Sunday, 23 September 2012
On August 28, 1985. I arrived at Amsterdam on a flight from Mumbai-then Bombay-expecting a contact to collect me.
The flight had been long and tiring. I had left Cochin the previous morning, waited at Bombay airport till midnight, and then flown to Amsterdam via Cairo. I wanted to have a good rest before my next appointment, so I was eagerly looking about the arrival area, trying to spot a person holding up a card with my name on it.
Before long, I began to feel uneasy. I couldn’t see anyone waiting for me. Perhaps no one is going to meet me, I thought. Or maybe my contact has been delayed. With a tired sigh, I decided to find my own way to the hotel.
I reviewed my alternative, including making a phone call, which would mean moving my luggage to the telephone booth and risking the possibility that my contact would miss me. While I was trying to decide what to do, I spotted a van from my hotel maneuvering between cars. Not wanting to waste further time, I made for the van, knowing that hotel transportation is always safer for a stranger.
To my dismay, on reaching the hotel I discovered that they were fully booked and my name was not on the waiting list. I found a phone, called my office, and was informed that a booking had been made for me in another hotel. Of course, if I had only waited patiently for my host to meet me at the airport, he would have taken me to the right place. My only choice now was to take a taxi.
I hailed one on the hotel forecourt. The driver was quite helpful. He loaded my baggage and showed me into the vehicle. As he sped along, I felt thankful he wanted to give me such a quick ride. In no time, I thought, I’ll be getting a shower and breakfast-then I can rest, take my blood pressure medication, and be ready for my afternoon appointment.
Suddenly the taxi pulled to a stop.
When I looked up, I saw that we were on a deserted road. I knew immediately I was in danger. As I watched, the driver reached up and tugged at his hair, which fell away in his hand. He had been wearing a wig! Then he briskly opened a briefcase he had on the front seat. Fear jolted through me when I saw what it contained: a gun, a knife, and a syringe, probably filled with a poison or a drug.
I wanted to get out of the taxi, but he driver would not let me. Instead he searched me and the contents of my suitcase thoroughly. The only money I had was twenty guilders, which was worth $7.00. Disappointed the taxi driver vented his frustration over “kidnapping the wrong person.” He grew angry-with me, my luggage, and his car. He probably realized that he would end up behind bars if he released me. His only option was to get rid of me.
He drove onto the expressway, probably with the intention of killing me and throwing my body into a canal. No matter what I said, he would not listen. In desperation, I opened the left rear door, stretched out my arm and shouted for help, trying to alert someone in a passing vehicle. It was of no use. No one noticed my frantic efforts. When the robber saw what I was doing, he became even more angry, and reached for his gun. Desperate, I gave up my efforts to escape. I even asked him to forgive my foolishness, hoping a friendly approach would pacify him.
What should you do when your life is in danger? Who is there to give you counsel? I’d had a sleepless night of air travel. I hadn’t yet taken my blood pressure medication. I was physically tired and emotionally distressed. I couldn’t even remember the things I had learned in counseling about dealing with distraught or dangerous people. I was at a loss as to what to do.
Suddenly I heard a whispering inside me. “Son don’t you know that many people are praying for you right now?” A sense of calm began to fill me. My family and many people around the world pray for me regularly. Being reminded about this intercessory prayer was comforting and encouraging.
Reassured, I learned forward and spoke boldly to the robber. ”Look! Many people are praying for me. You cannot kill me! Please take me to the hotel I told you to drive me to!” He didn’t even respond. I continued to talk to him, seemingly without any effect. Finally I said, “I am going to join them in prayer as well. You cannot kill me.”
As I bowed my head in prayer, I was reminded of the way God had delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, and how Paul and others in the ship taking him to Rome were delivered from the shipwreck. Then there came to my mind a part of the prayer my son Ronnie had said just before I left on my trip: ”Lord, may none of the assaults of the evil one come near us.”
I was greatly strengthened. My fear of that gun and knife vanished. I sat in the back seat of that taxi and continued praying-praying to the One who hear our prayers. I knew without a doubt that God had heard the prayers of my family and friends. He had spoken to me through that inner voice to confirm this.
Another soothing thought came to me while I sat there praying. I recalled a Bible verse my grandmother taught me when I was four years old: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me.” In The Living Bible, this verse reads: “Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way” (Pslam 23:4).
Though my situation was frightening, that Bible verse calmed me. I felt Someone close beside me, guarding me. It was as if the Lord was sitting and riding with me. That was so precious.
So often, I had read promises such as, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Mathew 28:20), and “God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in times of trouble. And so we need not fear even if the world blows up” (Pslams 46:1-2) Now I knew God’s promises were real ; they are there for us to use. They are relevant and meaningful, and they can bring us peace in the midst of fear. That is exactly what they did for me that night.
Suddenly, I wanted to share that peace. Instead of commanding or cursing the driver, I tried to become his friend. I talked to him about the One who was sitting with me in his cab. Again he did not respond, he just kept driving-fast. But I was not distressed Terms like “the dark valley of death” and “God is close beside me guarding me” were echoing inside me, yet what I felt inside was peace.
Finally, the robber spoke, his gruff voice breaking the silence: “If you assure me you will not report me to the police, I will release you.”
“I will be very grateful if you do that, “I replied immensely thankful. I was ready to get out right there on the roadside, even if it meant leaving my baggage with him. I told him so.
“No, I will take you to the hotel,” he said in a soft voice.
He turned the cab and suddenly I knew we were heading for the hotel instead of the dark valley of death. When we were still a little distance away, the robber pointed out the hotel to reassure me. At long last, he pulled to a stop.
Don’t get out or open the door, “he instructed I obeyed him. I saw him carrying my baggage to the hotel lobby. “Leave all the money you have on the front seat,” he said when he returned. I informed him I only had twenty guilders with me, which was sufficient to pay the fare for the original five-minute ride. I handed him the money with gratitude, and he then escorted me to the front lobby and pushed me inside the reception area where he had left my baggage. Then he was gone.
I felt week with relief. Oh, I am not afraid of death; I am immortal until my work is done. After my work on this planet is finished, there is no point in remaining here. But I did not feel that my work was done, and I was grateful to know that God agreed!
When I was finally in my hotel room getting ready for a shower, I began to relieve that taxi ride. The more I thought about it, the more I thanked the Lord. After the shower, I began to imagine my body floating in that canal water and my family waiting for my return. What terrible pain and distress my disappearance would have caused them. Once again I thanked God for his intervention and protection.
Looking back, I know that what controlled this dangerous situation was prayer. Whether we go through dangerous experiences or not, God hears our prayers. Prayer is an expression of our faith in God, and we show our love toward others when we pray for people and their needs.
When we pray, we have the assurance that God is listening. I can pray boldly. Even if I am not sure how to pray, I can know that prayer is a spiritual exercise and that God’s Holy Spirit is decoding my words, making them acceptable to God.
I remember, for example, when my daughter Annie was one-and-a half years old. She used to crawl to the dining table where we kept a pretty, double edged knife for cutting bread and other items. One day Annie asked me for the knife so that she could play with it. As a living father, I sensed her real desire- to play with something pretty –and so I gave her a brand new toy. Though Annie had asked for a knife, which would have been dangerous in the little hands of a child, what she really wanted was a toy. I “decoded” her request, and gave her what was best for her.
Likewise, our prayers are decoded by the Spirit. Even though we are not always sure how to pray, we can still ask, believing that God will give us only the best. Romans 8:26
God wants so much to care for us in all we face. Too often we don’t realize that! Nor do we realize the many ways God is able to help us. In Luke 8:23-24, we read of an incident when Jesus was with His disciples in a boat. Suddenly “a fierce storm developed that threatened to a swamp them, and they were in real danger…’Master, Master we are sinking!’ they screamed. So Jesus spoke to the storm: ‘Quiet down,’ he said, and the wind and waves subsided and all was calm!” (Luke8:23-24). Those disciples had already experienced the presence of Jesus; now they experienced his power.
Many people wonder if we can also experience that power today. There I so much evil in the world. We have to overcome many unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, situations. We find it difficult to overcome with only our own strength. How wonderful that we do not need to do so! God not only gives us the strength we need, but He also comforts and encourages us! He knows our anxiety and fear.
In fact, Jesus came to earth to know our pain, fear, and anxiety. That was one of the purposes of the incarnation-of God becoming man ”Since he himself has now been through suffering and temptation, he knows what it is like when we suffer and are tempted, and he is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrew 2:18).
God’s power is available to each of us. He waits to enable us to overcome every dangerous situation we will ever face. The grace that enabled Jesus to walk through the world overcoming all difficulties and problems is able to support us and sustain us today. I know this for a fact-I have experienced it first hand!
I later found out that the person sent to meet my flight at the Amsterdam airport had, indeed been delayed. If I had made my own arrangements, I would have planned beforehand without making any on-the-spot decision. If I had known earlier about the hotel reservations, I would have made foolproof arrangements. But things seldom work as we expect them to. We face risks every day. And the greatest –and best-risk any of us can take is that of trusting God and believing that He will fulfill His promises to us!