these shoes that squeaked. Anyone who has adopted a child from China has probably experienced that right when you finalize your paper work at the American consulate in Wong Jo there’s a lot of shops around the area and they make these shoes that every time a child takes a step they squeak. It seems like it needs some oil on there or something but it’s a blast when they are learning to walk. So she was just the life of the party and everyone was getting a kick out of Alenah.
We were all taking some family pictures because we were all gathered together. So we and some relatives took pictures of our family and after the reception we’d all just eaten lots of cake and snacks. I don’t know about you Bob and Dennis but we love ice cream. We had grown fond of a place called Brahms ice cream.
Robert Rogers: We didn’t have it in Kansas City there were no locations up there so we said hey who wants to go out for ice cream? So after helping the bride and groom bring their presents to their home and kind of send them on their way we all went out for ice cream with Melissa’s brother. But the rain was pouring down and it was dark now and we knew we had to get on our way because we had a three hour…
Bob: You were driving back to Kansas City?
Robert Rogers: That’s right. We had a three hour drive back to our home in Kansas City that night.
Bob: At night in the rain?
Robert Rogers: That’s right. It was about 8:00 p.m. at this point and it was turning very dark outside so both of us had minivans. Our family had one and Melissa’s brother had one. Husband and wife in each and four children in each. We both headed back the same path to our homes.
Dennis: Melissa was driving, right?
Robert Rogers: Yes. We had filled up on gas so we wouldn’t have to wake our kids half way home when we switched drivers. And she was ready to drive and I kind of wanted to get a little shut eye so I’d be awake and alert half way home. We knew our kids would fall right asleep right after all the activity of the reception. So we were delayed a couple of minutes behind her brother on the way home to get gas and unbeknownst to us her brother went through this high water on the way back northeast on the Kansas turnpike. He didn’t know what to do because suddenly you’re in the midst of this flood over the freeway and his wife said do we get out what do we do? He said no we’re already in the thick of this thing we have to get through it. Thankfully they were able to drive through it. They weren’t stalled or anything.
Well, they tried to call us but they didn’t have our cell phone number so they called Melissa’s father and Matt’s father and got our phone number. By the time they reached us on the phone we had just splashed into a flash flood. It was up to our bumper when we hit it and lapping off of the headlights. We had been driving through treacherous weather Melissa is a fantastic driver and the wipers were going full blast and you could feel the van kind of hydroplane a few times. We were going maybe 30 or 35 miles per hour on that expressway following other cars taillights and trying to stay on the road.
Dennis: You were actually moving behind an 18 wheeler weren’t you?
Robert Rogers: Eventually. He was behind us and we had seen some red lights and tail lights off to the side of the road thinking it was just people just trying to sit out the storm and get under on overpass to wait. But there were plenty of people still getting by and other semis and so forth.
But it just inundated our van instantly and it was all around us. We could just make out what we could see with our headlights because it was pitch black and about 9:00 p.m. now. And it was very difficult to make out anything. We could see other cars getting through but we could also see debris starting to float over the freeway. Tree limbs and that sort of thing.
Dennis: You were hemmed in though that’s what I mentioned about the 18 wheeler. You actually couldn’t have turned around if you wanted to.
Robert Rogers: That’s part of it because the cars that were trying to get through were weaving around us. And this 18 wheeler passed us on the left-hand side between us and a three foot high concrete median and nearly side swiped us. Melissa burst out what’ he doing? He nearly hit us. What’s he thinking? In retrospect we realize that what he was thinking was just to get through this thing. So we thought let’s follow him and stay in his track so to speak and try to get out.
We did that as long as we could just a few yards or tens of yards until the water stalled our minivan. It kept rising and reached into the floor boards and up to the seat cushions within a matter of a few minutes.
Bob: So it was coming in the car?
Robert Rogers: It was seeping in the car. And all of our children had been sleeping. Our daughter Makena who is eight years old she’d be the tallest. Her feet hung down the seat the farthest and so her toes touched the water first and it was immediately cold water. It’s hard to even describe how chilling it was but she was very unsettled and very scared. She started crying and that woke up our other children. Nicholas started crying he was three years old. And Zachary with Down’s syndrome he didn’t say a whole lot but he just kind of took it all in. Then Alenah woke up and she started crying. So Makena got out of her seat belt and came up by us in the front seat and we prayed.
We did three main things in the van that really made a big difference. Number one we cried out the name of Jesus. The name above all names. We cried out Jesus save us. Jesus save us. This was just unfathomable. We were just having so much fun and joy at a wedding reception and an ice cream parlor and now we are faced with death potentially around us and no way of escape.
Dennis: Part of the reason was you couldn’t open the doors of the minivan and two adults wrestled four children through raging waters. Anybody who has been in a fast stream knows that water up to your calves can take you off your feet.
Robert Rogers: That’s right. Ankle high water will knock you down. Exactly and we considered that. And Melissa was adamant, no, there’s no way I cannot live with myself if we dropped any one of our children. And Zachary five years old with Down’s syndrome even my mother said holding him is like holding on to five children at once. He was just a squirm worm and a bucket of energy. The thought of us carrying two kids one in each arm and dropping one was just…no way.
Bob: Did the water keep coming into the vehicle?
Robert Rogers: Yes it did. It kept rising all the way up to the steering wheel and it was flowing over this concrete median so now it had pinned our van up against the concrete median so we had no lights, no power of course, no engine, no way to get through this and all we could see was water. They say it was over a thousand feet wide.
Bob: You had to be thinking I have to fix this. I mean I’m just thinking the way a daddy and a husband thinks. I got to fix this. But there was nothing you could do to fix it.
Robert Rogers: That was the hardest thing Bob. As a husband and a father I’m the protector and provider of my family and especially any man hates to be out of control of a situation. I just felt like Lord what can I do? We can’t safely carry our children on foot this water is raging by and now above waist high almost chest high. We’re stuck in the van. And we thought well at least it can’t get much worse. It’s now flowing over the median like a waterfall but more stable. Our kids are crying but we try to calm them through saying Jesus name. Through praying Psalm 46 that says God is my strength. God is my refuge. An ever present help in time of trouble we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall to the heart of the sea though the waters roar and the mountains quake. So we were praying that Scripture.
And thirdly, we were singing because as a musical family we often found comfort in song. So we were singing that familiar chorus Lord I life your name on high. Lord I love to sing your praises. We truly felt as if God’s presence was there. And his peace was there. And it was going to be okay. He hadn’t brought us this far to fall short now. We just had a sense it was going to be okay but it was still fearful. We were on the phone calling Melissa’s parents and then someone from church to ask for prayer.
She said I’ll call the prayer line and pray for you. They couldn’t even fathom not getting out of the car. Can you get on the roof? No, it’s too treacherous. There’s no way we can even get out of here.
Dennis: Water was up to your chest at this point?
Robert Rogers: Yes, it was up to the steering wheel and where the windows come down.
Bob: Were the windows open? Had you opened them? Had you kept them shut?
Robert Rogers: We just barely cracked one window.
Bob: Before the electrical was gone.
Robert Rogers: Yes, right. And so praying and hoping that it couldn’t get any worse and not even fathoming how it could get any worse we just figured the water would go down and we’d get our van towed and dry off and we’ll be okay.
Dennis: Let me stop you right there because I’m back to Bob’s question of being a daddy and wanting to fix it. I’m putting myself for just a moment in what is the most unimaginable situation. I’m in the passenger seat and were you frantic? Were you just looking around in the oxygen pocket that was in that vehicle thinking I’ve got to kick a window out and get my family out of here. What was going through your mind even while you were singing the songs and praying the prayers.
Robert Rogers: Anything and everything.As an engineer with kind of a scientific mind I was trying to even wrap my mind around this to say what is our only way out of this? How can we possibly get through this? What are our options? So I’m a thinker and an introvert so I kind of look at everything and say how can we get through this? And yet I was tending to our children trying to calm them down and give them peace and hold onto Makenah as she climbed up into the front seat into our arms. And yet through it all Dennis strangely I had a peace. I’ve always been peaceful in my demeanor and I guess having those step stones of faith throughout our life instilled an even deeper peace through any kind of storm. Because of difficult child births, Down’s syndrome and the adoption process all those things have enormous challenges and I guess my mind knew I can trust God no matter what. Now my mind knew it but my soul was crying out saying God how can this be happening? Why is this happening? This is my family at stake. What is going on? You better show up in a might way or we could all lose our lives and even Melissa cried out we’re going to die. We’re going to die. I tried to comfort her saying no it’s going to be okay. We’re going to be all right. I know it. The depths of my heart was trying to convey that and to reassure them God is not going to fail us.
Dennis: And you know right now there are listeners who are hearing your story and they may not be in a minivan but they may be in circumstances where they are hemmed in just like you were.
Robert Rogers: Yes.
Dennis: And the same cry of desperation. The same prayer needs to come from their soul. They need to get well they need to humble themselves before God and ask God to be merciful. You are our refuge. You are our strength. Come and rescue us from these circumstances that we find ourselves in and I think as you hear a story like yours and I’m sorry we’re going to leave our listeners on the edge of what we are experiencing but I happen to believe there will be those listening today who are on the edge too. And they may be on the edge of making a decision that could profoundly create a tragedy for their marriage for their family. And you know what? They need the courageously cry out to God and get serious with God in their lives.
Bob: You know I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you reference Matthew chapter 7 where Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by talking about houses that are built on sand versus houses that are built on the rock. That passage talks about storms and about floods as the testing ground for what is the reality of your faith and we may never experience the kind of actual flood the kind of adversity that you and your family were experiencing on that night in August of 2003 but every one of us is going to walk through valleys in life. It’s just a part of the experience of life that we will face storms and floods of our own. The question is what is your life founded on at that point and in those moments?
I want to mention that we have copies of the book that tells the story of what happened to you that night. It’s a book called Into the Deep. One man’s story of how tragedy took his family but could not take his faith. If our listeners are interested they can go to our web site FamilyLifeToday.com and you can request a copy of the book from us. Again the book is called Into the Deep and you’ll find it on our web site FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me also mention that we have copies of the book that your wife Barbara just finished writing along with your daughter Rebecca that tells the story of the death of your granddaughter last summer. The book is called A Symphony in the Dark. And if our listeners heard any of our program last week where we told the story of Molly’s life and her death they know that it’s a powerful and compelling and moving story. Again go to our web site FamilyLife Today.com and the information about both of these books is there. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com.
You can also call us toll free at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1 800 “F”as in family “L” as in life and then the word TODAY and we can make arrangements to have whichever of these books you’d like or both of them sent out to you.
It is in times of trials and adversity that we need to counsel our own souls be reminded of what the scriptures have to say about God’s purposes in our life in the midst of trial. A while back you did a message from Psalm 34 where David deals with his own adversity and cries out to God in the midst of it.
We’re making CDs of that message available to listeners this month who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. Because we are listener supported we depend on your donations to continue the ministry of FamilyLife Today here on this station every week and it helps when we hear from folks who listen to this station to let us know that you are listening. If you are able to support the ministry to make whatever donation you are able to make and if you’re making a donation this month on line and you’d like to receive a copy of Dennis’ CD of Psalm 34 all you have to do is type the word “trials” in the key code box that you find on the donation form that you find online or call toll-free 1 800 FLTODAY. That’s 1 800 358-6329. Make your donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of the message on trials by Dennis or the message from Psalm 34. We’re happy to send it out to you and we so much appreciate your financial faithfulness and your support of this ministry. These have been trying times for us as a ministry in the last several months as we have been in the midst of the economic storm that we have faced here as a country and we appreciate those of you who have been able to support the ministry in this particular season. You’re financial support is very much needed and appreciated.
Tomorrow we will pick up Robert Rogers story where we left off today and I hope our listeners can be back with us to hear part two of that story.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock Arkansas
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