On August 21, 2015, three heroic Americans traveling on a high-speed train bound for Paris thwarted a terrorist attack and saved the lives of more than 500 passengers on board. Simple Grace sat down with the childhood friends, U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, in time for the release of the movie chronicling their experience, The 15:17 to Paris, to talk about God's plan and how faith in Him carried them through the events that unfolded that fateful day and beyond:
SGD: How did being raised in the Christian faith shape the men that found themselves faced with the terrifying circumstances that you all found on the train that day?
Alek: I think growing up as a Christian always kept me aware that there was a higher power at work in my life. So when I look at the events of that day, at the odds of even being involved in a terrorist attack, let alone everything lining up exactly like it did, down to us moving our seats from coach to first class, to bring us to being on that train in that place at that specific time, I can't help but see His hand in it. It made me see that we were vessels that day, being used by God.
Spencer: Absolutely. For me, God has been someone I knew was always there. I was raised in a Christian home, and I always end up seeing God as the guiding force in my life, and that day on the train was absolutely God's plan for us. We could see that in everything. Just a few days before, we were thinking about staying in Amsterdam for another day, but we didn't. There were all of these little coincidences that led us to that exact moment, not only as we traveled through Europe, but throughout our entire lives. He prepared us and shaped us for that moment: we had the skills to do what we needed to and God just put us in position to do it and make the choice to act.
Anthony: I've been going to church all my life. My dad is a pastor. It was the foundation of my life, I am so thankful for that. I knew on the train that day that God had His hand on us. We knew He had His hand on us—like the calm we had amongst ourselves, falling into our different roles as this man rushed toward us, armed with a gun while we were unarmed. We were just confirming and re-affirming God's plan for our lives by being where we were supposed to be that day.
SGD: For most of us, our instinct is to run away from a threat rather than toward it. That sense of 'peace' that Anthony mentioned seemed to prevail in all of you as you were moving into the face of danger—can you describe that peace?
Spencer: For me, it was a profound sense of a calm and clarity. I was still scared, but almost completely clear in the head about what I needed to do. And also, I was being used as a vessel by God—I just had to make the decision to let that happen. At the end of it, it was an extreme sense of calm.
Alek: It was quiet on the train, and I was just thinking of what I had to do. The adrenaline just made it feel like it wasn't a big deal, in the sense that I had a purpose in that moment and I was going to do what I had to do. It was honestly a very bizarre experience for me.
Anthony: I never felt more calm in my entire life. I knew exactly what we should do, what I needed to do. And though my mind was telling me to go, something greater than me made me stand up, like someone pushed me forward. We have always lived with this feeling like there was something we were going toward, like we were destined for something. And it turned out to be this moment. It was one of those moments where it was just like 'thank you, God' when we made it to the other side. I meant that thank you for sure."
SGD: What difference do you think having faith in challenging times makes in your ability to cope with them?
Anthony: I would say that faith changes it entirely, because how else would you think that you could achieve something extraordinary if you didn't think that you had someone extraordinary on your team? Running at someone with an automatic weapon when you have no weapon, that just sounds ridiculous. But it wasn't because God was on our side.
Spencer: After everything that happened, I learned that God isn't really going to put you in any situation you can't handle. And that echoes through my life still and gives me a lot of of peace in my everyday life.
SGD: What did you learn about God in this experience that you want others to know?
Anthony: Even something as crazy as defeating a terrorist when you're unarmed is not too big for God. Whatever the obstacles are in your life that you're facing, as long as you have the peace within yourself that you have somebody bigger than it in your corner, you can face them.
Alek: I think God knows what's best for you and has a plan even though that might not be what you want or the plan that you have. He is going to take you down the path that He wants for you.
Spencer: A lot of times, people can become discouraged in life because they feel they aren't fulfilling any type of purpose. But we found out through our experiences that even though we might not know it, God is always working in our lives. We are working toward His plan for us all the time, and He is there for us through it all.
Watch the trailer for The 15:17 to Paris above, and be sure to buy your tickets in time for the release tomorrow, February 9th! To read more inspiring stories of faith and triumph in Him, pick up our March issue, on sale now at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, in select grocery stores, and available digitally on Kindle and Nook.