Sunday, May 15, 2011

Providence, Tim Hortons coffee and prayer

Providence is the expression of God’s care in everyday events. Tim Hortons coffee is delicious, especially double double. And pray matters. I read a great news article this week about two New Brunswick police officers who are convinced they saw providence at work last Thursday (and, yes, it also involved Tim Hortons coffee and prayer). Their decisions on a road trip that day had them running behind schedule, but put them at the right place at the right time to help save a man who was attempting to commit suicide. Heather McLaughlin did excellent work reporting on this in an article titled “God’s got another plan for you.” The following is a condensed version. (To read the full text, go to

A man is alive because two Fredericton police officers were [running] late. The timing put them in the right place at the right time to intervene in an attempted suicide. On May 5, Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn were en route to Charlottetown, PEI, to visit the Atlantic Police Academy… Durling insisted they travel through Maugerville to catch a glimpse of flood conditions before hitting the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway. “If you didn't take this cow path, we'd be halfway to Moncton right now,” Alchorn teasingly scolded Durling, who was driving.

Tim Hortons Drive ThruAdd in a coffee run through the Tim Hortons drive-thru near the Silver Fox Irving turnoff at Salisbury and the pair was running behind schedule. “There was a million reasons why we shouldn't have been there when we were ... Kathy and I both agree and I believe it definitely has to be divine intervention. It was just too freaky,” Durling said.

“The timing was pretty critical,” Alchorn said. “It was kind of weird that nobody else had stopped. He was very evident and I just couldn’t imagine how you wouldn't notice. A couple of seconds later, he would have been gone.”

About 12 kilometres past the Silver Fox Irving at 10:45 a.m., they crossed a highway overpass and were close to the exit off the four-lane highway that leads to Moncton and Riverview. “I observed a car parked on the side of the road with its four-way flashers on. Then I looked and saw a man sitting on the rail of the overpass with what appeared to be a white rope. Kathy and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Did you just see what I saw?’”

Alchorn had made eye contact with the man when they drove past. “He was looking over his shoulder all the time and when he turned around I looked right at him and I could see in his face, in his expression there was something wrong and when Tim started backing up, he was looking at us,” Alchorn said.

“As we’re backing up, he jumped. So we jumped out and ran as fast as we could and we looked over and the rope failed,” Durling said. Below them as they peered down from the highway, Durling and Alchorn expected to see the man’s body on a roadway. Instead the motionless man lay alongside a set of train tracks. “I hollered to Kathy to call 9-1-1 and she runs to get her cellphone. I take off down the embankment to the guy and as I’m getting there, I can hear a noise that's not familiar to me.”

CN Train“I’m checking the guy out to see what’s going on and I look up and see a train coming. I grabbed him and moved him away from the tracks and 30 to 40 seconds later a train goes by,” Durling said. “I didn't have a choice (about moving him). It was life or limb.”

When Durling propped up the man, he stirred to consciousness, although he was in shock, his neck and hands showing rope burns. “I saw you coming to help,” the man mumbled.

Durling noticed the man had a set of rosary beads with him. “I knew he did some business with God, so I said ‘God's got another plan for you buddy and it’s not to die today,’” Durling told the man…

Although the man had tied one end of his rope around the guard rail, he didn't have a chance to firmly knot the rope around his neck because the officers were rushing towards him. But he managed to entwine it around his neck a couple of times. Durling said that helped spare his life because the rope held long enough to break the man’s fall before he hit the ground.

Had the two police officers been a little later in arriving - and the man tied the noose around his neck - he would have strangled himself to death. “There’s definitely divine intervention there,” Durling said.

Several vehicles passed by the man and vehicle, but no one stopped. Durling credited their police training, including the skills they develop to observe a situation, as helping them respond in the way they did. A casual driver going by might have only assumed the vehicle was broken down and not looked closely enough at the unfolding scenario.

Fredericton police officersAlchorn said police and paramedics took over from the police officers to transport the man to hospital. “He’s doing pretty good. He’s in stable condition in the Moncton Hospital with a lot of broken bones and things of that nature,” Durling said. The man has begun talking to his family and the police officers have since learned that family issues were a factor in his decision to try to end his life. “We were glad that we were able to assist,” Durling said. “He’s alive. That’s the good side of the story. It’s a sad situation, but maybe it will have a good outcome. I know he’s going to get some help where he is.” The two officers hope to travel to Moncton in a week or so to visit the man to see how he’s doing.

There were some very interesting comments posted in response to this news article. Some people took exception to the article giving credit to God for saving the man’s life when they believe it was clearly the training of the police officers in action that rescued the man. To be fair, though, it is not the reporter who makes this about God’s providence, but the police offers themselves who “believe it definitely has to be divine intervention” that was involved in their decisions that day: in choosing their slower route and driving through a Timmies. Personally, I’m inclined to accept their interpretation. The man who jumped had been praying, and through a series of everyday decisions two police officers were there to save him just in time. I know this may generate questions about why God does not intervene in so many other things happening in our world, and yet I find myself unable to abandon my belief that God rescues those who cry to him for mercy. And sometimes we find ourselves making the same realization as Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn, that somehow God has put us at the right place at the right time to show his care to someone in need.

What do you think? Do you believe in providence? Could a stop for an unplanned Tim Hortons coffee be the decision God uses to put you at the right place at the right time? Are you doing God’s will? If so, why couldn’t he reach out and care for another person through you at just the right time?

I’ve selected a few comments to re-post here that were originally posted in response to the news article (see link above). These comments could probably generate some good discussion. How would you respond? What do you think about divine providence?

"There's definitely divine intervention there"
Seriously? Come on. Does this mean god wants people to die when the police or emergency officers arrive a moment too late?
This was good police work - what they are paid to do. Thanks for looking out for your fellow man.
Thereis Nogod, Saint John on 11/05/11 09:13:06 AM ADT

For the mans' sake, I am glad you were late. Glad also to see you put your training to the test and it produced a favourable outcome. Although some would say it was divine intervention, I would rather it be said that your ability to observe, rationalize and act in accordance with the skills you have learned as police officers saved this mans life. Congratulations on a job well done.
Pierre ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 09:28:49 AM ADT

God's plan indeed! Outstanding job by the police officers! Nice [to] read a storey with a good ending for a change. Hopefully the man gets the help he needs. God bless him and his rescuers!
M M, Grandlake on 11/05/11 09:49:17 AM ADT

Good work officers.
Sgt. Durling's decision to see the flood conditions was his and not God's though.
john ---, quispamsis on 11/05/11 10:11:14 AM ADT

Police Officers like these two don't get (or give themselves) nearly enough credit by attributing any of this to "divine intervention."
HAL 9000, Fredericton on 11/05/11 12:32:59 PM ADT

They wouldn't dare mention God if they hadn't have made it on time. Only when the outcome is positive do they claim their deity had anything to do with it.
Imagine if they claimed God had another plan for him if he got hit by a train after surviving the initial fall. It simply wouldn't have happened, and it absolutely should not have happened in this case either.

Bob ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 04:27:17 PM ADT


  1. This can be tricky. When good things result it is easy to give credit to God or to providence, but what if the result had been bad? What if the police officers had been 5 minutes too late to save him? And that being the 5 minutes wasted at Tim Hortons?

  2.  I'd have to believe the officers interpretation. Everyone else is looking at this from the outside. Those two officers know what they experienced and how things transpired. They are in a much better position to perceive the hand of God than anyone else.

  3. Haha, that is so true. Police officers and TTC drivers are always carrying Tim Hortons. This is such a national image. Tims cups will look good with Guccis GUCCI 3166

  4.  If we believe in God than we have to believe He steps in sometimes. There are many example's along this line.  My question has alway's been how does God make the choice of when and how??

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