Monday, October 26, 2015

Saved by an Angel?

I was reminded of this excerpt from “God’s Desert Highway” (see tab above) when the subject of angelic visitations came up in conversation this week. It was an unforgettable experience, 28 years ago. [Note: A "wadi" is a dry riverbed that fills up in the rainy season.]

...The next morning, we awoke early and pressed on to the last village we would pass through before Khartoum. From there we had two choices: The long (20 hours) and much more likely to be dry route, or the short (12 hours) and more likely to be wet route. We were told that both should be open, so we chose the short route. As a 12-hour route, it took over 24 hours of driving, pushing, wading, and digging to get through the three wadis in its path. It was a horrible route to have taken.
The first wadi we entered was large. We drove up and down its edge looking for a suitable crossing point. Finally Ahmed stopped and said, "This is the best place for us to cross." Ahmed's "best place" was about 50 yards of water, six to 24 inches deep, under which was six to twelve inches of mud, some of which could be seen above the water’s surface here and there to offer hope. It is difficult to describe the five hours of labour it took us to cross that 50 yards at temperatures that certainly well exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. The mud was often right up to our undercarriage and we were on our bellies in the water trying to dig it out. Then we'd lay branches of the wadi’s trees or shrubs under the tires, and then push. Then after managing to get the vehicle about 80% of the way across, we hit the deepest part. If four local shepherds hadn’t been nearby to come and help us (for a price), I’m sure we would have been there for many additional hours.
Tired, dirty and wet, and our feet cut up from the sturdy thorns of the branches we'd had to walk over as we pushed the vehicle over them, we drove on. The next wadi was worse. Instead of a mere 50 yards of water and mud, this one was at least 100 yards wide, with dozens of deep, steep, muddy and slippery ravines weaving their way across our path. Once again, Ahmed drove up and down its edge looking for the best crossing point. As he began our journey across the wadi at the best place he could find, we entered a ravine that was about five feet deep with slippery mud-soaked sides. We immediately got stuck at the bottom of it. Using piles of branches and some determined digging, we got out, but we got stuck over and over again – the final straw being when all four of our wheels were spinning freely on perfectly level ground in mud that was only one or two-inches deep. And given the energy we’d expended and the heat of the desert, we were getting increasingly fatigued as the wadi was becoming alarmingly impassable. It seemed we couldn’t move forward, and going back the way we’d come was looking equally uncertain as the afternoon sun sapped both our bodies and our spirits. I wondered if we were going to die in this remote and inhospitable place. Then along came a man out of nowhere – a nomad of the land, and he offered us help.
"You'll need to turn back," he told Ahmed. "The farther you go in at this place, the harder it becomes." So he led us out. He just began walking away from us expecting us to follow, and as Ahmed tentatively put his foot on the gas, and as we gave the vehicle a push, the vehicle moved and he was able to turn to follow the man. Somehow – I can’t explain how – he led us out of a place that had taken us over an hour to cross into in a matter of minutes. Once back on the side of the wadi where we’d started, the nomad jumped in the vehicle and directed us north.  It didn’t seem like he took us further than where we had looked before when searching for the best crossing-point, but then suddenly we saw what seemed impossible: a passageway  a level and dry place to cross the wadi where we could drive straight across without a single barrier between us and the other side. 
      Once safely across, we expressed our thanks to him, and as he kindly declined our attempts to pay him for his help, I remember wondering at how gentle the look in his eyes was, and I wondered where he had come from in this lonely place. Eventually, he just turned and walked back into the trees of the wadi from where he’d come. I couldn’t resist wondering if he had been an angel.
Once he had left, and as we paused to take some water from a container we carried, I went aside to a distant bush to be alone for a moment. As I began to thank God for the help he had given us, I began to weep. I remembered the psalm that says, “They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; they did not find a way to an inhabited city. They were hungry and thirsty; their souls fainted within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. He led them also by a straight way, to go to an inhabited city. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness” (Psalm 107:4-8).

It was as though that very psalm came to life for us that day in Sudan. And the only reason we didn’t die was because it seemed as though God showed up.

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