In my last blog, I mentioned the agreement I had made with God. We had been at an impasse job-search wise, and it seemed like God was leading me to work for the airlines, so I told Him that if He wanted me in the airlines, He would have to work out all my Sabbath conflicts. There were three weekends in a row on my schedule where I was scheduled into Sabbath hour both Friday night and Sabbath, and the time was coming up quickly when He would have to act. And He did.
That was Monday. By Thursday night, I had exhausted all my options. The only trade that anyone was willing to make got blocked for other reasons, and I had nowhere else to go. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t worked up in the frenzy I typically get in when something isn’t going right. I was sure God was going to come through. Friday, on the other hand, had me getting nervous. What was I going to say if the simulator didn’t break down? How would I get out of it?
Needless to say, it was a time of fervent prayer. When everything started out normal with the briefing, I tried to ignore the sense of impending doom. “Focus on what he’s saying,” I would say to myself. “Don’t worry, God has it.”
Two hours of briefing down, and we were set to begin our four hours in the sim. It was 3 hours before sunset. I arranged my stuff before we started, ready to walk out if need be.
2 hours passed. One remained. We stopped for a break.
At that point, I knew what I had to do. I put my jacket on, gathered my things, and started out. I stopped to chat some with my sim instructor, delaying the inevitable hammer I was about to drop that I was walking out, not only on my session that night, but also most probably on my job with the company too. After a couple minutes of small talk, I saw an opportunity.
“Where are you from?” I had asked him.
“Where specifically? I have lots of family down in that area.”
“I grew up right outside of Redlands in a town called Loma Linda.”
“Oh really?! I know lots of people that are there, or just graduated from the medical school there. You’re not Adventist, are you?” (He had made several comments during the ground briefing that made it seem quite obvious to me that he was Mormon, so I was surprised)
“No, I am Mormon,” he said, “But I have a lot of friends who are Adventists. How do you know about them?”
“I am an Adventist!” I exclaimed. “That actually brings up something that’s been weighing on me recently. I tried to trade schedules, but nobody was willing. You know about the Adventist beliefs about the Sabbath?”
“Yes I do,” he said. “You will have a tough time in this industry. Nobody cares what your beliefs are, as long as you show up for work when you’re assigned. But to get Saturdays off, that’s going to be a real challenge. There really aren’t a lot of ways around it. I understand where you’re coming from though, and I applaud you for it, but you have to realize what you’re getting yourself into.”
“Yeah.” That pretty much summed up all my concerns about trying to go work for the airlines in the first place. “The trouble is, Sabbath starts in an hour, but we have two hours of sim training left. I’m going to have to leave early.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You’re a good pilot, and you’ve got everything you need to become a very successful airline pilot. Just these past two hours have shown me that. You’re not flying perfectly, but you pick up on things quick. You’re holding your sim partner accountable when he starts adjusting stuff that you should be adjusting. It’ll be a real shame to lose you.”
“I’m sorry too. I want to make it work, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my beliefs for a job.”
He called over to somebody else who was in the room, saying I should probably have a talk with him. As we went down to his office, I found out he was one of the assistant training managers for the company. Once we sat down, I explained the situation to him all over again.
“I can empathize with you,” he said, “I don’t like to work on Sunday either. But you also have to take care of your family. That’s your first priority.”
“Well, shouldn’t my first priority be staying faithful to God?” I replied, amused at how easy it is to get that mixed up sometimes. “I could work at Taco Bell and still make a living. It isn’t as much money as here, but they would still be taken care of. There are plenty of other jobs I could work to provide for my family that don’t require me to work on Sabbath.”
“I suppose that’s true, and I admire you for standing up for your beliefs like this. I don’t suppose you’re going to come in for your scheduled sim session tomorrow then, will you?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Well then, enjoy your Sabbath. I’ll have my boss give you a call on Monday, and we’ll see what he thinks we can work out for you.”
So I left. And I did have a very nice Sabbath. After church, I went with some friends up into the mountains to have lunch with more friends. We then went back to church to go caroling with a youth leader who was very excited about it. It was a blessedly restful day.
While we were out caroling I got a voicemail from the boss, saying I needed to call him ASAP. I headed back to the church to talk with him while the rest of them finished up singing to the rest of the block.
As we talked, it was a very similar conversation to the one I had had the night before. It ended, however with this:
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you to trade sim schedules with someone else. But unfortunately, you were assigned a work schedule and you failed to show up. We have zero tolerance for that. I’m going to have to terminate your employment.”
I saw that one coming from a thousand miles away.
That evening I didn’t sleep very much. Not because I was upset. But because I was writing a letter to explain where I was coming from, to remind them that they were legally bound to make reasonable accommodation for my religious beliefs (which they hadn’t), and that I would like to appeal the decision to “terminate my employment.” I would be ready to present it to him that Monday when we had arranged to meet.
That night, I also texted a friend who had let me know about a job opening up at Andrews University as the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor. Were they still looking for someone? He said they were, and that I should call the Chief in the morning to let him know I may be interested.
The next morning I was still getting through my morning routine when I got a phone call from the 269 area code I knew so well from my time at Andrews.
“Hi, David? This is Darryl Penney at Andrews, how are you? I heard you might be interested in the Assistant Chief job here.”
“Kind of,” I replied.
I explained the situation to him, that I was waiting to see what would happen the next day at my meeting, but if they weren’t willing to give me my job back, I would definitely be in need of a job.
“I see,” he said. “Well, I hope it works out for you there. But if it doesn’t, we would like to have you come interview for the spot. You’ll of course have to talk to the department chair Duane, but I can chat with him first and let him know you might be interested.”
“Yeah, that would be fine. I’ll try to give him a call today once I’m up and going.”
“Great. Well let us know how things fall together. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.”
I went back to getting my breakfast ready when I got a call from Duane.
“Hi David! I just got off the phone with Darryl Penney. He mentioned you are looking into possibly coming here to Andrews.”
I gave a hesitant answer before laying out the situation to him as well. He followed up with the same invitation to keep them in the loop, and that they would love to interview me for the spot if things didn’t work out.
Through this entire situation, I had been unnaturally calm. I wasn’t worried about it, because somehow I knew God was in control. That calm continued Monday morning as I met with the training manager. We had a very nice discussion, and again I just kept hearing positive things about Adventists.
“We’ve had several Adventists come through who have stood up for their beliefs like you have. I really respect that. Every time one of you come through, actually, it makes me wonder if I’m living by my own beliefs as fervently as you live by yours. And you Adventists have always come through with such a great attitude. Even though things don’t work out, you are still wanting to work with us to try to open up possibilities for others after you.”
“Yeah, there are several of us who aren’t interested in flying for the airlines because of the Sabbath issue. If there were a way to work those things out, word would spread quickly through the SDA community, and there would be dozens of other Adventist pilots who would come to work here too.”
“That would be great. You’re just the type of people that our company wants. It would be nice to have some way to help you guys into the system.” (Currently, seniority rules at the airlines, which is an exception to the Civil Rights Act, because it would take a complete re-working of the entire scheduling system to make accommodation, and any accommodation that bypasses that is unfair for all the other employees).
“Well, I have an idea of something that may help start the process, at least,” I started. “I’ve already been in touch with my alma mater, which is an Adventist school, and I’m quite confident that I’ll be offered the Assistant Chief spot there if I leave. I’ve already talked to the department chair and the Chief, and they are both on board with the idea of pursuing a partnership which will allow Adventists the opportunity to go through training on a Sabbath-free schedule, which can be accommodated, and give them every opportunity to get into the system right now, when seniority is jumping up really quickly.” I outlined the details of my plan to him.
“That may be something that we would be interested in,” he agreed. “Here’s my card, please get in touch with us if you end up getting the job, and we can start looking into it.”
At that point, we both knew that I was gone from the airlines. But we hadn’t actually breached the subject of my request for reinstatement. He brought it up now.
“So what do you want to do? I am willing to reinstate you, and try to fit you back into my schedule. The trouble I’m seeing, though, is even if I squeeze you back into the system, the only time slots available are still going to fall on your Sabbath hours. You’re probably not going to want to show up for those either, will you?”
“No, I won’t,” I agreed. “Would you be willing, however, to reinstate me with that schedule, and give me the opportunity to withdraw from the course?”
“Sure, I would be happy to do that,” he concluded. “I’ll even make sure you are marked as having left favorably, so that you’ll be eligible for rehire some point down the road. Please let me know when you are settled, and we’ll see what we can do to start working with you Adventists.”
The days and weeks following that have been a blur. That same Monday I flew to Denver, where I had a car I needed to pick up. I drove Tuesday and Wednesday to Andrews, where I interviewed Thursday morning, and was offered the job on the spot. I finished up the day driving back to New York. We spent the weekend with both sides of Sarah’s family celebrating Christmas, then scrambled to get everything packed and ready to move to Michigan before the New Year. We arrived New Year’s Eve evening, took a day to get settled and check out a few houses in the area, and I started work the day after.
Only now, almost 3 full weeks after, have I had enough of my head above water that I can update you on what’s going on. Today marks exactly a month since I left my work at the airlines. And I’m not looking back. Andrews has everything we were looking for: decent pay, a fulfilling job that will offer stability, living in the country, I’ll be home every night, and Sabbaths are guaranteed off. I wouldn’t have picked it, but it was clear that God was bringing us here. And we know He has plans for what He can do through it.
As we get settled here, please pray that God establishes us. We have been wandering for so long – so much so that not moving again for a while has ceased to become an ideal, it is a need. Our kids need a stable home and a place to grow up. And please pray that God works out the details so the way may be laid for other Adventist pilots to pursue their passion in the airlines.