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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Hero's Heart

By Dan Van Veen
May 26, 2013

On the afternoon of Jan. 29, 66-year-old Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. was doing what he loved — driving a busload of kids home from their Midland City, Ala., schools. Poland and his wife of more than 40 years, Jan, were longtime members of Grace Assembly of God in nearby Newton.

The rural bus route was more than a job to Poland. He saw it as a ministry he had enjoyed for four years — picking up and delivering kids safely to and from school each day.

Poland’s pastor, Ray Layton, had no doubt how much Poland cared for the kids.

“A little boy named Ethan was really afraid to ride the school bus, so Chuck always saved the seat right behind him so he could talk to Ethan and assure him and help ease his fears,” Layton remembers.

Jan related that Chuck finally felt his “little buddy” — his nickname for Ethan — had grown comfortable riding the bus.

Layton saw the Polands as a gift to the small but friendly church he pastored in the town of 2,344 in the southeast corner of the state. Chuck Poland served as Grace Assembly’s treasurer, and he and Jan were members of the choir.

“Chuck and Jan were usually the first ones to be at church on Sunday morning, Sunday night or any other time the church doors were open,” Layton says. “He enjoyed the fellowship. He was warm and compassionate; on anything we needed help with at the church, he was ready to volunteer. He was a humble man, a caring man who spoke with wisdom.”

When Jimmy Lee Dykes moved to the community, it quickly became obvious to neighbors he was a hard-nosed loner who seemed to have a survivalist mentality. He did nothing to ingratiate himself to his neighbors — in fact, he frequently threatened them and their property.

Poland did his best to befriend Dykes. In apparent appreciation, Dykes created a place on his property for Poland to be able to turn the school bus around more easily.

So, when the 65-year-old Dykes approached the school bus that Tuesday afternoon, Poland wasn’t overly concerned. Just that morning he had brought over some homemade jelly and fresh eggs to Dykes. But then Dykes stepped onto the bus stairs drawing a gun and handing Poland a note that demanded two children between the ages of 6 and 8 be given to him. Poland doggedly refused, physically blocking Dykes’ path.

“Some people have called Chuck a hero, and deservedly so,” Layton says. “But what Chuck was most of all was a true Christian. He understood what love and sacrifice are all about.”

Soon after Dykes stepped onto the bus, he fired a warning shot into the roof, then four more at the driver, the first of which pierced Poland’s heart. Dykes then grabbed 5-year-old Ethan, who had passed out with the shock of the shooting. His plan gone awry, Dykes left behind 21 stunned and terrified children.

“If Chuck hadn’t given his life to protect those children, there’s no telling what could have happened,” Layton says.

Dykes’ home was located just down the road from Midway Assembly of God in Midland City. Emergency vehicles, police officers, FBI agents, snipers and bomb squad personnel swarmed the area. Midway Pastor Michael Senn allowed the FBI to use the church’s youth center as its base.

In multiple media interviews, Senn encouraged people to pray for Ethan’s safe return to his family. The church property also became a key to Ethan’s planned rescue. Behind the church’s youth building, authorities built a mock-up of Dykes’ underground shelter to practice their rescue attempt.

Meanwhile, Layton and his wife, Valinda Sue, ministered to Jan Poland.

Police communicated with Dykes in his underground bunker through a plastic pipe. Officers passed food, medicine and toys into the bunker, which was similar to a tornado shelter and had running water and heat.

After being held captive for seven days, Ethan was rescued and Dykes was killed in a surprise raid by authorities. Layton says that just prior to Ethan’s rescue, he and a pastor friend sat together and prayed once more for Ethan’s safe release.

Bomb technicians found Dykes had planted an explosive device in the bunker and another in the plastic pipe. Neither device detonated.

An estimated 1,000 people attended Poland’s funeral at the Ozark (Ala.) Civic Center.

“We had scores of bus drivers, teachers, principals, officers, even people from Washington, D.C., at the funeral,” says Layton, who officiated the service. “The family asked me to take the opportunity to preach God’s Word, as they realized not everyone attending would be Christians or even know who the Lord is.”

Senn says that through the experience the entire community has a greater realization of local needs and are more conscious of their relationship with God.

“Evil has no geographical boundaries or age categories,” Senn says. “The enemy is coming against us by attacking what is close to us — our children. We need to be constantly aware of our relationship with God and be praying for God’s protection for our children and our families.”

DAN VAN VEEN is the editor of AG News.




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