I had never heard of Major Rudolf Anderson. He is an American hero whose life changed our history. Major Anderson was the Air Force pilot who flew a spy plane over the island of Cuba in 1962, taking pictures of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons being installed there. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 could have resulted in the world’s first nuclear war, but it wasn’t allowed to escalate to that point. The photos taken by Major Anderson gave the United States the information they needed. He died when his plane was shot down and within 24 hours of his death, Nikita Khrushchev told President Kennedy that he would withdraw the missiles. Major Rudolf Anderson was the first recipient of the Air Force Cross, a medal given for outstanding heroism.
USA Today ran an article about Major Anderson because this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was a preschooler in 1962, so I only know what I’ve seen in news reports. I remember being taught to get under my desk and cover my head if the sirens went off, but I didn’t really understand why the teachers thought it was necessary. I guess people were fearful of attack, for several years following that crisis. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we had not had Major Anderson’s photographs proving what the Russians were doing on Cuba, an island less than 100 miles from the United States coastline. And I’m reminded again that a single life can be used by God to make a huge difference.
Rahab protected the spies and Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. David slew Goliath and Israel kept its land. Stephen preached to his accusers, knowing they were about to throw the rocks they held while Saul of Tarsus (Paul) heard every word. John the Baptist told his generation to get ready for the Messiah and Jesus was that Messiah. History reads as a long list of heroes, men and women who made extraordinary choices. Every single life has great value, according to history and according to God’s word. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Isaiah 43:4 says, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight…” and Matthew 10:30 reminds us that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Many things matter – people matter the most. We should never under-estimate the value of a single life devoted to God’s purpose. I couldn’t find any information about the spiritual life of Major Rudolf Anderson. I know he played basketball for a Methodist church team and I know he was an Eagle Scout. I wonder if he was talking to Jesus as he flew those missions and when his plane was shot down. I hope so. His life made a huge difference to all of ours – but he couldn’t have known that at the time.
What will you do today that will make a huge difference? You probably won’t know that it did. One of my favorite books is A Room of Marvels, by James Bryan Smith. I think every Christian should read this book and give it thought. The book teaches that every life matters, every life has influence and most Christians don’t realize how often God uses them for his Kingdom purposes.
Most of us won’t do something that results in the award of a cross-shaped medal. All Christians will do things that reflect the cross of Jesus. Your life matters – to God and to others. What you do today will have Kingdom impact – and you will probably have no idea that it did . . . until you get to heaven and find out. It is exciting to think about the possibilities! “Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). There is greatness in you because God is in you, working through you. Now, look in the mirror, realize your potential and make it a great day!