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The hand of God

"The hand of God takes some pretty unusual forms sometimes, but it is always there," says David Richardson, associate professor of political science at Evangel University. For Richardson, the hand of God took the form of a mangled, half-pound piece of shrapnel now displayed in his office.

That shrapnel ended Richardson’s successful Navy career and put him on a path that eventually led him to Evangel in Springfield, Mo., one of the 18 endorsed Assemblies of God postsecondary schools.

The half-pound piece of shrapnel that penetrated David Richardson’s leg.

In 1968, Richardson was on a fast-track military career. At 29, he was the second youngest chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy and had applied for a program that would have led him to being commissioned as a lieutenant j.g. That was until January 8, 1969. Through the events of that day, God changed the course of his life.

He awoke at 5 a.m. aboard the USS Enterprise, just off the coast of Hawaii. As flight-deck line chief for Attack Squadron 146, he was responsible for overseeing the last of a series of inspections before leaving the next day for Vietnam.

At 8:17 a.m., he was preparing for a simulated alpha strike. At 8:18, the world blew up around him. "The ship began to shake under my feet," he says. "It was the type of thing that can only be caused by one thing – an explosion." He spun around and saw a fireball on the fantail of the ship. He knew an aircraft had exploded.

He then heard a man screaming. "I knew someone was in pain, and I began looking around trying to find him," he says. "I didn’t realize it was me."

A half-pound piece of shrapnel had hit the upper part of his right leg, shattering the bone into hundreds of pieces. Twenty-eight men aboard the ship died that day. There were also 100 litter cases and another 300 walking wounded.

Just days before Richardson had boarded the Enterprise, he went to church with his wife, Sue. The pastor of the small Assemblies of God church they attended in Lemoore, Calif., called him to the front and told the congregation that the young man was headed to Vietnam. He led the congregation in prayer for Richardson.

"I didn’t think much of it at the time," Richardson says. "There were a lot of Navy in the church. I just figured it was routine." But after the explosion, the pastor shared with Sue that he had made a point of not praying publicly for the servicemen in the church because there were so many. "But he said he felt the Holy Spirit instruct him to pray for me that day. He said he felt it so strongly that he couldn’t go forward with the service until he called me to the front." Richardson believes that the prayer sustained him through the explosion and the trials that ensued.

David Richardson, today and in 1968. The pastor of the small Assemblies of God church Richardson attended called him to the front and led the congregation in prayer for him. Richardson believes that the prayer sustained him through the explosion.

Richardson sprinkles his story with the statement, "God had a plan." And he really believes it. "I should have died that day," he says. "I was right in the middle of this mess of fire and explosions and burning metal falling all around me. Outside of God, there is no reason I should have lived. But God used it to bring me to the point I’m at today. Now I’m teaching what I lived. God orchestrated that."

After 18 excruciating months in the hospital, Richardson returned to school in 1971. He completed a double major in political science and history at Memphis State University in just two and a half years.

He had hoped to sail through graduate school even more quickly. But medical problems, including the amputation of his right leg, slowed the process. Six years later, in 1979, he earned his master’s degree in political science from George Washington University.

After receiving his master’s degree, Richardson spent five years designing training programs for the military in Washington, D.C. Still, he was restless. Ever since his retirement from the Navy, he had wanted to teach. "The part of the military life I enjoyed the most was training," he says.

He sent his resume to Evangel in 1983 after enrolling his youngest daughter as a student. By August 1984, Richardson was back in the classroom.

Last summer, Richardson obtained permission to return to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as part of his Ph.D. dissertation research. With unrestricted access to the ship, Richardson interviewed more than 100 crew members. He also returned to the flight deck, marking an "X" in the very spot he was hit. Next to the "X" he wrote, "I’m back."

Standing in that spot, he reflected on the miracle God did in his life 30 years earlier. "I didn’t fully realize what a miracle my life was until I was standing there, just 25 feet from the edge of the deck," he says. "I should have been blown off that ship. Twenty-eight good men died that day, and I should have been number 29. I cannot dispute God’s role in that."

Richardson has confidence the hand of God is on his life today as it always has been. "I used to wonder what’s ahead, but I don’t worry about the future anymore," Richardson says. "There’s nothing like having a ship blow up in your face to show you that you’re not the one in control."

— Ashli K. O’Connell, assistant editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

David and Sue Richardson attend Oak Grove Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo., where Phillip T. Webb is pastor. Their oldest daughter, Evelyn, and her husband, Tim Kirby, are planting a church in Centreville, Va. Their youngest daughter, Jackie, and her husband, Brian Keyes, live in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where Brian is a captain in the U.S. Army. The Richardsons have four grandchildren.


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