On Monday, March 14, 1994, I was due to go to the United States of America for the first time. I was very excited about this, especially as it would take in three TOTALLY different types of US life and culture: Rhode Island, New England; San Antonio, Texas, to be with some lovely friends, Charles & Paula Slagle, and meet a then up-and coming Christian writer, named Max Lucado(!)… 🙂 and Los Angeles, California. The weekend before, we had a wonderful guy, and good friend, Ian Andrews in our church. It was at a conference with Ian (when I knew little about him), in 1983, that God gave me a raging passion to see the sick healed, but as a shy bloke, with no opportunities to pray for the sick, and no confidence if the opportunities presented themselves….
What happened next was a series of prophecies, in ’87, all of them about our church becoming a mission church, and I was the guy every prophetic preacher pointed to who would go…. aarrgghh! I come from a family of non-travelling people pretty much, so it didn’t bless my socks off.
Within hours, God facilitated the opportunities, and I never looked back. Not true: I OFTEN looked back, and hoped that the call would last at most, a year. And then, a few years on, 6½ to be accurate, the car crash occurred….
I was asked by a friend to write a book about some of the most ‘interesting/weird/wacky/wild/amazing’ experiences travelling had inveigled me in, so I did. But it’s never been published… Adrian Plass edited it for me, and touted it around the publishers (if ANYONE then – or NOW could get a book published it would be Ade, the biggest selling Christian writer in the UK. No joy. Last year, a British company wanted to do it, but I don’t feel right about it…. why?
When I’m in meetings where there’s a ‘big sell’ – be it books, cds, DVDs, bracelets, nose rings, testamints… you name it, whatever… I switch off. If I had to do that, I’d sell no books, as when I finish preaching, I want to keep the Presence of the Lord there without a commercial break, and pray for people…. PLUS…. a £9.99 book: how many would a) I get in my luggage to the Colombias/Mexicos/Africas/Indias of this world, without even thinking about luggage weight (and I don’t travel light – ask my friends!) and b) how many, on $150 annual income, could afford them? This is only a PERSONAL opinion, ok? BUT…. 35 years ago in January, 18th to be exact, I earned my last ever ‘known’ salary cheque: when God called me, he did it with these words: ‘Trust me – for your home, your security, and your income’. Quite hard to misunderstand, eh? And it seems to me, in Matthew 10, when Jesus is sending out the disciples, it’s with some pretty specific words: ‘(my paraphrase) – Tell people the Kingdom of Heaven is here: heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, raise the dead: FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE.’
I get harangued by some people who I should CHARGE for my ministry – ‘my’ ministry? What the heck is that? I don’t HAVE a ministry: it’s GOD’S ministry. ‘My God WILL supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus’. Sure, I have to live: sure, some people CAN give an offering, even a donation. That’s how I’ve ‘survived’ now for 35 years.
This is the preamble to the angel story….
BEEN LIFTED UP BY ANGELS
“You must have a guardian angel looking after you, mate!” The Chief Fire Officer’s comment, as we stood talking on the M4 slip road exit to Heathrow`s Terminal 3, was a great invitation to preach.
We had met in unusual circumstances on this rather public, and, by now, greatly congested motorway, looking at the total wreck of the Mini Metro that had conveyed me to that point from home, in Worthing. And it was rush hour.
“I know I have!” I responded. “Let me tell you about him!” And so began some of the best street evangelism I have been involved in in my life. Conversations about God’s protection and angelic intervention in people’s lives are not the normal thing one talks about in the middle of a motorway in rush hour, with traffic backed up a long way, and people looking in amazement at the total annihilation of our friends’ Jonathan and Kathryn’s car! But then, who said God should not do the unusual? God can do what He wants, when He wants. And for Kathryn and me, this was one of those occasions. A very unusual day.
My experience had already been that God is continually full of surprises!.
The preceding weekend had been pretty different to usual, and pretty amazing, too.
These were pre-“Toronto Blessing” days in England: early March 1994, to be exact. I was looking forward to going to a series of meetings where I could just listen, learn, and receive whatever God wanted to give me. With a first-ever preaching trip to the United States coming up on the Monday, I was nervous, and really wanting some extra and very special from God.
When you spend a lot of time travelling, preaching and teaching, it’s not only valuable, but essential, to get fed from somewhere else. And Ian Andrews, a man whom I’d known for a number of years, and who had had a profound impact on my life in the past, was coming into town. Anticipation was high. Ian is a man who travels a lot as a preacher, teacher, and evangelist. He has seen God do some incredible healing for people, and in revival. I had only really just begun, and I wanted to learn from, and gather up, as much of Ian’s anointing as I could. Ian is one of my heroes.
Never having been a person who falls over when others pray for me (often the people praying for me fall over, and I remain standing bolt upright!), I was not expecting anything untoward or out of the ordinary, just blessing from God. I am one of those of people who, when God is moving by His Spirit and giving good things away to people, goes after all that I can, so maybe I was due for something unusual to happen. I didn’t want to limit God.
When I’d picked myself up off the floor for the fourth time on the first evening, I guess I knew that it was going to be special weekend. Every time Ian came near me, I seemed to hit the deck. This was NOT par for the course for me.
The first few meetings were excellent – a real blessing. But Saturday night had something even more unexpected in store. During the meeting, the speaker, Ian Andrews said that he saw an enormous angel standing on the platform – about nine feet tall, leaning on a sword, point down to the floor, and I had no problem in believing that in the light of what had gone on in the meetings before. Rodney, the Pastor, could see him too. What’s more, the only others who could see him were the children. Maybe that says something about adults and the lack of unbelieving!??
What followed was something I had never seen – or experienced – in all the years I had spent in Christian work, or even in the many more years as a Christian. Ian said that God was wanting to bless people with the specific gift of prophetic vision and insight into nations if they came and stood where the angel stood. I was most definitely in THAT group. It was O.K. for them to stand there – BUT – they would have to be prepared to pay whatever price, cost, or sacrifice God required of them in order to receive this wonderful gift. I was most definitely in THAT group, too.
As someone who had been travelling in ministry for six years or so at that stage, to many different nations, this was something I really could use in the calling God had placed on my life. So I went forward to let God do what He wanted to do, and leave it to Him.
It had all begun in 1970, really. When I was 18, I started going to a youth group some miles from my home; it was a very ‘spiritual’ decision, I convinced myself, but the reality was that there were more single young females there than in my own church! But God moves in very strange ways, and through that youth group, I encountered God in a very new and powerful way through a man who became a mentor, and is still someone I look to and admire greatly. His name is Clive Calver.
Truth is, up until this time, I had been a Christian often in name only. Clive saw through – and cut through – all of that sham, and showed me what a real relationship and friendship with God was like. I know it’s God who draws men to Himself, but so often He uses men or women to lead us there. You know, sometimes, that there are certain people God brings into your life with whom you can be nothing other than yourself. So often we can wear ‘masks’ as Christians, pretending that we’re something we’re not. I felt as though as I was transparent when Clive was around!
A few years later I left my job in one of the big banks to go into full-time Christian work with Youth for Christ. Four years working as an Administrator / Coordinator was a valuable experience for what was to come. This was immediately followed by some time at a ministry training centre – Roffey Place, then under the guidance of Colin Urquhart and Bob Gordon. It involved selling the (last house I ever) owned, to pay the fees with the equity. Roffey was an ‘iron sharpening iron’ experience: a valuable time learning from men of that calibre, plus other great men of God like David Pawson and Nick Cuthbert. For four years after Roffey, God encouraged (pushed??!!) me to establish a Christian video resource library, for schools and churches (if I’m honest, I didn’t want to do that, I was expecting a much more spectacular ‘thank you’ from God for sacrificing my home!) , which grew and grew and was more than a full-time commitment.
Then in 1987, God began to speak to me about travelling, preaching and teaching in different nations, getting involved with people, and encouraging people working in spiritually dry and tough places. This had not featured on my list of “things I’d like to do in the future”: but nine prophetic words later, and I had begun to think that God really was trying to get through to me. “But God, I don’t know anybody abroad! Least of all, Christians!” God doesn’t seem to have a problem with such minor issues as these….. it only seems to be me, or at least, me and a few others!
The prophetic words were soon to be put into action, and within 12 hours there were a number of invitations for the coming year, and a few trips tucked under the belt, to France (twice), Hong Kong, and Ghana. You have to understand that my finally caving in and saying to God, ‘O.K. I’ll go’…also included these words… ‘anywhere except Africa or India!’. I should have thought quicker and added the far east, and South America to the list…. Hong Kong turned out to not really BE Hong Kong, but taking Bibles into China: I’d never have agreed to go on THAT invitation!
Now, as I made my way to the front of the church to join the line of people standing on the angel’s ground, I wondered what might happen. Well, different things happened to everyone…. it was really quite remarkable. The subsequent arrival to Britain of the Toronto experience two or three months later, made these things little more like everyday occurrences. Before that, they were pretty unusual. People shook, fell, laughed: one lady took off like a rocket, upwards, before falling sideways. For me, I felt as though I was plugged into a major source of electricity, more like a sub-station or the national grid, rather than just the mains.
To say it was special would be to understate the event. I knew God had done something. I stood there twice more that night, once trying to pretend I was going to the loo, but then I thought, ‘Ah what the heck, I’m going again anyway!’ I looked forward to the next morning’s meeting, and to seeing what God would do with what He had given to me.
Sunday morning, I asked Rodney if the angel was still there. Discovering that he was, I was up to front to get another dose. Why waste or miss an opportunity? If God is present, and giving things away, who am I not to get as much as I can? James said in his letter (paraphrased here!) in 4: 2-4 – “You don’t get much because you don’t ask for much!” – so I took that on board and ask God for anything and everything He has to give me, whatever the cost. The effect was every bit as remarkable as the night before. I couldn’t wait to go to the United States on the Monday morning.
At the end of the meeting, I asked again if the angel was still around. Ian and Rodney said that he’d gone, and I joked: “That’s because I’ve packed him in the car, ready to go with me to the States tomorrow!” How often do we say things that are intended in jest or as a throw-away comment, and then that same thing comes back to us in unusual ways? Some things we say have so much more significance that we realize: James has something to say about that in his letter, to, about the power of the tongue..
Setting off early on the Monday morning, driven by Kathryn, the wife of good friends, in their ageing Metro, I had no idea of the relevance that the weekend I had just experienced would have on my life. I was flying from Heathrow, so negotiating the M25 (8.00 am exiting on to it from Leatherhead, J9) at rush hour was ahead of us, the busiest stretch of that road too. Unusually, that day, although it’s one of the busiest roads in the world, there were few holdups, and we approached the exit for the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Some minutes earlier, Kathryn had filled the car up with petrol in anticipation of her journey home. As we moved to the M4, and then to the Heathrow exit, we had no idea of what was about to happen – maybe it’s a good job God keeps us in the dark about some things.
Immediately ahead of us was a twin-trailer 38-tonne articulated truck. We followed it onto the exit lane, and we were aware of a car overtaking at great speed to get past the truck. The car clipped the front end of the truck, and we saw the car bumper flying through the air as the driver cut in too sharply and too close, The truck driver stopped dead. Air brakes are pretty good at anchoring up even the largest of vehicles quickly. Kathryn did brilliantly, and responded instantly, and stopped the Metro just inches short of the tail of the truck, now looming immediately above us.
Seat belts are supposed to restrain you in such situations: that’s their purpose. But as we came to a sudden halt, I felt myself being pushed forward very, very gently. It wasn’t that the seat belt didn’t work: it did, but something was irresistibly moving me forward. As I went moved, I glanced in the passenger door mirror – and saw another 38 ton truck coming up behind, who clearly hadn’t seen us or the congestion ahead.
I’ve heard it said that at times like these that your whole life can pass before your eyes, or that even though you know that life could end quickly, things move in slow motion. Well, all of that happened for me…. I watched the truck rushing towards us – I guessed at maybe 40 miles per hour or more – and thought, “He’s not going to stop!” It was a strangely peaceful experience, knowing that in seconds I would be dead, as he would be pushing us straight into and under the back of the truck in front.
In my mind were the words, “This is it, Lord. I’m on my way. I’ll see you in a minute” – but Kathryn told me later that I spoke them out loud. It’s impossible to explain the peace – the peace that passes all understanding is something supernatural from God, and can only be from Him. Split seconds later, the deafening sound of metal being twisted and torn filled our ears, unstoppable involuntary movement, and then, darkness filled the car as we were crushed between the trucks. The noise seemed to go on for ever, but it was only seconds in reality.
As quickly as it happened, it ended. A strange quietness. Behind me, the roof had come down in a jagged point. It would have gone through where my head would have been if I hadn’t gone forward: I’m told that would be the situation when two big vehicles crush a small one. The moving driver swerved very late, so the impact was more – if that was possible – on the passenger side. The front of the car was virtually non-existent, the car itself unidentifiable, comfortably less than half the length the manufacturers had intended for it. The engine was pushed back into the car: the boot up behind the front seats. Glass was everywhere, except where it should have been. I couldn’t move, with roof and boot behind me, and the engine almost on my lap.
I remember, once stillness had come, in thinking, ‘Am I dead?’ I opened my eyes to see twisted, bent, broken metal, unable to move, and glass everywhere. Then I thought, ‘If this is heaven, I’m unimpressed’…. Eternity THERE was not what I have in mind for Eternity with God, and Jesus….
I managed to turn my head to see if Kathryn was O.K., and asked if she was hurt. She said she wasn’t, calmly unclipped her seat belt, and proceeded to climb out of the driver’s door window. Her advantage at being tall and slim, and on the side of the car where perhaps the impact had been a little less, was obvious.
We had, of course, blocked the whole road. The truck that had hit us has jack-knifed across the road, and the driver, plus the driver of the truck we had burrowed underneath of, were out of their tucks, concerned for our safety, in case the car should explode with its full tank of petrol. They tried to tear pieces of metal off the car to get my door open, but I told them that I reckoned that if God had saved my life through this much, then it probably wouldn’t end there, blowing up….
Kathryn then spoke to me one of the strangest things I reckoned to have heard in that situation – or anywhere, for that matter. A crystal clear Word of Knowledge.Words of Knowledge can be like that, and we can choose either to risk saying what comes into our minds (trusting that it was God or being willing to look stupid if it wasn’t!) or we can keep quiet and miss seeing God do something remarkable. Fortunately Kathryn was in the former category, and she said, “I think God’s told me to tell you to swivel your hips” she said.
Hmm…. Not being the world’s most adept hip swiveller (Interestingly, the spell check says ‘driveller’ – prophetic, perhaps??!!), it was an unusual comment, especially bearing in mind that I couldn’t move, with the roof down my back, the engine and bulkhead on my lap, and the boot up behind me. When I was in my teens, and Chubby Checker was topping the charts with the pop song ‘The Twist’, I wasn’t good at it even then. Even after lots of practicing with a bath towel…
I really couldn’t move anywhere, but I did find that, rather than swivel, I could manager a little jerk (I’ve often been referred to as a little jerk, so this was nothing new!) – and, without moving a muscle, I went up and out of the car through where the windscreen should have been, ending up standing on the hard-shoulder with everyone else. If I had tried to climb out the conventional way, on my hands and knees, my clothes and my body would have been ripped to pieces by the broken glass.
“How did you do that?” asked one of the truck drivers. “I guess it must have been an angel,” I replied. And so began the conversations about God, angels, and His protection. All the rescue crews were there, and when the Chief Fire Officer arrived, he looked at the car, and asked where the bodies were. His comment was that they only ever cut decapitated corpses from a car that looked like this one.
From behind him, I said that the driver was the young lady to his left. He looked her up and down, and his next comment contained many colourful expletives, topped off with “….(expletives!) …It’s a good job you’re slim, darlin’”.
I felt it only right to tell him that I was the passenger, and he similarly looked me up and down, back at the car, and then to me again, before saying, with even greater emphasis, “But you don’t fit in there!” Slimness is not one of my attributes, and hasn’t been for most of my life. “No,” I replied. His language was even more colourful as he made his point about the guardian angel.
And so began the hard shoulder evangelism – not to be recommended every day during rush hour on the M4, but for a one-off event, it was great. Conversation carried on for some time whilst looking at the forlorn wreck of the car, before I mentioned that I did have a plane to catch. The fire crews politely suggested that my luggage would not be worth retrieving, as it had been in the boot, and the ambulance men did wonder if I needed to be checked over in hospital.
As the Chief Fire Officer and I spoke, there were many other emergency service teams, plus the usual people who love to stop at a good road accident. The previous twenty minutes or so had been the most spectacular, traumatic, exciting, and thrilling of my life. When you should be dead, you appreciate life all the more, and I was revelling in this gift of life, the protection that God gives us, and the thrill of what had happened.
Ambulance men were trying to persuade us to go to hospital, but hey, God had protected us, and we didn’t even have a scratch. Instead, I asked if anyone could get me to the airport as Kathryn’s car wasn’t going anywhere apart from to a scrap yard. It was gently pointed out to my, by the firemen, that my luggage was in the part of the where the impact had been the greatest, and wouldn’t be in any fit state to travel with, if in fact, it had survived at all.
I have to admit that the suitcase – one of those really chunky thick plastic sided Samsonite ones – DID look a sorry sight as it was pulled from the car – and then proceeded to pop back into shape as they put it on the ground! Nothing was damaged. Astonishing, bearing in mind that, when the car was winched on to the back of a truck, it went in four pieces! And, what’s more, nothing was damaged, not even the delicate things like a camera and disc-man (that dates the story, eh??!!). Having convinced the ambulance guys that I was OK, and that I didn’t need hospitalisation, plans were made to get Kathryn and me to the airport. Kathryn phoned Jonathan to ask if he could come and pick her up from Heathrow. “’I’ve had a bit of a bump in the car. I’m not hurt, but the car’s not driveable!” We made our way at great speed to the airport, in an unmarked police car, about 100 mph, sirens wailing. What a way to go to an airport!
The flight was closed. Anyone who flies will know what THAT means. No chance of getting on. I was too late. Not the answer I was hoping for, and I explained to the young lady at check-in that I’d been held up by an accident. She politely informed me that everyone had been delayed by the accident on the slip road, and yet they had managed to make it to the airport in time. Yes, but were they IN the accident, I questioned? I explained I’d had a long time talking to the police/fire/paramedic crews…“You were in it! But we’d heard it had to have been a fatal crash, judging by the reports we’d had!” I did explain to her that I didn’t think I was dead, that I wasn’t a ghost, and look, I CAN still carry my luggage… but was open to being proved wrong! If this was heaven, though – Heathrow Terminal Three – then I was having second thoughts about heaven in general. I can only think of a couple of airports (then) that would make a worse heaven than this, but I wouldn’t want to mention Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for risk of offending our French friends, or Bombay (Mumbai of course now) at risk of upsetting Indian friends!
A hurried phone call from the check in lady: and – GOOD NEWS! Impossible news… they airline had opened the flight especially for me – and I was on my way, on one of those little carts reserved for the aged and infirm. I didn’t know those things could move so fast. The miracle hadn’t ended even yet, as anyone who flies knows that once a flight is closed, very little will cause it to be re-opened. At the gate, greeted very warmly by a young airline employee, he commented that they had heard about the accident, and did I mind, but they’d taken the liberty of upgrading my seat in case was feeling any after-effects. Did I mind? Do mice like cheese? Do birds like air? Is the Pope Catholic? (Not so sure about the current one..!!). Of course I didn’t mind – it’s every regular traveller’s dream to be upgraded when you can’t afford it – especially to first class!
Luxuriating in my huge leather armchair, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and thanked God for life, for protection, and for angels. A polite voice beside me asked “Would you like some champagne, sir?” It took me all of – about – one second to accept the offer, and I now celebrated life, God, living, and excitement with a glass of bubbly. OF COURSE, I didn’t drink it, being a good evangelical…. 😉 (Liar!!).
During the flight, I went to scratch my head, and this shower of what looked like enormous terminal dandruff, with lumps, settled on the shoulder of my blazer. The rather posh businessman sitting across from me looked at it with disdain and disgust. Some of the lumps were quite big, and sharp…. glass had stayed in my hair, and was now beginning its departure. I thought I ought to explain to the poor chap: and when I did, his face went quite white. “Not the accident on the slip road… my colleague and I were sure the poor passengers were dead. You must have an angel looking after you!”
And off I went again. By now there was no stopping me. Poor man, he was a captive audience, 6-7 hours. I eased off after a while, but he was amazed that we had survived – and not only survived, but were totally unscathed!
My arrival in the States was, as you can imagine, a cause for great excitement now. A great new story to tell. Getting ready for bed that night. I took off my shirt, and there, on the biceps of both arms, were MASSIVE finger and thumb print bruise marks, where the angel had leaned into the car and got me out. If only I could have kept those bruises forever! I ran downstairs to show the folk I was staying with the angel fingerprints…. oh for digital cameras, then: I’d have had hundreds of pictures, as I would of the accident….
A motorway maintenance guy took photos of the car, and promised to send me a set, but I never heard from him. But a few years on, a distant and rarely seen relative, who didn’t know me, turned up to visit my sister and brother-in-law. He’s a traffic policeman covering the M4 and M25 motorways – and it turns out he was there that day, and remembered it clearly. He was stunned: as, he said, were all the police and other emergency people there that day, that anyone could have survived, let alone walk away, from such an accident.
There’s another angle to the story, too. My dad died when I was twelve years old: he was only 41 years old. Physically, dad was fit and healthy, but just worked so hard that he ended up with a coronary. I don’t have my dad’s physique, and carry more weight than I ought to. Some nice, encouraging, Christian friends in our church had said to me that, because of this, I ought to be careful as I could die young like my dad – he was forty-one. For a long time, this hung over me like a curse, and as I approached my mid-thirties, I began to get a little worried.
At a conference in 1986, a wonderful, powerful prophetic man named John Barr prayed for me, and, with words of knowledge and wisdom given to Him by God, prayed about and broke the curse that had been on my life. He spoke prophetic words over me, that were liberating and a great blessing.
So, now Satan had no route to get at me that way; so he tried another. I was forty-one when the car crash occurred. He’d failed again! My forty-second birthday was a time of great rejoicing… One of my favourite all-time quotes is from that amazing revivalist young preacher, Duncan Campbell, who said, “I want to be known in heaven, and feared in hell!” It has become my desire increasingly to do damage to that principality ever since, and to be able to echo Campbell’s words…
I have to confess that I am no theologian. That won’t come as any surprise to those of you who know me (or those who have heard me preach!): my theology of angels could probably leave space on the back of a postage stamp. What I do know is that I believe in them, and I’m grateful to God for them. And I know, too, that sometimes, comments made as a joke, or just as a throw-away, can be so much more significant than I imagine.
Why should God do such a thing for such an ordinary man? I can’t really give an answer to that, either, apart from grace, other than look back on the Saturday night in the meeting, when the angel had appeared. The call for response had been for prophetic vision and insight into the nations, but to be prepared to pay the price. The nations are what God has put on my heart, and something I have a real passion for. And so for life to end so soon after receiving so much might have been a bit pointless.
Jesus said, reported by each of the four gospel writers, that “if a man wants to save his life, he’ll lose it: but if a man is willing to lose his life for my sake, he will surely find it.”1 Matthew even put it in twice, so it must be pretty important. On one level, I don’t want to die yet: I love my family. I love life, and enjoy living. What’s more, there’s a lot of world to see out there, and a lot of God’s Kingdom to establish, and still some prophetic words that remain unfulfilled, so I would like to stay for a bit longer…. but I think I can say with honesty that I don’t want to try and cosset or protect myself from what might happen if I take risks. Maybe that’s why the angel was there: maybe, in almost losing my life, and having told God that I’d pay the price, I found life, just as Jesus had promised.
And you know what? When God has His hand on your life, no one can do anything to you that He doesn’t allow. They can try, but they’ll fail.
There is a wonderful ‘rider’ to this story too. I was asked by Ian Andrews to share this story at a large healing conference in the United States some 8 years after the event. The conference was in a big church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and the wife of the conference organizer (both husband and wife are pastors), has a God-given ability to see angels. After I’d finished the story, she came up to me and said “You know that your angel is still with you”. I thought at first it was a question: and I answered by saying that I was pretty sure he was, as I’d known traveling and health protection for all the years of traveling. She reiterated that it was fact, as when I began to speak, she told me that the angel appeared on the platform behind me, and that he was now ninety feet tall…… and that he had stayed all the time I was speaking. She could only see up to his waist as he went out through the roof….
That was such an amazing blessing. To know that God had not only assigned him to me, but that he’d grown! I had a few thoughts, like – maybe I need more looking after now, or perhaps he was just a ‘boy’ angel in 1994, and was now a man…! All I know is that I am so grateful to God for his presence. And to the angel for all the things he has protected me from. I’d love to know how tall he is now, 19½ years on…
My encounters with angels have not always been quite that dramatic, but they have always been just at the right time. Once, coming back by road from Romania to England with a truck, having taken things to bless our great friends and brothers and sisters there, we found, late at night, that the Hungarian border guards were not being altogether helpful. In those early days of going backwards and forwards across Eastern Europe, you never quite knew from one trip to the next what papers you were going to need, and often found that there was a demand for paperwork that you knew nothing about, and didn’t need last time.
On this occasion, we arrived late at night at a remote border point: we successfully negotiated our way out of Romania, and drove through the strange piece of no-man’s-land to Hungary. I’m sure that the lady on duty that night had thrown the hammer for Russia in the heavyweight division in the Olympics years before (the only thing missing now was the beard..), and to say she was proving unhelpful would be an understatement! I guess when you know it, Hungarian is an easy language, but to the occasional traveller to that lovely country, it sounds – and looks in writing – like a computer with acute indigestion. How can anyone put c, z, x, and l together and make it a language? Beats me, but then I am British, and we’re not renowned for our adept language skills!
Miss Hammer Thrower did NOT want to understand me, or be understood. And no, there was no one who spoke English. My Hungarian was limited to the words milk shake (yper fagylalt), and Sunday, so conversation was restricted to say the least. But Sunday is a great word – zombat, if I remember correctly. I’ve occasionally felt like one of those – a zombat (very onomatopoeic word!) in some churches sometimes. I could sort of make out that she was asking for a specific document, which I didn’t have, didn’t know I needed, and hadn’t needed before. Yes, I could obtain it – in Budapest, many miles away, but not in the middle of the night – and anyway, she wouldn’t let us go through to Budapest to get it. As well as the truck, we had a car – and my family was in it, then pretty young, and beginning to get unsettled by the long delay. I pleaded with Hammer Lady, but border guards’ ears can sometimes be remarkably deaf, and I was starting to envisage life in this no-man’s-land area, living in a truck.
At that moment, a man appeared behind me, a commercial truck driver. To get to where he was would have meant pushing past me, from the doorway. He said that he was taking bananas how strange, I thought to Romania, and had been turned back at the Romanian border. It didn’t strike me as odd until later on, but taking bananas from Hungary to Romania? At that time of night, it seemed a little strange, to say the least. He just happened to speak fluent English, have a spare copy of the correct paper, and not only gave it to me, but completed it for me. He had a brief, heated, conversation with Molotov Cocktail lady, and she grudgingly stamped the form and our passports to release us. I turned to thank the man – but he’d gone – and to go, he would have had to go past me. I checked outside for him, but there was no sign of him or his truck anywhere.
Was he an angel? I believe so. The same one as in the accident, but now in another disguise? Who knows but God and the angel. Hebrews 13:2 says that we can meet angels without realising it. In any disguise. Another angel, I’m sure, turned up at the Austria – Hungary border on a similar trip: he helped us through a difficult situation. This time, he was dressed in army uniform and carrying an AK47 machine gun. And in Bogota Airport, Colombia, my luggage, and that of my friend Dave, a worship leader, had gone missing. Bogota is one of the airports where you would least want your luggage to go on a holiday of it’s own, particularly when part of it was Dave’s prized and valuable guitar.
Trying to communicate in my very limited Spanish to airport staff was proving almost wholly fruitless. Until, once again, a man appeared at my shoulder, speaking excellent English, asking if he could help. Whilst he wasn’t able to physically produce our luggage out of thin air, he did ascertain that it would be on the next flight in to Bogota from Cartagena, and that it was all under control. His intervention, in smoothing the communication difficulties, meant that we were just able to get to the international airport in time to catch our flight home, albeit without our luggage. That had a slightly longer trip than we did.
Were they angels? I think to make a decision that they were not, and they just happened to be there by coincidence is actually to miss out on something potentially very special. These people were exactly what we needed, when we needed them – in disguise, yes, but if we are to meet or entertain angels unaware, then surely this is how it will happen. I thank God for them, and look forward to meeting many, many more in the years ahead.
Final rider to the ‘crash’ story. John & Kathryn had been tying to see their aged, rusty Metro for a while, for £600. No takers, unsurprisingly. The Insurance company gave them £1400, if I remember correctly…..
1Matt 10:39, 16:25 Mark 8:35 Luke 17:33 John 12:25