After the Flood: Sowing Charity From Tragedy

Five years ago this week, Robert Rogers was driving home from a wedding in Wichita with his wife, Melissa, and their four young children when a torrential downpour swept their minivan off a Kansas highway.

They were caught in a flash flood, later estimated at six feet high and hundreds of feet wide. As their vehicle filled with water, Rogers struggled to kick open a window and pull his wife and children to safety.

Instead, he and Melissa and their oldest daughter, Makenah, were instantly sucked through the window and into the raging water when the pressure inside their vehicle changed.

Rogers was the only survivor.

In the middle of the night, the van was found a mile and a half from the highway, upside down, with Rogers' three youngest children, Zachary, 5, Nicholas, 3, and Alenah, 1, still buckled into their car seats.

Several hours later, the body of 8-year-old Makenah was found a half mile from the van. Melissa, his wife of 11 years, wasn't found until three days later, in a retention pond, two miles from the highway. Rogers had to identify each of his family members.

Rogers told ABC News he repeated a mantra to himself over and over again in the days after the flood.

"We will get through this,'' he said to friends and family. "We will rise above this."

You don't get over the pain, he said. "You get through it.''

Five years later, Rogers said that he survived the mind-bending grief through his faith in God and through a novel charity project. He is raising money to open an orphanage on five different continents, each to honor a member of his family.

"When I was drowning with my family underwater in the darkness, I could literally sense the peace of God assuring me that they were all going to heaven and that it was all going to be OK,'' Rogers writes on his Web site, Into the Deep, which is also the name of a book he has written about the experience. "There was no pain. There was no fear. I continued to simply trust God. Somehow, he pulled me above the rapids and over to the shore. It's a miracle I'm alive."

Rogers opened an orphanage in Russia in 2006 to honor Melissa. It is a home for eight teenage girls. Construction has begun on a second one in Rwanda, in honor of Makenah. Robert says Makenah had an affinity for the African Children's Choir.

Faith and Hope

Members of the choir stayed with their family during a tour of Kansas City.

Rogers says he hopes to build an orphanage in Alenah's name somewhere in Asia because she was from China, adopted eight months before she died.

For Zachary, Rogers said, he and his ministry hope to build a special-needs camp somewhere in North America because Zachary was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

For the youngest son, Nicholas, Rogers says they will probably build an orphanage in India. Rogers spent time there after the deadly tsunami in 2004.

Rogers, a former electric engineer, now spends his time traveling the country and talking to groups about how people can find hope in the midst of tragedy. He challenges people to know God and to live a life with no regrets. Rogers wears a special wristband that reads "KNOW GOD no regrets." He has passed out more than 30,000 wristbands.

Rogers says he was never bitter. He didn't see the point of being angry. He said he wanted to do something constructive and productive. He saw tremendous good from telling his story -- saying it has motivated people to be better to their spouses and children. He says hundreds of people have told him they are going to change the way they live their lives.

But he said the psychic wounds from that day will likely never heal completely. Rogers still cries for his loss, he said, but those "tears have a way of flushing away specks of grief, bit by bit."

Rogers says that he went to a professional grief counselor for three years after the tragedy. He says he has learned to not hold back the pain, saying it helped him with the healing process by writing a book, telling his story and composing songs.

As an engineer, Rogers has gone over that night hundreds of times wondering whether he did everything right.

Memory and Pain of Losing Family

After the funeral, Rogers saw a calendar that his daughter Makenah had drawn a year earlier.

For the month of September -- the funeral for his family was in September -- there was an image of Makenah holding six balloons ascending to heaven. There was also a woman driving a bus with three children in car seats. September was the only month that Makenah had colored on the calendar.

He said the memories of his eldest daughter -- he played piano with her -- inspired him to write a song for her called "What Is Heaven Like?" That too, he said, helped release some of his grief.

Rogers has since remarried. He met his wife, Inga, through some mutual friends in 2004 and after an initial friendship they started dating. He and Inga married in 2006. And he is a father again. Inga gave birth to a son last summer named Ezekiel Thomas. They are expecting another child in December.

On Saturday night, at 9:18 CT, Rogers will mark the five-year anniversary by lighting five candles, releasing five balloons, eating a bowl of ice cream and reading scripture Psalm 46.

Why a bowl of ice cream? It has special meaning for Rogers, he said. The last thing the family did together, just before leaving Wichita for their drive home, was to stop for ice cream. His first date with Melissa was for ice cream and when he met Inga, she was eating ice cream.

ABC News' Chris Francescani contributed to this report.