Most of us have at least heard of Niagara Falls, formed by the Niagara River as it flows from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Every minute about 20,000,000 gallons of water flow over a drop of more than 150 feet. There are many thrilling stories connected with Niagara Falls. Several men walked across it on tight ropes. Some tried to go over the falls in barrels, balloons and other things. Most of them lost their lives, but today's story is about someone who went over the falls and lived.
Seven-year-old Roger Woodward lived in Niagara Falls, New York [United States] with his parents and his 17-year-old sister Deanne. Saturday, July 9, 1960, is a date that he will always remember. A good friend of his family, Jim Honeycutt, invited Roger and his sister to go for a boat ride on the Niagara River above the falls. As they set off from Grand Island in a boat powered by a small outboard motor, Roger's father called out to him, "Remember to wear your life jacket!" It was a warm day, and later on Roger wanted to take his life jacket off, but Jim, remembering Roger's father's warning, insisted that he keep it on.
For some reason Jim decided to go under the Grand Island bridge and into the turbulent waters below it. They were all enjoying the ride, and Roger asked for permission to steer the boat. Downstream they could see the mist rising from the falls. A few moments later the noise of the motor changed abruptly to a squeal. They had struck a shoal, broken the shear pin and suddenly had no power. Jim, who was an experienced boatman, immediately told Deanne to put on the only other life jacket in the boat. Then he seized the oars and began to pull furiously for the American shore of the river. But the current was too strong, and they were quickly swept into the rapids on the Canadian side, passing Goat Island.
Suddenly a large wave capsized the boat, and all three were thrown into the water. Deanne tried to hold onto the boat but could not. Although she was not a strong swimmer, she desperately tried to swim to shore. A crowd had gathered on the shore, and a bus driver named John Hayes saw what was happening. He climbed over the guardrail and, by reaching as far as he could, was just able to grasp Deanne's hand. Another man, named John Quatrocchi, helped pull her to safety when she was only 15 feet from the brink of the falls. "My brother! What's happened to my brother?" she cried. Having seen him go over the falls, Quatrocchi could only say, "Pray for him." With tears streaming from her eyes, Deanne dropped to her knees and prayed.
But what about Jim Honeycutt and Roger? As they were swept along in the water, Jim said to Roger, "Don't be scared -- I'll hold you!" But the powerful current tore them apart, and along with their boat they were swept over the falls.
For more than 100 years a passenger boat called The Maid of the Mist has taken tourists up the river below the falls to give them a close-up look at the great waterfall. On this particular date, Captain Clifford Keech of The Maid of the Mist had taken the boat to within 200 feet of the falls, as close as he dared to go. He was about to turn his boat around when someone shouted, "Man overboard!" Keech spotted Roger in his red life jacket about 50 feet away and threw out a life ring on a rope. After several attempts Roger was able to fling himself across the life ring in a belly flop. Moments later he was pulled to safety. Immediately he asked, "My sister! Where's my sister?"
John Quatrocchi, who watched Roger's rescue from the observation deck above, told Deanne that her prayers had been answered. Her brother had been rescued.
Both Deanne and Roger were taken to the hospital, but they had only a few bruises and were quickly released. Several days later Jim Honeycutt's body was found. He had evidently been killed instantly on the rocks at the base of the falls.
What saved both Roger and Deanne from a terrible death? Although the help of others meant a lot, it was really their life vests that saved them. How thankful they were that they were wearing them! But you and I need more than a life vest to save us from eternal judgment. Roger and Deanne were saved from certain death, but God has provided a way for us to have eternal salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ has died and shed His blood so that you and I can have our sins washed away. Through faith in Him we can have eternal life and be safe from coming judgment. John 5:24 says, "He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."
But this is not the end of the story about Roger Woodward. For many years afterward he wondered why God had spared his life. People would sometimes tell him that Somebody must have been watching over him and that Somebody must have something special planned for him. Roger continued to ask himself why he was here and where he was going. No one was able to give him satisfactory answers.
Then in 1980, 20 years after his experience, a friend invited him to attend a Gospel meeting. There he heard about the Lord Jesus and how He came into the world to save sinners. That very evening he knelt down beside his friend and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.
Ten years later, in 1990, and 30 years after his miraculous escape, he returned to Niagara Falls to preach the Gospel. "For the first time in my life I knew what God's purpose was in saving me 30 years ago," he said. "Something happened 30 years ago that was very, very special. I lived. Why? So that I could live again ... so that others would come to the saving knowledge of Christ and have the gift of eternal life."
Roger Woodward's experience was unique. No other human has ever gone over Niagara Falls in only a life jacket and lived. Probably no one will ever do it again. But God's way of salvation is for all. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), but God's Word also says,"By Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:39). Accept the Lord Jesus as your Saviour today, as Roger did, and know that you are saved for all eternity!