Jenna Miller ’18 M.Ed.

I was a 21 year old college student the first time I heard the “I’m Third” message. God first, others second, I’m third. I was working at a summer camp in the Ozark mountains of Missouri. The director of the camp read today’s gospel passage from Matthew 22:34-40. He then told the story of Johnny Ferrier, a highly decorated, retired veteran Air Force pilot, who flew with an air exhibition team called the Minutemen. On June 7, 1958, in Dayton, Ohio, the Minutemen were flying above an airshow crowd in a formation called the fleur-de-lis. Johnny turned hard left, his rudder stuck, and he began to spiral. His commander immediately gave the order:  “Bail out Johnny!”

Knowing that ejecting from the plane would allow it to crash into the houses below, Johnny held tight to the stick. Unable to reach the radio, his only way to communicate was with blips of smoke saying, in effect, “Yes, I hear you, but I’m not bailing out and letting the people in those houses die.” Johnny crashed into an empty lot sparing those lives. He lived out the Gospel message Jesus gives us today.

Tears filled my eyes, and a big lump formed in my throat that day. I remember letting the truth of that message sink into my heart, which had been far from living the “I’m third” lifestyle. Honestly, at that time I was more interested in what I could get for myself than what I could give to others. Now, I wanted to live like Johnny, who was “I’m Third” to the very end. I realized his story was only a small example of the greatest “I’m Third” story ever told, Jesus loving each of us enough to die on the cross. God first. Others second. I’m third.