Am I ready to die? Richard Snowdon asked himself this question as he sat in a Cyprus airbase waiting for his orders to "fly east" into the 1990-91 Gulf War.
It was the RAF pilot's first contact with war and the threat of death. Although he loved flying, his courage was melting as he felt unprepared to die.
Richard caught his love for flying from his fighter pilot father.
"My father had been flying Meteors and then Hunters," Richard shares.
"As a youngster, I couldn't wait to join the Air Cadets and get my feet off the ground for the first time.
"I then gained my gliding wings, going on to win a Flying Scholarship that enabled me to qualify for a Private Pilot's License at the age of 17. It was quite novel being licensed to fly a light aircraft before being qualified to drive a car!"
Richard's first experience of real war came during the First Gulf War between the Western Coalition and Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces.
Until his life was on the line Richard admits he lived a pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
"I lived as if there was no God and I was master of my own destiny. The world was essentially a playground, whose chief purpose was to please me, or so I thought."
Then from age 24 he recalls a strong unease came over him.
"I knew there was something very wrong in my life. I struggled on for nine years trying to get satisfaction from my pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
"After witnessing an Air Traffic Controller friend becoming a (Christian) believer and speaking to a Christian Hercules pilot, I was uncomfortably challenged by their personal testimonies – that they had a peace with God that I did not."
These friends gave him small booklets about the Christian message, which had a profound impact.
"This literature," he continues, "stripped away my false, evolutionary-based worldview and replaced it with the alarming truth that I was a sinner (in violation of God's commands) and was deserving of punishment by the perfect God who made me."
The build-up to the Gulf War concentrated his thoughts on God, Richard says.
"In Cyprus, whilst awaiting orders to 'fly east', God's grace and mercy led me to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, kneel in prayer and ask forgiveness for my sins.
"I will never forget the peace and joy that soon flooded my soul as the burden of sin was lifted away, guilt was removed and a new life imparted."
This new life from God, Richard says, brought about an eagerness to help others know the peace with God that he had.
"An aircrew instructor's course involved giving a talk on any subject of one's choosing. I felt it was a God-given opportunity to speak on the evidence for the Genesis account of creation as opposed to evolution.
"I shared a lift home for the weekend with a fellow pilot and new friend named Mike, who asked me what subject I had spoken on in my course. We then spoke on the topic for all of our four-hour car journey. At that very time he was completing an evolution module for his biology university degree.
"He willingly took videos and books on the topic but said that he was also going to search his university notes to find at least one fact about evolution to prove my 'theory' wrong.
"On the journey back to the base, he said that he did not find a single thing that could be described as a fact about evolution (as opposed to speculation).
"By mid-week he had received Jesus Christ as His Lord and Saviour. He is now a Boeing 787 Captain with a civilian airline."
As a pilot Richard says that being prayerfully dependent on God has protected him many times.
"God has overruled in my circumstances many times. He has held off a severe snowstorm until seconds after we landed and mysteriously cancelled flights when I was unwell.
"On another occasion we lost the autopilot, which meant flying manually for many hours. This would greatly increase fatigue levels on subsequent sectors. Our flight engineer tried everything to fix it, but couldn't. I quietly prayed, then had an inexplicable sense that we should try it again. I told the flight engineer this, at which he looked bemused. We tried to re-engage it and found that it was working perfectly. I told the mystified flight engineer that I had just prayed over the matter!" •