When I was in tenth grade, I broke my right ankle for the first time trying to dunk the ball. While in the air, I was undercut, fell, on my right toe, with all my weight. At the time I was just under five foot tall but the fall would tear all the ligaments on the outside of my ankle, fracturing the inside of my ankle. After six months of being in a cast, I was finally able to take it off. I remember the day. I was excited, especially to scratch my shin, calf, ankle, and foot for the first time in months. Next I was excited to get back on the court, because I knew that all four foot, eleven inches of me was destined for the NBA one day. As the doctor checked out my ankle and foot, he was happy with how it healed but still believed that I would eventually require surgery to stabilize it. He showed me a few rehabilitation exercises to start my progress of recovery and strengthening the ankle. He scheduled me with a rehab clinic, which I never went to, to help me fully recover and to help determine if I needed surgery. I remember the list of “do nots” he gave me… do not play basketball, do not run, do not jump, do not jog, so not practice kung-fu, do not…
At 15 years old, I heard him speak but didn’t hear what he said. I just wanted to get home and test out my newly healed ankle.
At the time, I lived in Alief, Houston. As we pulled up to our unit, I noticed thick line of dark smoke snaking up to the sky. I pointed and said, “Mom, pull around the corner, I think there’s a fire!”
My mother answered in Chinese, “No, you need to go inside and rest.”
I replied, “Mom, you have to pull around, someone may need help!”
My mother dropped her head, and pulled the car around.
As we turned the corner, I surveyed the scene, as I was taught in emergency training in middle school, just a few short years ago.
When we arrived at the scene, I saw a crowd of people standing around and watching, two men, a Hispanic and Black guy, standing by a window where the smoke was originating from, they were attempting to break more glass. My heart raced as I turned to my mother and was surprised that she was already looking at me, I said… “I have to go help mom!” With tears in her eyes, she replied, “I know, you were meant to save lives. Go and save lives.”
With that, I sprang into action, forgetting what my doctor just instructed me an hour before. I ran up to the two men by the window and asked them if anyone was inside. The Black guy responded that there was a handicap man trapped in the unit. Next I screamed out to the crowd to call 9-1-1 and pointed to two ladies asking them to bring me two moist towels. Then I ran up and down all the stairs of the unit and adjoined unit knocking on every door, screaming, “FIRE, get out! FIRE, get out!”
Finally, I made it to the front door of the unit. I’m sure I saw the Black guy kick down the door. When the door opened, a thick wall of smoke crawled out with about 12 inches of clearer air. I turned around and reached out to the two ladies, motioning to them to give me the towels I just asked for. Neither of them had towels. Frustrated, I fell to my knees and stared into the smoke.
“Jonnathan, help me. I’m in the same room you’re in,” a voice rang out from the smoke.
You see, our apartment units were all cookie cutter units, meaning I knew exactly where he was. Also, I knew I could get to the room because, being a boy, I spent a lot of time walking around my house with my eyes shut to see if I could walk around the house by shear memory.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and started crawling in on my stomach. Suddenly, midway into the unit, I felt someone grab my ankle. Then, whoever it was, started to pull me out towards the door. I knew this because I screamed, briefly opened my eyes, and look back.
As the dark smoke turned to sunshine, I was flipped around and pressed against the brick next to the front door.
“What are you doing, boy?,” a voiced came out of nowhere, “Jonnathan, what do you think you’re doing?”
Rubbing my eyes, I looked up, covered in soot, I said, “Trying to save a man in a wheelchair.”
Finally, my eyes focused and I saw a familiar face. It was the Black guy that was at the window and the guy who kicked the door down.
“You mean, you are willing to lay your life down for a complete stranger?” he asked.
“Huh? Yes, please excuse me, I need to go get him!” I screamed.
Then he pressed me against the brick once more, leaned in and said, “If you go in there, you will die. Let me go in your place.”
Upon hearing of my mortality, my tunnel vision turned off, looked around, smelled the smoke, heard the crackling of the fire, heard the screaming of a woman, who I would later find out was the daughter in-law of the man who was trapped, and I heard the sirens.
Dropping my head, in shame, and because I suddenly felt fear, I said, “Ok.”
With my permission, the Black guy got up, and walked into the smoke, disappearing.
I curled up on the floor, hugging my legs as I waited. A few minutes passed and I heard coughing and the man reappeared, tears in his eyes, shaking his head, he repeated over and over, “I almost had him. I almost had him. All he had to do was reach back to me and I would have plucked him out of the fire. They never reach back.”
“Never reach back?” I thought to myself. How many fires was this guy in?
I jumped to my feet and screamed, as tears started to roll down my face, “I would have got to him!”
Shaking his head again, the Black man, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and said, “Yes, you would have gotten to him, but I was the only person who could save him.”
With that sentence, the fire truck showed up and we were pushed out of the way as they ran into the fire.
We found out that the guy died. In fact, he was dead for at least 30 minutes before I arrived.
I stood outside in the parking lot with the Black guy. I asked him what apartment he lived in. Smiling, he point towards/over the third floor where there was a patio full of flowers, and said, “I live over there.”
I replied, “Where the pretty flowers are at?”
Smiling and putting his arm around my shoulder, he answered, nodding, “Yes, exactly, where the beautiful flowers are.”
Then suddenly, the Hispanic man ran up to us and said that the news crew wanted to interview me because I was a hero. The Black man agreed, urged me to get interviewed, proclaiming I kicked the door down and walked into the fire. I shook my head, no, and said I am no hero, because the guy died.
“Zin!” a familiar voice came from behind me, “Zin, are you okay?”
Turning around, my mom’s eyes were wide open in shock as she looked me up and down. She said, “You went in to the fire!?!?”
I nodded yes.
She then asked, “Are you okay? What happened?
I turned around to introduce my mom to the Black guy, and he wasn’t there.
I asked my mother where the black guy I was talking to went and she insisted that I was standing alone when she approached me. In denial, I insisted that there was in fact a Black guy and I was talking to him.
Midsentence, my mom asked… “How’s your ankle?”
With her question, the pain shot up my leg and I feel over onto her. I said, “I think I broke it again.”
“Broke it? How?” She asked.
Looking around, I said, “Apparently, I kicked a door down and walked into the fire.”
“I’m ready to go home,” I added, withholding tears.
Getting home, I walked in to see my brother watching the news. As he turned to me, he screamed, “You idiot! I should kill you for going into that fire. The news is talking about a Hispanic man and Asian kid who kicked down the door and ran into the fire to save a man.”
I went to shower to wash off the smoke and my day. I had nightmares for months about fires but also had dreams about the mysterious man who pulled me out of the flames and especially what he said to me when he reappeared from the smoke.
“I almost had him.”
“All he had to do was reach back to me and I would have plucked him out of the fire.”
“They never reach back.”
“I was the only person who could save him.”
I spent many sleepless nights wondering why I was spared, saved, and pulled away from the flames and especially wondering who that man was.
I found out who He was when I was saved. It was Jesus Christ.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
Jesus Christ showed me a beautiful illustration of what happened.
You see, from birth, He is reaching down to us, waiting for us to look up, acknowledge Him, and reach to Him. Once we do that, He, the only one who could save, would grab hold of us and pluck up from the fires of this world. Not for us to escape, but rather for us to be a light to it, shining His light, and displaying His love and compassion to the world so when the time is right, they too will look up, reach up, and be saved.
Salvation is the ultimate saving, but Jesus Christ promises never to leave you or forsake you. As scripture stated in Jeremiah, He knew you, even before you were formed in your mother’s womb. He will not only save you from hell, He will save you from your circumstances, and mostly yourself.
If you’re in a situation where it feels hopeless. Close your eyes where you’re at. Raise your hands up to our Heavenly Father, as a child asking to be picked up by their father, and say.
Heavenly Father, I need you. I grab hold of You right now and ask that You pluck me from this fire. I am yours. Lord, lead me to where you need me and let your face shine upon me. In, Jesus name.
I never want to end a service without giving an opportunity to for those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
If this is your first time hearing about Jesus Christ and you want what we have. It is freely yours. Would everyone close your eyes and repeat after me: Lord, my heart yearns for You. I ask You to be my Lord, Savior, and Father today. I ask You to come into my heart, wash me in Your blood, and make me whole. Today, I have received your free gift of salvation and choose You, as my Lord, Savior and Heavenly Father, in Jesus name, amen.