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Up in the blue sky, I felt like I was on top of the world. Life was more complicated on the ground. (Pixabay)

Canada Stops Me for Airplane Joyride

Actions are always followed by consequences, even if the act occurred 25 years ago.

By Andrew McChesney, Adventist Mission

I’ve traveled to about 20 countries in the past six months and never faced a problem with the immigration authorities.

Then I arrived in Canada this week.

My plan was to visit a Seventh-day Adventist mission school for First Nations children to collect stories for Adventist Mission.

The immigration officer looked slightly uncomfortable as he checked my passport at the airport in Edmonton, Alberta. He placed a big red stamp on my immigration card and indicated that I required further screening.

In another part of the airport, a second immigration officer sent my baggage through a scanner and said, “So, you have had problems with immigration in the past?”

“Not that I know,” I replied, wondering what had prompted the comment.

The officer took my passport and stared at his computer screen for what seemed like eternity. Finally, he turned to me and said, “What can you tell me about March 17, 1992?”

Then I knew what he was talking about. That was the day that I stole an airplane in the United States and flew to Canada.

An Angry Teenager

I grew up in a missionary family but never developed a personal relationship with Jesus. My parents divorced and returned to the United States when I was 15, and I became an angry, self-absorbed teenager.

After high school, I enrolled at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University) in the U.S. state of Washington and immediately signed up for flight lessons. I had always wanted to be a pilot, and soon I was flying solo in a two-seater Cessna 152. Up in the blue sky, I felt like I was on top of the world.

Back on the ground, my life was more complicated. I was rude and disobedient to my parents. I developed friendships that God couldn’t bless. My thoughts focused continually on myself. After a year, I flunked out of college but was still able to fly because I hadn’t completed prepaid flight lessons.

On March 16, 1992, I signed out a Cessna 152 at the Walla Walla Regional Airport for a practice flight. Soaring high above rolling farmland, I grumbled to myself about the perceived injustices of my 19 years. I considered ending it all. Then I pointed the plane’s nose away from home.

Four hours later, the needle on the plane’s fuel gauge hovered near empty, and I had no idea where to land. A panorama of rivers, lakes, and forested hills stretched out below me. I searched for a clearing. Then a small airstrip came into view.

After landing the plane and parking beside a locked hangar, I wondered where I was. The sun was setting, and an evening chill swept over the airfield. My light jacket offered scant protection from the cold. I had only $5 in my pocket.

Spotting a payphone nearby, I dialed “0” for a free call to the operator. A British-accented woman’s voice answered. I explained that I was lost and asked whether she could tell me where I was calling from. The woman incredulously inquired how anyone could not know their location. She told me that the payphone was in Trail, British Columbia.

I realized that my new life would start in Canada.

I slept in the plane and spent most of my money the next morning on breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s. Then I walked eight miles to the town of Rossland and, bitterly cold, called a crisis line for help. A police officer picked me up and, learning that I had crossed the border without a passport or authorization, drove me straight to jail.

That evening, my mother arrived to take me home. Her face was red from crying, and anguish filled her eyes. She had spent a sleepless night worrying that my plane had crashed.

“When he didn’t return, college officials notified the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office,” the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin newspaper reported at the time. “An aerial search involving several agencies began at daybreak.”

Canadian authorities released me without any charges. The college also didn’t press charges.

25 Years of Change

My visit to Canada this week was my first since 1992.

Much has transpired over the past 25 years. I finished my undergraduate studies and worked for 17 years at a newspaper in Russia, including nearly eight years as editor-in-chief. In 2006, I began to seek Jesus for the first time and was baptized. After that, I reached out to my parents and others whom I had wronged and sought forgiveness. I contacted Walla Walla College and made restitution. I started a new life.

But then the immigration officer stopped me at the Edmonton airport and asked about 1992.

“I was a foolish young man,” I told him. “I did a stupid thing.”

The officer asked more questions and searched my baggage by hand. As I zipped shut the bags afterward, he walked over to another immigration officer and spoke with him quietly. I prayed.

When the officer returned, he looked at me for a moment, and said, “I’m going to let you into Canada.” He stamped my passport.

I thanked the officer. I asked whether a similar interview would await me every time I visited Canada in the future.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll make a note that we let you in today. But once you’re in the computer, we never forget you.”

Consequences follow every action. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7-8; NKJV).

Through selfishness, I sowed to the flesh in 1992. A quarter century later, I am reaping the results. God has forgiven me, my parents have forgiven me, and others have forgiven me, but Canada has kept a permanent record of my mistake.

“For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” No amount of forgiveness — even from God — can change the reality that we face consequences for our actions.

I began a new life when I gave my heart to Jesus, but I realized this week that my old life will follow me until Jesus returns. Isaiah 65:17 promises, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” With God’s forgiveness, Heaven keeps no permanent record of mistakes.

Andrew McChesney talks about what happened then and now in Canada.