I don’t know if you let convicted armed felons drive your church bus. But one named Lyle saved my life once.
It was June 9, 1972. I was a high school sophomore on my way from Williston, ND, to Dallas, Texas, to hear Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristopherson at Explo ’72. The 50 kids in the old painted school bus were scheduled to sleep in Rapid City on the first night of the trip, but because of the hot dusty roads and non-air-conditioned bus, we pleaded with our chaperones to take us to the giant swimming pool down the road in Hot Springs. It began to rain, and after dinner at the McDonalds, all the adults agreed we should just go to church and go to sleep.
We kids begged again. Finally, bus driver Lyle Thorpe made the call. “If the kids want to go swimming, get in the bus!”
Nobody argued with Lyle.
We filled up with diesel at the Skelly station and drove to Hot Springs through sheets of rain. After swimming, the rain was coming down so hard we couldn’t get back to Rapid City. We made a few calls and spent the night on a floor under the leaky roof of Custer Lutheran Church.
The next morning we awoke, wrung out our sleeping bags, and turned on the radio. It was then we discovered that 238 people had died in Rapid City during the night when the Canyon Lake Dam burst. The Skelly where we bought diesel had been washed away. The McDonalds where we ate dinner had been washed away. The church where we were scheduled to sleep that night had been washed away.
If it hadn’t been for bus driver Lyle’s firm “Get in the bus,” we would all have been at the church and disappeared in the flood. And if it hadn’t been for an old grandma prayer warrior praying for a Lyle - when he was a troubled young man a few years before, we would all have drowned.
Lyle Thorpe was our bus driver. A few years earlier he was in prison for armed robbery. A few years before that he was on the FBI’s most wanted list. And through it all, his grandma wouldn’t stop praying for him. Even when he was locked up and thrown away - considered worthless by society - she wouldn’t stop praying for him. “Lyle, we raised you right. You know this is not the way. And I’m not going to stop praying until you’re down on your knees and give your life back to Jesus!”
And yes, in prison he got down on his knees and gave his life back to the Jesus who had claimed him in baptism. And yes, on July 9, 1972 he was driving our church bus and decided, in the pouring Rapid City rain against the other adult chaperones to the Texas event, that he’d take us swimming in Hot Springs.
The power of prayer has eternal consequences that we rarely get to see on this side of eternity.
Fifty kids, including future pastors Nancy Lee Gauche, Kathy Lynn Valen and I, were on the bus that night.
Pastor Lyle Thorpe died Sunday. Yes, pastor.
He was 87.