The following is a part of the Missionary Moment series curated by Mark Albright.
The morning of 9/11/2001 was an exciting morning for the Rogers household. Our son Allan was coming home from his mission in Taiwan just a little after noon, and we decided that the kids should go to school and we would pick them up a little early and then head to the airport. I had just dropped off Lincoln for early morning seminary at Centennial High School, and was returning home, listening to the news. The last story, just a quick 10 second blurb was about an airplane that apparently had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. The radio newscaster comment, “sounds like something out of a movie” has always stuck in my mind, the way he said it was almost “exciting.”
I remember getting home and quickly turning on the news to see if anything was on regarding this plane hitting one of the world trade centers building. The first channel I turned to had a story about it, in fact, they had a camera on the building, showing the smoke billowing out of the building. I remember telling Becky (my wife), to “come look at this.” She had taken the day off and was doing her hair. She came out and I explained what had happened, and that not much was known of what kind of plane it was and how it happened.
I was very concerned because obviously, the fire was growing, and it was hard to tell what was going on to abate it. The reporters also had many questions and comments, none of which helped. After 10 or 15 minutes, I remember thinking that the building looked like it was leaning, just a little towards the impact area, when suddenly, with both Becky and I watching, the second plane hit. The gasp we both made was real. I instinctively realized this was no accident, and I felt a type of fear grow inside of me that I have never known. Then the news people were talking about the other incidents of the other planes, (the Pentagon & Pennsylvania),I remember one of the male broadcasters using the term “act of war” and my fears were justified.
Then we witnessed together, the collapse of the first building. An empty, hollow feeling instantly engulfed me and I remember Becky bursting into tears. What was going on? Then the newscasters started talking about all the air traffic was canceled, all planes were ordered to land instantly. All international flights were being re-routed, none of them were allowed to enter US airspace. Allan was on one of those planes.
I remember looking at Becky and feeling emotions I have never felt up to then, or since. It was helplessness, worry, fear, We decided to pray. A short time later (I really don’t remember how long maybe 60 to 90 minutes), our phone rang, I answered it. It was a female voice, calling from Salt Lake City, MIssionary Headquarters. I remember how calm and soothing her voice was, as she explained to me that they are aware of our son, and his circumstances and that when they had some concrete information, they would let us know what was happening and what the plan would be to get him home. The last thing she said, I can still hear in my memory: “Brother Rogers, right now, the First Presidency and some of the Apostles are in the temple, praying for the missionaries.” I still feel the calming feeling that message left me.
We found out later, Allan’s plane had been diverted to Canada, I think it was Vancouver. The Mission President of that area picked up all the missionaries on the plane and drove them back to the Mission Home, where they were fed and housed. All this was planned and executed perfectly, when the missionaries walked off the plane and were all standing in the airport, the Mission President walked up to the group and explained what was going on. There was no long waiting, no confusion.
The Missionary Headquarters would call and report to us the status as they knew it. They were having difficulty getting any flights anywhere, for a couple of days, and even had challenges getting the missionaries across the border, into the US. The next day they called and explained that the missionaries were going to cross the border into the United States in a van, and they were to be housed in Seattle, Washington’s mission home, and when more information was known, they would contact us. On the third day, they called and said that they could get Allan on a flight that would land at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), but there had to be a Priesthood member there to pick him up, as he was still a missionary and had to abide by the rules of a missionary.
Becky’s uncle, Mal, was called, and he agreed to pick Allan up at the airport, and take him to his house. This was approved by the Mission Headquarters, as long as I could make arrangements to pick him up and get him back to Las Vegas, where he could be released from his mission by the Stake President. I could do that.
At this time, I did not have a vehicle that I trusted to make this journey without problems. I think we still had the old blue Caravan that was a piece of junk and overheated. I talked with my good neighbor, Pat Hayden, who had just bought a new truck, he generously offered it to me to retrieve my son.
The trip going to Los Angeles is a story within itself. The night before I was to leave, the local TV news showed a video of hundreds of people lined up at the bus station, trying to return to the LA area, because all flights were cancelled. The morning I was to start out, I knelt in prayer in the front room asking for protection and assistance for this trip, which was going to be down to LA and back in the same day. As I started driving east on the 95 freeway, right about where Decatur is, I had an image of all those people trying to get to LA in front of the bus station. I thought that I might be able to help someone, but I discounted it. Then right before I got to the I-15 turn off, I had a strong feeling to go, so I did.
It isn’t much of a distance from the freeway to the Main Street Bus terminal, it is right where Fremont Street dead ends at Main Street. When I drove on Main Street towards the bus station, it was a madhouse. Hundreds of people with luggage were everywhere, and a long line of people and luggage went from the door, south, well past the building. I was driving very slow and I said “Father if you want me to help someone you need to make this easy.” Right at that moment, a car pulled away from the curb giving me the last parking spot on the street. I just pulled in and backed up and stopped. I didn’t realize that that was the first of several miracles that day.
I got out of the truck and walked into the swarm of frantic humanity. It was an instant feeling of despair. You could see frustration and fear on peoples faces. I stood next to the line of people and announced to the crowd “I am driving to LA and can take a couple of people if they want to go with me”. I had no response other than a guy looking at me and he said “ya, right”. I was surprised at that. I moved up the line about 20 feet and repeated my statement.
Instantly a lady looked at me, beaming, and said “I’ll go with you!” This was Rose, she was a smartly dressed lady in her late 50’s. Then two people standing right in front of her, an older hispanic couple, grabbed their bags and followed her. I helped Rose get into the front seat, she only had a carry on bag, which she held on to and then I helped the other couple into the back seat, and I threw their suitcases and bags in the back of the truck, got in and took off. It was so chaotic in front of the bus station, just pulling out and trying to get down the road was hard. People were walking in front of the truck, vehicles were honking. It was crazy.
By the time I got back on the freeway and settled into driving I asked Rose her name and who were the people she was traveling with. She told me she had no idea who these people were, they were just in front of her in line. She turned around to ask them, and that’s when we found out that they didn’t speak any English!
I have made the drive to southern California many times. Driving through the Mojave Desert, mirroring the old Spanish Trail has always been a long drive of endless horizons. This trip was different, it was one of the quickest trips ever. It all started out with a simple question from Rose: “why are you driving to LA?” My answer was quick, but the backstory was long as Rose then stated she didn’t know much about “Mormons,” can you tell me more about them”? This started the 4 hour dissertation that captured Rose’s curiosity. She wanted to know more.
Amazingly, just as I was ending the discussion, I realized that I had not checked with my guests where, in Southern California, they lived. I just automatically drove the route I usually drove to visit relatives. It was at this time Rose tried talking to the rear passengers. She knew very little Spanish and all that was determined was that I needed to call a telephone number. I gave Rose my cell phone and the provided number was called. A Spanish speaking person answered the phone, and after several attempts of communication, a young person was enlisted to translate. Finally, after explaining the series of events which lead to why her grandmother and grandfather were in the back seat of my truck, I gave her the freeway we were traveling on. After that was translated, the young girl came back and said, “you need to get off of the so and so exit of that freeway.”
I looked up and literally, the next exit was the exact exit she had told us to get off on. We then asked where to rendezvous and the parking lot of a Target Store near the freeway exit was decided upon. While still on the phone, confirming the spot, I saw the Target Store and pulled into the parking lot, and told Rose to tell them we were here. It was amazing. Nothing more than a miracle.
The moment I was done talking to Rose about the church, on a freeway I took only because I knew it, exactly when we contacted someone that could speak English, the exact freeway exit was the next exit I needed to take. We were in the parking lot within seconds of the destination given to us. Then, in the 5 minutes it took for their children to get to the Target parking lot, I had all their luggage out on the sidewalk and the Grandfather was digging into his wallet and offered me $200.00 for the ride. I refused the money, but I wanted him to know that I was doing this because I was prompted to. I went back into the cab of the truck to look for something I could write on and have translated to him.
Remember, it wasn’t my truck and the only paper I could find was an envelope from the Mission Department of the church, which I had received the day before. I tore off the return address portion of that envelope, which had the church logo and address on it, and gave it to him. As I handed over the scrap of paper, I could see he was confused.
Just then their kids drove up, and they were so happy as they were out of contact with their parents for a couple of days and had no idea where they were, let alone how they were going to get them home. Everyone was happy and hugging. The grandfather asked his daughter what the scrap of paper was that I gave him. I told her it was the reason I stopped to pick them up, Jesus Christ. He immediately started to tear up and gave me a hug.
Then, just like that, I was in the cab of the truck driving down the road. I asked Rose if she knew how to get to her house from where we were, she was a little confused, disorientated. After just a few moments and driving down a main street, she said “oh, this is the street I live on! I just live a few buildings down the block!” It was amazing. Now, even more amazing was when we were getting ready to make a U turn to enter her apartment complex, two missionaries on bikes were on the sidewalk. I pulled up, rolled down the window and told them to follow us, because this lady wanted to know more about the church. I pulled in the parking lot and stopped near her apartment, we said our goodbye just as the missionaries rolled up. It was another miracle. Imagine picking up two parties of people, complete strangers, in Las Vegas, that ended up living within 3 miles of each other in southern California?
I stopped at a convenience store, I decided to get a map to figure out where I was in relation to Uncle Mal’s house. I was not surprised at all, to find out all I had to do was to continue driving on the road I was on, about 10 miles or so and then turn right, into Uncle Mal’s neighborhood. On the way there, I reflected on the day’s events and I was silently reminded of my request to Heavenly Father to “make this easy for me.” All things considered, I spent no more than 45 minutes total, of going out of my way. I know that when we are prompted by the Spirit to do something, He will provide a way to complete the task, and sometimes it is really easy.
A few minutes later I pulled up to see my son, who I have not seen for over two years, standing with Uncle Mal on his driveway, in a suit that was way too big for him.
Cliff & Becky Rogers
Below, is a card I received from Rose a few weeks later:
(I never knew if she joined the Church, but I know she has knowledge of the restoration, and that there is a Prophet on the earth today.)
Joyce Rogers Haldeman