The Halls were pioneer missionaries in Laos, just prior to the Vietnam War. Dick had a Seventh Day Adventist congregation in what is now Luang Namtha. He built a small church and established a school to teach children (mostly boys, I think) to read. He had a Cessna plane, a little 4-seater, which he used to reach villages in the jungle.
Last night, Dick told me what happened when the Vietnam War spilled into the civil war in Laos, in about 1960.
“It was Sabbath, and I was preaching the sermon when a U.S. Helicopter landed outside the church. All the people gathered around it. Without even turning off the engine or shutting down the blades, the pilot called down and told the people that they were surrounded on all sides by Communists, and needed to evacuate.
I stopped preaching and started flying.”
Dick started ferrying people out across the Mekong River to Thailand in his Cessna. They took out the seats and were able to fit as in many as 13 people. As word spread, the towns people crowded around the plane, and would not move away until not even one more child would fit in. Dick would taxi to the end of the runway, thinking if it looked like the plane wouldn't take off, he would need to make some people get out. He never had to put anyone off the plane. "It was as though there were angels under the wings", he told me.
“Put a white cloth on the ground in front of the church,” Dick told told the boys who stayed behind. “When the communists come, take it away”. Dick would circle around, and if he saw the while cloth, he would know it was safe to land. He worried, though, that the communists would come at night and the boys wouldn't have a chance to take away the white cloth.
“I flew people out, flight after flight, for 2 and a half days. I didn't know when I might be landing in a trap.”
Many of the people were wives and children of the military who were fighting the communists, and were prime targets for communist retribution.
“The people would crowd around the plane and not move aside so I could take off, until there wasn't room for one more person. I wondered how the plane could get off the ground so full. It was as though there were angels under the wings.
On my last trip, the people who knew they would not make it out begged to be baptized. I told them, if they would follow the teachings I had given them, they would be saved even without baptism. As I took off, I could see them below, crying and pounding the ground in their terror.”
Tomorrow, we are going into Bangkok to get our visas for Laos. No wonder I couldn't sleep!