Through the Flames: The Willis Family Story
Pastor Duane Scott Willis and his wife Janet dearly loved the nine children God had given them. But at mid-morning on November 8, 1994, a fiery auto explosion on I-94 in Milwaukee claimed the lives of their six youngest. Within hours, the freak accident had made national and international headlines. From behind guarded hospital doors came good news concerning Scott and Janet: their physical recovery from first- and second-degree burns would be complete. However, the most astonishing recovery became apparent as Scott and Janet displayed their emotional and spiritual stability. Milwaukee, the nation, even the world looked on in amazement as eight days later the bereaved couple explained to the media how they could make it through such a sudden and horrific tragedy. The following statements are excerpts from that news conference.
Our God--Our Praise
"Psalm 34 says, 'I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. O, taste and see that the Lord is good.' Janet and I want to praise and thank God. There is no question in our minds that God is good, and we praise Him in all things. God is a great God."
Our Trial--The Accident
"As far as the accident is concerned, I was looking at the road and was alert. Our little baby was behind us; Ben was behind us on the other side. In the back were the other four children; they were all buckled in. I saw the object (a metal brace, 6"x30", 30 lbs.). I thought it was one of those blocks that maybe came off a flatbed truck. The car in front of me swerved, and I knew I couldn't miss hitting the object. I thought if I took it on the tire I might roll the car. It was a split-second decision.
"When we hit the object, the rear gas tank exploded, taking the car out of control. I was able to grip the wheel and take the car out of the slide. When we were sliding and the flames were coming around the seat, it was a shock--a surprise--like, 'What is this?' It was just roaring flames coming up on both sides. I was yelling to get out of the car. Janet and I had to consciously put our hands into the flames to unbuckle the seat belts and reach for the door handles.
"Janet fell out the door while the car was still moving. Benny was in the midst of the burning; his clothes were mostly burned off by the time he got out. The five youngest children, who had been asleep, died instantly. No sound was heard by Janet or me as we struggled to get out of the van. An unknown man took his shirt off his back to soak Benny's wounds, and another beat out the burning clothes on Janet's back. Benny died in intensive care around midnight."
Our Children--Our Pain
"We believe children are a heritage of the Lord. We thank God for six precious children: four rascally boys, a sweet girl, so much like her mother, and a little baby just beginning to smile and grow. We understood that they were given of the Lord, and we understood they weren't ours. They were His, and we were stewards of those children. And so God took them back. He is the Giver and Taker of life. We must tell you that we hurt and sorrow as you parents would for your children. The depth of pain is indescribable. The Bible expresses our feelings that we sorrow, but not as those without hope."
Our Confidence--God's Word
"What gives us our firm foundation for our hope is the Bible. The truth of God's Word assures us that Ben, Joe, Sam, Hank, Elizabeth, and Peter are in Heaven with Jesus Christ. We know, based upon the Word of God, where they are. Our strength rests in the Word of God. The Bible is sure and gives us confidence. Everything God promises is true."
Our Preparation--Our Salvation
"We thank God for His preparation for this trial. Janet became a Christian as a teenager after reading a gospel tract that somebody had handed her. On February 5, 1975, I [Scott] trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. A man showed me that I was a sinner--and I knew my own heart. Nobody had ever, ever in my life presented the Gospel to me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ; I believed that He died for my sins. I became a Christian that day. Since then God has been working with us. He has prepared us for this trial. We're not special people. We're sinners saved by grace. But we're not taking a short view of life; we take a long view of life. We realize that someday we'll stand before the Lord, and the things that are here will matter very little. God's grace is sufficient for everybody."
Scott and Janet always speak directly concerning God's Word and the issues of life. Neither would hesitate to ask: Are you and your household prepared to handle the certainty of death? God's Word teaches that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). When you stand before the Lord God, what will His decision be concerning you? Do you have absolute assurance that Heaven is your eternal home? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from the penalty of your sins? If not, please read and believe the following statements from God's Word, the Bible, and accept Jesus Christ TODAY!
In God's eyes we are all on the same level: "There is none righteous, no, not one.... For all have sinned" (Romans 3:10, 23). We are all sinners deserving eternal judgment in the lake of fire because "the wages of sin is death" (Revelation 20:15; 21:8; Romans 6:23).
However, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Eternal life can be received only as a gift from God. It can never be earned, because "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God's Son, God provided the only means for man's salvation.
Eternal life is available to anyone! "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). Talk to God RIGHT NOW in prayer! Admit to Him your need as a sinner and your trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. He will save you NOW!
For the one who accepts the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, eternity in Heaven is an exciting and comforting guarantee! "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Translated by permission of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, IL 60187