Man who lost wife, kids in flash flood shares message of hope
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--Robert Rogers was a dead man.
Rogers, his wife, Melissa, and their four young children were in their minivan on their way home from a wedding when the unthinkable happened. A flash flood swept away the van -– and everyone in it perished except Robert.
“We and about seven other cars splashed into the middle of this ‘river’ in the middle of the freeway,” Rogers, 38, recalled, looking back at that dark, rainy night on the Kansas Turnpike in August 2003. They were on their way home, driving from Wichita, Kan., to Liberty, Mo. “The water was about 1,000 feet wide, and we could see the water rising and seeping into our van.”
As the water rose to the seat cushions, the children began to wake up and cry.
“We did three things –- first, we said the name of Jesus over and over, ‘Jesus save us,’” Rogers said. “We were trapped. There was nothing we could do at this point. Our engine had stalled, and we couldn’t get out into the water -– rushing at 32,000 gallons every second -- carrying four children. The second thing on our lips was Scripture: Psalm 46, ‘God is my strength, my refuge, an ever-present help in time of trouble.’ And third, praise. That was the part that felt the most strange.”
The family, who had memorized Scripture together and sung praise songs around a piano every night, began to sing, “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.”
“I was thinking it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “But it got the kids’ attention on music. Then I realized the words: ‘I’m so glad you came to save us.’ Honestly, I felt at peace in the van. I knew we were going to be OK, thinking the water would recede and that we hadn’t come this far for God to let something awful happen to our family.”
But the water kept rising. The van was pushed up against a concrete median and the noise of the water rushing over the median was like a waterfall.
Rain was pelting the van like hail. The children were screaming and crying. Melissa and Robert were trying to use their cell phone to pray with friends from their church, Northland Abundant Life Worship Center in Liberty.
After only 15 minutes, water picked up the van -– along with 11 concrete medians weighing about 10,000 pounds each –- and sent them down the raging river.
“We went into survival mode,” Robert said. “We agreed we had to kick out the window and get the family out of the van. It was like popping a balloon because it just flushed me, Melissa, and our oldest daughter, Makenah -- we weren’t in our seatbelts at the time -- out of the van.
“That was the last time I saw my family alive.”
Rogers was plunged into pitch black, muddy water. He was flailing about under the water, drowning. “I was dying,” he said. “But I felt peaceful; I felt the presence of God. I was thinking we’re all going to heaven. [But] it didn’t feel like the right timing to me; it felt early.”
About a half-mile from the freeway, Robert’s head broke through the surface of the water. “I could see treetops passing by; I was gulping water,” he said. “I could see shore, but I couldn’t overpower the current. I can’t explain how I got over there. I just say it’s a miracle of God. I crawled out on my hands and knees. I was just crying out, ‘Oh, God, oh, God.’ I couldn’t see or hear any of my family.”
He stumbled his way toward the emergency vehicle lights and told officers his family was still in the water. Hours later, in the middle of the night, he got word that his three youngest children had been found dead -– still strapped in the totally destroyed, upside down van 1.5 miles from the interstate.
“Part of me knew it was coming,” he said. “I sensed it in the water. I sensed we were all going to heaven. I knew in my heart they were with Jesus already. Even at that worst moment, I felt the presence of God the most I ever had. He was very real, very powerful and peaceful. But I had to surrender my entire family –- like Abraham had to lay down Isaac, I had to lay down Zachary, Nicholas and Alenah all at once.”
His next words, he said, could only have been from the Holy Spirit.
“Literally, in the ER, I looked up and said, ‘Into your hands, I commit their spirits.’ It had to be the Holy Spirit because it was more than a mortal man could endure.”
They found his oldest daughter the next morning. It was three days later before his wife’s body was found two miles away in a retention pond.
In worship services Oct. 30-31 at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., Rogers said there were no last goodbyes, no last kisses.
“But that was OK because I had done that earlier that day, just like I did every day.”
That’s Rogers’ message today –- live a life of no regrets. Value faith and family. Work to live, not live to work. Surrender everything -– even that which is most precious. Rogers not only didn’t turn his back on the God whom he had served since age 16, he also quit his job as an engineer and began “Mighty in the Land” ministry. He writes music, sings and travels to tell the story of his family.
Journey of faith
Rogers said his faith didn’t happen overnight. It was a lifetime of faith-building experiences, especially once he married his college sweetheart, Melissa. He and Melissa met in Boston while he was playing piano in a tourist part of town named Quincy Market. She was in Boston working as a nanny. He was from Cincinnati; she was from Hiawatha, Kan.
Melissa put a tip in Robert’s tip jar, and later often said it was the best “five bucks” she ever spent. They went to get ice cream together, and thus began a storybook romance that led to a New Year’s Eve proposal on a riverboat in Cincinnati. One year later on New Year’s Eve, they married.
They moved to San Jose, Calif., for his first electrical engineering job after graduating from the University of Cincinnati. Robert also played piano with their church’s praise and worship leader, Ron Kenoly.
“I overcommitted myself to music my first year of marriage, to the detriment of our marriage,” Rogers recalled. “Ron told me, ‘Family is your first ministry,’ and that really stuck with me.”
He trimmed his music schedule and began to focus on his family. Three years into the marriage, Melissa gave birth to Makenah -– their first child and their first fiery test of faith.
“Melissa, who had always wanted to be a mother, was in labor for 48 hours,” he said. “After 36 hours of labor, the midwife said we had to go for help. The baby was breech, and after 12 more hours of labor and a C-section, Makenah -- at 9 pounds, 11 ounces and 22 inches long –- was born. It was a big test for us, but we saw the good that came from it. She was worth it.”
The couple’s second big test of faith came when Makenah was 1. Melissa and Makenah had just come home from visiting relatives, and Robert had stayed home from work to spend time with them.
“Melissa collapsed on the bed, and I had to carry her down the steps to get to the hospital, and on the way she said, “I can’t see; all I can see is white.’ I thought, ‘She’s right in front of God.’”
Melissa had an ectopic rupture –- the result of a tubal pregnancy. They hadn’t even known she was pregnant. She had emergency surgery.
“Suddenly this family that wanted lots of kids had one less tube, and that’s a big blow to a woman. It was very traumatic, especially since we only had one child and wanted more. It stretched our faith. We named our lost baby Hope. And we almost lost Melissa, so there were two brushes with death there.”
A little over a year later, their son, Zachary, was born. “It was a real miracle,” Rogers said of the natural delivery. “But the doctors said they believed our child had Down syndrome. We said, ‘Oh, God, no.’ We had done everything right –- prayed and sang over her tummy to nourish and feed the baby with our voices and prayers.
“This was a big blow to our faith because we didn’t get what we had asked for. Suddenly, we were confronted with another death –- we had to grieve the loss of the child we were expecting. We were going to have to carve out a whole new life of hospital visits, learning sign language, middle of the night trips to ER, complications –- parents of special needs children understand.”
Their faith stretched yet again, and they further committed to their marriage and to life as a family with a special needs child. Then, two years later, they had Nicholas. But they soon had another brush with death. The couple was in Mexico on a business trip, and while swimming in the ocean, they got caught in a riptide.
“A riptide is like a river in an ocean,” he said. “I was holding her with one hand and trying to pull us back. We knew we were going to drown. She said to let her go, and I couldn’t.”
A lifeguard spotted them and got them to safety.
Their next brush with death came when they had a miscarriage. They named the baby Joy.
“We named her Joy because she brought us so much joy for those few weeks.”
All along the way, Rogers said, they could see God at work in their lives. “We really developed a deep faith and trust in God. It’s a choice to trust in Him and to be better -– not bitter.”
After the second miscarriage, they decided to adopt a daughter from China. They requested a special needs child.
“God had blessed us with Zachary, and we thought we were prepared for it," Rogers said. "There’s a waiting list of children with special needs.”
They brought home Alenah in January 2003 after spending two weeks in China. She had a heart condition, and it exercised their faith to pray for her.
“At the airport, Melissa vowed she would never leave her children for that long again because it just ripped her heart out," Rogers said. "It turns out that God honored her wish, I believe. It was an amazing statement in light of what happened eight months later.”
That summer, the six-member family spent lots of time together playing in an inflatable pool in the backyard, eating ice cream and taking it easy from the rush of kids’ activities.
“It was the best summer we ever had,” Rogers recalled.
It also was their last. And, he has no regrets.
“Not many husbands and fathers can say that,” he said. “Have no regrets with God; choose to trust Him today and have no regrets with your loved ones. Melissa and I truly cherished each other and our family. We learned to savor every moment in large part because of the special needs of our two children.”
He has returned to the flood site, which now lies tranquil.
“I’m still a dad,” he said. “If we truly believe what we say we believe, then my family is not dead -– they are alive, well and happy with Jesus. I’m totally at peace with them. I’ve surrendered everything most precious to me. And it’s still a daily surrender, and I still cry every day in those moments when I’m alone.
“I literally feel like I was resurrected, like I died in the water that night –- not physically, but spiritually,” he said. “Once I’ve gone to that depth, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God allowed this to happen for a purpose. God wasn’t asleep; He could’ve caused us to be two minutes earlier or later or lifted up the van. We had prayed every day for our family’s protection and safety. He had saved us before. I have every reason to be bitter -– we were doing our best, doing everything right, putting God first.
“(The biblical character) Job chose not to sin when he lost 10 children. Job saw the face of God, and sometimes I feel like I got to touch His hand as He scooped my family up. He gave me a peace. I learned to die to myself, but I didn’t die physically, and now it’s a story of hope to say God is real, and if you trust Him, He will use whatever the circumstance for good.”
Rogers founded Mighty in the Land ministry to tell his story. He has been able to do that nationally via interviews on such shows as “Good Morning, America,” CNN and Focus on the Family. Integrity Music has published one of the songs he wrote. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association recorded his testimony to use around the world.
“Around the world -– it’s amazing how this story can impact so many lives. I named my ministry Mighty in the Land because Melissa and I prayed Psalm 112:2 over our children. They are mighty in the land, but I never thought it would be in this way.”
To schedule a speaking engagement, or to find out more information about Rogers' music CDs, visit www.mightyintheland.com.