Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
For this next chapter, I will draw upon some experiences I had while in Sydney, Australia, as a young adult. And as crazy as these stories may seem, I had a witness in each instance—a sane, sober, and still-living person, who could corroborate these facts. I will just relate these stories and allow you, the reader, to make your own determination as to their possible explanation—based on whatever religion, philosophy, metaphysics or politics you may hold dear. For when it comes to the topic, some folks swear by the angels while others swear there are no such things as angels—only “coincidence” or explainable “science.”
This first event happened right before midnight. I remember that because, for some reason, it was important that we got this particular batch of mail to the General Post Office in downtown Sydney for a postmark before the next day. We were probably late paying a bill or something else equally mundane. You know how it is: in hindsight, life’s daily emergencies and deadlines tend to pale in their actual importance over the years.
Holding the completed mail in hand, a colleague, Chris and I headed out the back gate. This gate led to the alleyway behind Victoria Street in Potts Point. Potts Point is a euphemism for “The Neighborhood One Block away from Sodom and Gomorrah”—Sydney’s famous Kings Cross—where in the evening hours, the streets’ sidewalks are peopled by those of the persuasion The Kinks sang about in “Lola.”
The alleyway dead-ended just a few feet away, where there arose a very dark, and very imposing, tall, old brick wall. Oddly enough, this wall was the far side of a nuns’ convent which had somehow found the neighborhood conducive to their mission. I never asked why.
We had an old brown Bedford panel van, the kind with sliding side doors. It was a retired bread truck that we had gotten rather cheaply. Now that I think of it, this van deserves a bit more description. Firstly, there was the time while driving along one hot summer day, we decided to slide the door open for ventilation, like how all the UPS truck drivers do.
However, the door slid open a bit too far, coming completely off its rails, then becoming airborne—with me still clutching the handle. I let go just in time so as not to be sucked out into the highway along with the flying door. (There were no seat belts back in those days.)
The other odd feature of this van was its engine compartment, which opened up into the cab area via the aid of two handles that looked better suited for a bread box. Once, while driving to Sydney’s Hyde Park one Sunday afternoon with my new bride in the passenger seat and a bunch of other folks sitting in the back area where loaves of bread had once been transported, this engine trap door exploded open, with bright orange flames roaring out fiercely, right between the two of us.
Somehow I had the presence of mind at that young age to immediately stop, turn off the engine, hop out (first opening that tricky sliding door), run around to the other side and pull my bride out before she herself was baked, and then run around back and open the rear door so that everyone else got out safely. Just then, a big blue city bus pulled alongside us, and the driver hopped out, brandishing his fire extinguisher and put out the blaze. Bravo! The entire event lasted only seconds. But, as a newlywed, and a young Christian, it was something you just don’t quickly forget.
So, as you can see, this van did have quite the colorful history already. What had happened was the line from the fuel pump had come off the carburetor and was squirting fuel directly onto the hot engine block. The good folks at the local Napoli Garage on Albion Street helped us replace the burnt wiring and we were good as new, which allows me to continue this tale.
As things go when you are in a terrible hurry, the battery would be dead. We were parked at the low end of the alley. Try as we might, we couldn’t push the van fast enough to pop the clutch and start it that way; it was quite a challenge with just the two of us lightweights and a very heavy old van. But the mail had to get through! We prayed for help, hopefully suggesting that an angel should drop out of the sky and help us. We were out of practical ideas, obviously, and we had no AAA roadside assistance membership.
Just then, in the stillness of that dark night, we heard a loud crash behind us that made our hairs stand on end. Apparently, above that previously mentioned brick wall there was a metal roof. There were no other structures or trees above it, so there was a very short list of possibilities of what could have fallen and made such a loud thud. It turned out to be Clarence—or whatever his name was—as he didn’t introduce himself.
While we stood still, transfixed, gazing up into the darkness and trying to figure out what was going on, a dark figure dressed entirely in black, including Buddy-Holly-style black eyeglasses, leapt from the roof and landed a few yards from where we stood. “Get in the van!” he ordered as he began running directly at us, at full tilt.
We were only too happy to comply, and we slammed the doors closed. “Pop it into second (gear)!” were the next and final words he spoke. Through my rearview mirror, I could see he was nearly alongside my door and at that moment he made contact with the van with another thud, this one much quieter than the last. The van roared to life, to our great relief.
Under these altered, and improved circumstances, fear immediately turned to gratitude. But there was no one around to thank! Our jump-starter vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Granted, it was dark and he was wearing black; but it was also a very long alleyway with high fences on both sides. Your call . . .
* * * * * * *
The next “mystery” took place at night also, and this time it was cold and rainy—a classic, miserable setting. The scene was by the side of the Hume Highway, partway between Sydney and Melbourne. Back then in the early ‘70s, life was simpler and more innocent, and hitchhiking was a fun, acceptable means of transportation—except when it was raining.
Hitchhiking was also a great way to see the countryside and meet a variety of people, the likes of which you might never otherwise encounter. Over a period of a few years while traversing much of New Zealand and Australia, I got pretty adept at the practice. Except for this particular day, when we must have had opposing cosmic headwinds. My travelling partner and I had a dozen different rides, none of them very long. The last ride dropped us off at a fork in the road, and the driver motored on home, assuring us that this was a great spot to get a ride. It wasn’t.
It got darker and much colder. Vehicles passed us by and none slowed, other than just enough to take a good look at us. The rain got heavier. The unique feature of this spot where we had been let out was that there was absolutely no shelter of any kind, tree or otherwise, to be found. We tried all different styles of hitchhiking poses, but none proved any more convincing.
As it got darker and rainier, we became less visible and we had a few close calls with nearly being run over. By this time, we were fourteen hours into our day. Did I mention that we were also very hungry, thirsty and tired? “We need a miracle!” I exclaimed.
No sooner had the words fallen from my rain-soaked lips than a car screeched to a halt just ahead of us. “Hurry, get in, before you catch pneumonia!” the driver barked. (As if it were our choice to be in this predicament!) “Hungry?” he surmised. “I’ll feed you, but first I have to get a little miracle,” he explained. The two of us hitchhikers silently exchanged amazed glances.
A few moments later, our rescuer stopped at a corner store, ran in and soon emerged with a small tub of “Miracle” brand margarine. I am fairly certain that he winked at us knowingly as he got in. We drove off to his place, which turned out to be a large, ramshackle car-repair garage, strewn all about with parts and tools, and sprinkled generously with oil and grease. In the midst of this filthy chaos, there stood a table and three chairs, with three dinner places already set ahead of time.
The menu included steak, vegetables and toast. The “miracle”—spread—was for the toast. My hitch-hiking buddy and I were too amazed for words. I think we were partly afraid to ask any questions, lest it all disappear just as magically as it had materialized. When our bellies were full, we became sleepy. Looking around, we saw that there was just one well-worn cot in the room.
“Ready for sleep?” our host seemed to sense. We nodded agreement and he directed us to go outside around the corner and sleep there. It was still raining. If this mess was his house, we could only imagine what the guest quarters outside around the corner must look like. But as we reluctantly, yet obediently, trudged out into the darkness, we noticed a dim light and walked toward it. It was the night-light shining in a brand new travel trailer. Yes, you guessed correctly: there were two beds already made up, with two fresh, dry towels, and a glass of water at each bedside table. We slept the sleep of the just that night.
In the morning, our mysterious host fed us breakfast. During the meal, we asked him about himself and his family. He was vague, only saying he had several sons, all around the world. He then drove us to a spot where he assured us we could easily get a good ride. (Where had we heard that line before?) He parked around the corner, where he could keep an eye on us. Perhaps he was a plainclothes cop? Sure enough, in under a minute, a car pulled over to pick us up.
We turned around to wave goodbye to our host, but whoever he was, he was already gone. Our new ride took us 350 miles right to the front door of our destination. Again, I’ll let the conclusion be your call. Was this a visit from an angel in our time of need?