One day when I was seven-years-old I was riding with Dad along a street in Southeast Los Angeles. Dad slowed as we approached a railroad crossing where a train was creeping slowly toward us. The arm of the railroad guard was blocking traffic, so Dad pulled to a stop. Dad's window was down and, I learned later, he heard a sound - what he thought was a scream. Suddenly he threw our old car into neutral, set the hand brake and jumped out of the car.
As he ran he yelled up to the conductor that they should stop the train, that they may have run over someone. I caught a glimpse of him darting around the railroad guard arm and disappearing beyond the engine of the train. I jumped out my side of the car and dashed after Dad. Rushing around the train to the other side, I saw him looking underneath. I looked too. My stomach tightened at the shock of what I saw. A woman was pinned beneath the wheels. Dad didn't hesitate. He stretched below the car and grabbed her under her arms. Panting from the strain of pulling more than his own weight, he struggled to back out with her.
There was total silence except for Dad's heavy breathing. Then a murmuring began behind us. I looked around, surprised to find a small crowd had gathered.
All eyes were on Dad and the woman. Questions spun through my mind. Why had no one helped him? Why had Dad struggled alone? I had seen my father get involved in other crises situations, using the opportunity to share Christ. But never had I seen a group of people stand idle and offer no help.
As I studied the blank stares, looks of horror replaced the complacency on their faces. I turned back to the object of their shock. Only then did I see the woman's injuries. One leg was severed at the ankle. But the other was cut off below the knee, blood oozing from it, and also from a gaping wound on her forehead. Adrenaline raced through my being.Dad was in motion, wrapping the cloth of her skirt around the stumps of what had once been her legs. I noticed the direction the train had been moving and where the severed leg was lying. Slowly I realized that if Dad had been a moment later the train's wheel would have rolled over her torso and she certainly could not have lived.
"Jesus loves you. Do you know him?" Dad kept up a continuous monologue. "God loves you and knows how you're hurting. Just call out to Him." Dad held tightly to the stumps of her legs. All the while he assured her of God's love. He even shared the plan of salvation with her.
Now other voices rose around us. "She's lost her leg." "Do you think she'll live? She's lost a lot of blood." One person's scornful comment made no sense to me. "She's only an old black lady."
I had hardly noticed the color of her skin. Dad apparently didn't care. I was more horrified by the next comment than from the sight I'd just seen. "He should have just left the old nigger to die." We weren't allowed to use that word in our house. We would have tasted soap just as quickly using that word as if we used God's name in vain.
For fifteen minutes or more, Dad held tightly to the bloody stump and poured out God's love to this frightened woman. I was still pondering the hateful comments I'd heard, and the fact that no one had helped Dad when my thoughts were interrupted by a siren screaming to a halt behind us.
Relief could be seen in Dad's face and on the woman's. My stomach began to relax. The crowd stepped aside for the ambulance to get close. The driver paused, said something to his assistant, and pulled away without a word. It was another five minutes or so before another ambulance arrived.I've always wondered whether the first driver thought the woman was too badly injured to save, or if it was because of his prejudice against Afro-Americans that he drove away.
Only when the second ambulance driver took over did Dad release his grip on that brilliant liquid mass. Dad stayed only long enough to learn which hospital she would be taken to, then quietly said to me, "Let's go."
Without a word he searched the car trunk for a rag to wipe his dripping hands, then we drove off.
We rode in silence for a while, each reliving the awful scene, those hateful words still stinging my ears. When Dad finally spoke, his words were slow, as though he couldn't believe them himself. "There were others there, just watching. No one offered to help."
That night Mom and Dad went to the hospital to see the injured lady. I lay awake waiting for their return. "She faced several hours of surgery to close her mangled legs," said Mom. "The pain she's experiencing must be intense. But when she saw Dad's face, her eyes brightened. She wanted to know more about God's love. I think she sensed it was God's love and mercy that brought Dad to save her just in time."
Many months passed before we heard of the lady again. Then one evening several members of her family arrived at our door. My little sisters timidly climbed onto Mom's lap to watch and listen, their eyes big with wonder at the sight of this large black man and his family sitting in our living room. He spoke gently to us children, describing how his wife had gone through months of therapy to learn how to walk again, using crutches and artificial limbs.
Then he wept quietly. "I'm so grateful to you, Mr. Hall. You risked your life to save my wife's life - an ol' colored lady - and you a white. The love she received from you helped us to understand the love of God. She asked me to tell you that she thought a lot about Jesus, and then one night in the hospital she asked Him to forgive her sins and He's given her peace. She'll forever be grateful to you. It has changed our lives.""I'm so grateful to you...
You risked your life to save my wife's life
- an ol' colored lady - and you a white...."
Don Hall is the founder of Teen Challenge in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Don and his wife Patti have ministered in over 50 countries, preaching teaching and sharing Christ as they go.
Don's dad, Harold H. Hall went to be with the Lord in 1985.
All four of his children are in full-time Christian work. They have pioneered a number of Christian ministries including Teen Challenge in California and Hawaii, Youth With A Mission in Samoa and Singapore, several churches, Christian broadcasting, publishing, and Across Ministries.
Click here for more info on Don Hall.