What Would You Do If You Knew You Had Just Minutes to Live

My wife and I were in Hawaii. I was preparing to speak the next day. I know, it’s a tough life. All that sand in your shorts. Ramona and I enjoyed an early breakfast. Then at 8:07, a zillion cell phones buzzed and a message flashed onscreen: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” Now, I’d be a liar if I told you my first thought was “Yippee!” I have a family. Grandkids. A ministry. Below, pandemonium breaks loose. Tearful goodbyes are said. Underground parking lots fill. “It’s North Korea,” says someone. “It takes a ballistic missile 20 minutes to get here.”


With nine minutes to live, my wife and I descend nine flights of stairs. A lady is carrying a Bible. “That’s a good book,” I say. “The best,” she smiles. “Especially this morning.”


With six minutes, left Ramona and I walk past the Trump tower toward the Pacific. A hundred thoughts flood your mind with five minutes to live. The kids. Is there anything unsaid? No. They know we love them. They know where the will is. Four minutes left and I’m thinking about Kim Jong-un. I’m not confident he can hit a basketball hoop from five feet. Can he pinpoint this tiny island 7,500 kilometres away?


Three minutes to go and a man stops us, furious at world leaders. “We can’t put our hope there,” I say. “Our hope is in Jesus.” I’m braver than normal. What’s he gonna do? Kill me? With two minutes left it’s important to know that your worldview works. I’m happy to report that Christianity does. I hold my wife’s hand and say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” One minute to live and we’re laughing. There are the mountains. There’s the sea. My watch says time is up. “We’re still here,” I say. “Shoot,” says Ramona. We laugh again.


It takes a whopping 38 minutes for authorities to issue a retraction. Someone hit the wrong button. Oops. Maybe they pushed the button thinking it said, “Go for lunch,” when it said, “Go for launch.” It’s too early to go for lunch, so we continue our walk along Waikiki Beach. People are beginning to return. I wanna yell, “Don’t go back to the way you were. This is not the land of the living. It’s the land of the dying. You have one life to live. Live it well.”


Perhaps each day should start with a missile scare. We’d be a little more aware that we’re not here long. A little more prepared to share the hope of Christ. At 10 am, a friend emailed to ask me if we were okay. I said, “Ya, but it’s been a blast.”

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Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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