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By Leon Luther Adams Henifin

Newspapers of the day reported the tragic story.

Newspapers of the day reported the tragic story.

On March 15, 1948, Luther and Hazel Adams and their two older children, Joy Belle and Charles, were flying from El Secreto, Colombia, to Bogota when their plane crashed, killing all aboard. When people read the Adams’ story, they wonder what happened to the youngest child, a baby at the time.
I’m that child.

… for most of my life I asked myself, “Why was I left behind and spared?”

At only 15 months of age, I was the lone surviving member of my family. I had been left behind in El Secreto with another missionary family, the Turners, that day.

My parents were the first Open Bible missionaries to give their lives serving the Lord, having served in Cuba and in Colombia. I won’t go into why that kind of thing happens, but for most of my life I asked myself, “Why was I left behind and spared?”

Leon (at nine months) with his biological mother.

Leon (at nine months) with his biological mother.

When word of the tragedy reached the States, Rev. William (Billy) Slipp, an Open Bible pastor from Toledo, Ohio, who had been instrumental in raising money and equipment for missions, came to El Secreto to fly me the 5,000 miles back to Des Moines, Iowa. It was said that it took some time for Pastor Slipp to find me because the rugged location of the mission was accessible only by donkey. Once in Des Moines I stayed with Rev. Frank and Marie Smith until my Aunt Violet came from Oregon to get me.

With a new country came a new language. Born in Cuba and having lived most of my life in El Secreto, my first language was Spanish. I don’t remember very much before I was three years old, but I do remember getting my tonsils out and the doctor speaking Spanish to me. I can’t speak it now although I wish I could.

Leon was the only surviving member of his family.

Leon was the only surviving member of his family.

Circumstances were such that my aunt could not take care of me, so I was adopted into a wonderful Seventh Day Adventist family. My parents were open about my having been adopted. They said I was special because I was “chosen” by them. I grew up in Hood River, Oregon, in the valley and orchards on a small farm and attended Adventist schools. I loved the outdoors and spent many days exploring the woods and wading in our creek. My dad taught me all about farming – about gardening, milking cows, fixing fences, and digging ditches. I attended a small two-room school. I wasn’t very skilled as an athlete, but I could outrun all of my peers! It was during this time that I was introduced to playing the piano, which was not my forte at the time but now is useful in my ministry.

In my junior year my parents moved to Portland, Oregon. This is where I began to pay attention to who God is and how I should respond to His calling. After attending a year at Walla Walla College in Washington and then transferring to Portland State College, I was drafted into the army as a medic. Thankfully I didn’t go to Vietnam but was sent to Germany. While stationed in Denver, Colorado, I met and married Joyce Crapson. After my discharge from the service we moved to Lodi, California, where I had been hired as a Quality Lab Technician at General Mills.

During my early years in Lodi, we were staying with Joyce’s mom when Pastor Clyde Johnson visited her home, inviting new people to his church, Bethel Tabernacle. During the conversation Pastor Johnson told the story about the Adams family, remarking that he wished he knew what had happened to “the baby.”

Joyce’s mom said, “I know who you are talking about! That’s my son-in-law!”

Wanting to know more, Joyce and I visited Bethel Tabernacle, an Open Bible church in Lodi. To my delight, some of the church members had gone to Bible school with my biological parents. Others knew them from when my parents itinerated in Lodi. Since so many of them knew my first parents, we began to attend regularly. During my 30 plus years at Bethel, I was active in choir, graduated from INSTE Levels One and Two, and became a facilitator for Levels One and Two.

While attending Bethel, we met Lansing and Griselda Waters, who needed to take INSTE to continue their pastor’s credentials. I happened to be their facilitator. Soon Pastor Lansing became the senior pastor of Paloma Community Open Bible Church in Paloma, California, near Valley Springs, a small, rural community in the foothills. Before long Pastor Lansing asked if I would get my credentials and minister with him as an associate pastor. We joked that this was how the “teacher” became the “assistant” to the student. I assisted Lansing for eight years until he passed away from cancer on Memorial Day of 2017.
I then took the position of senior pastor at the church.

Numerous times I asked this question: On that fateful day when my family’s plane crashed, why was I left behind; for what purpose?

God has a plan not only for me, but for you also.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Luther-Hazel-Adams-mugshot-authorboxLeon (Adams) Henifin is the senior pastor of Paloma Community Open Bible Church in Paloma, California.

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