Volume 17 Number 3
Crash Course in Faith
01 June 2004
‘What has making your bed got to do with surviving plane crashes and meeting prime ministers? Jim Coulter tells Mike Lowe.
TO SURVIVE one plane crash is lucky. Jim Coulter survived three—all during his training as a pilot in World War II. On one occasion a wheel fell off his plane shortly after take-off. The frantic waving of his instructor in another plane alerted him that something was amiss. He pinpointed the problem by flying low and looking at his plane’s shadow—and managed to land safely, to his commanding officer’s astonishment.
The third and most serious crash happened in thick fog on a moor in Yorkshire, England. Coulter was in the habit of taking time early in the morning to pray and ask God for direction, and had written down, ‘You will be in great danger today but you will not be afraid’. Despite the fog his commanding officer had insisted on taking an aircraft up, trusting to the plane’s instruments and the airfield’s ‘beam’ to guide them in.
As they came in to land, Coulter says, ‘I knew we were going to crash and that I might not survive, but I was strangely calm about it.’ The first sight he had of the ground was of it rushing towards him seconds before impact. The plane bounced a couple of times before flipping over onto its back pinning its occupants under a massive weight. It turned out that the ‘beam’ was bent. Both survived with relatively minor injuries.
Coulter’s faith stemmed from an encounter with Moral Re-Armament (now called Initiatives of Change) at a school camp some years previously. ‘What impressed me was that several of those involved were sportsmen—in fact I’d competed against some of them and therefore hadn’t expected them to be spiritual.’
Inspired by the message that people could change, he inquired whether they could do anything for his hated step-mother, Rose. ‘Their answer was, “We didn’t meet her but we did meet you”, meaning start with yourself.’ When he followed their advice to ask God for direction, he had the rather unglamorous thought that he should make his bed. After he had done this for several days, Rose wanted to know what had led to this change. Real communication and reconciliation followed.
The great love of Coulter’s life was his future wife, Rita, and he had been concerned at her growing levels of anxiety and fearfulness. Some months before the school camp a thought had come to him ‘out of the blue’ that Rita’s fear was connected with his lust. He had dismissed this thought because ‘I was no more lustful than the average person, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.’ Something about the MRA group at the camp gave him hope that he could live differently, and although he hadn’t made a conscious decision, Rita noticed the change in him and began her own investigation into ‘this thing’ that had come into his life.
When Coulter went to various teachers to admit that he had cheated in exams, his link with MRA suddenly became public knowledge in the school. While some shunned him and Rita, others sought them out to ask what had happened to them. When he went into the Air Force, he decided to pray on his knees beside his bunk each night—with similar results.
As he returned by ship to Australia after the war, Coulter pondered whether to return to his job as a journalist or to give his whole time to work with MRA without pay. In his daily time of prayer and searching, he’d had a thought that ‘within 24 hours of your return you will meet the Prime Minister’. It seemed so preposterous that he didn’t tell anyone.
On arrival, friends arranged for Coulter and another returning airman with links to MRA to stay in the home of people he’d never met before. ‘At 10pm a man arrived who was obviously a regular guest there. It turned out that he was personal assistant to the Prime Minister and when he heard what we’d been doing and our convictions about Australia he said he must arrange for us to meet Prime Minister Chifley. We saw him the next morning. It was exactly 23 hours after our arrival.’
Coulter found himself telling the Prime Minister about his dilemma. The Prime Minister replied, ‘If I were you I’d back your hunch and give it a go.’
This confirmed Coulter’s conviction. ‘It never felt particularly noble because I was free to decide whereas many of my colleagues were no longer here. I genuinely felt God had saved my life in the three crashes and there was an obligation to do something with it.’
In his memoirs, Met along the way*, Coulter describes how this decision worked out, and his encounters with seven of Australia’s prime ministers, as well as several sporting giants and other less well-known but extraordinary people.
* Grosvenor Books, 2003, ISBN 0-9592622-5-3