God’s provision was on display at pastor’s car fire

February 6th, 2018 / By: Karen L. Willoughby | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

MIDLAND God provided pastor James Salisbury with an exit ramp, a seven-man angel army and a replacement vehicle when his 2002 Chevy Trailblazer burst into flames near Midland on Christmas Eve.

Until then, Salisbury was peacefully making a routine two-and-a-half-hour trip home to Odessa from his bivocational pastorate at Sylvester (Texas) Baptist Church. He didn’t have the radio on because his traveling companions, cats Buddy and Daisy, didn’t like the noise. He wasn’t eating or drinking. He was just intent on getting home to spend Christmas Eve with his wife at a candlelight service at First Baptist Church in Odessa.

“It was about 4 p.m. when everything happened,” Salisbury told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “I was just focused on staying on the road because traffic was quite heavy on I-20.

“Shortly before the incident I did lose my power steering, but I didn’t associate that with anything but maybe losing a fan belt,” the pastor said. “There was no noise. Then I noticed the alternator gauge showed a discharge on the battery, which was another indication that it was the fan belt.

“I knew if I stopped I might never get it started again, and I wanted to get home,” Salisbury said. “I first saw smoke in my rear-view mirror, and I thought, ‘Is that me?’ And then the engine just quit. No noise. I coasted off an exit ramp to a service road.”

With no brakes, he coasted to a stop and rolled down the driver’s and front passenger windows, but that was the last of the vehicle’s battery power. With the electric door locks engaged, he was unable to exit the small SUV.

“By then I knew I needed to get out,” Salisbury said. “Smoke was coming out from under the hood, and then in through the air conditioning vents. Then flames, orange and yellow.” 

Traffic had stopped well back from the vehicle, which others could see was on fire, but three men exited their vehicles and ran near Salisbury’s.

“Hey, mister, get out!” one of them yelled.

“I can’t!” Salisbury yelled back.

And then, three men ran up to help.

“I’m a big man, 6 foot and 280 pounds. It took all three of them to haul me out the window,” Salisbury said.

By now the front passenger side of the Trailblazer was totally engulfed in a thick black smoke, and flames were licking the front of the vehicle and the driver’s side front wheel well.

Four more men ran up, and one asked, “Is there anything you need from the car?”

“Just my two cats, my insulin and my luggage and Christmas presents,” Salisbury said. 

The men broke windows, retrieved the items, and seconds later the entire car was engulfed in flames. Twenty minutes had passed since he had first noticed there was an issue with the SUV that in 14 years had never given him a problem.

“I can’t really tell you their names because I don’t know who they were,” the pastor said. “Just Dee. He called my wife with his phone.” Salisbury wasn’t thinking about the phone in the pocket of the jacket he was wearing. “I was just concerned for all the people around there, in case the car exploded, because I had half a tank of gas, eight or nine gallons at least.”

The police arrived within five minutes, an ambulance shortly after that, and then the fire department. By then, the fire had melted the rubber off the driver’s side front tire, and what had been a white SUV was now a mottled gray frame.

“Things really didn’t get scary until the next morning, and then it dawned on me how close I had come to going home and being with the Lord,” the 70-year-old Salisbury said.

“I’m just rejoicing at how good God is. He’s wonderful. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and friends from my days at Jacksonville College have just showered me with encouragement, support and love. I’m so thankful. I’m just so thankful.”

James Salisbury, pastor, Sylvester Baptist Church

“I’m just rejoicing at how good God is. He’s wonderful. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and friends from my days at Jacksonville College have just showered me with encouragement, support and love. I’m so thankful. I’m just so thankful.”

From the time he was a teenager, Salisbury has known T.C. Melton, who today is a field consultant in West Texas for the SBTC. “Since surrendering to the ministry in 1968,” Salisbury said, “Bro. T.C. has been an off-and-on mentor in my life and ministry.” When he heard about what Salisbury calls “the incident,” Melton put out the word that a replacement vehicle was needed.

A couple at an SBTC-affiliated church had an extra vehicle and were praying about what God wanted them to do with it. They were able to give it to Salisbury.

“They told me, ‘God bless you,’ and that when they heard of my need they knew right away I was the one to give it to,” Salisbury said. “I just praise God for his goodness and how he has blessed me and my wife Carley. It was far above what I could imagine at the time would come from this incident.

“The Lord just worked it all out,” the pastor said. “It has eight passenger seats, and I couldn’t have asked anything better for ministry. I can use it in taking people to camp or wherever. Whatever the need, I’m more than equipped right now.”

Mark Van Horn, a 40-year mechanic and owner of a trucking firm, told the TEXAN that what happened to the Trailblazer sounded like a broken fan belt that instead of just breaking free, got caught on something and friction from the rubbing started the fire.

“I tell my drivers, when your headlights go dim or you start losing voltage, stop and check it out,” Van Horn said.