13. A WALK WITH THE ANGELS
Jesus said, “Be not afraid, go. I will be with you always.” These words in Matthew, the 28th chapter, become to me a living reality. Sometimes God allows His servants to die. John the Baptist was beheaded. Stephen was stoned to death. Paul was killed in Rome. Peter was killed in Rome. Yet, at other times God has chosen to spare his followers. Like Daniel in the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Paul and Silas in prison.
The following experience in my life is one of those times where God chose to spare death in His own divine way. It is not to my merit that I was given this miracle. Many more holy than I have had the honor to be martyred for Christ. It is simply the sovereignty of God. He chose to extend my life for His purpose. I shall not attempt to prove this story. At this writing all the people who are spoken of by name in this experience are alive. They, too, speak of this miracle in war-torn Nicaragua.
The Pan American Highway South of Leone, 1978- At the end of a long day’s walk, I arrived where my four-wheel van truck was parked with our small camping trailer. Mike Ooten was driving the truck which was full of gospel material, and the trailer was my daily bed. Don Price, a veterinarian from Key Largo, Florida, was with me for a two-week vacation to interpret Spanish for me and also to teach me Spanish. They were parked by the roadside talking to a few people who had gathered. There were only a few scattered houses nearby with a few old people and children about. Don and Mike had talked to them about Jesus before I arrived. The people were saying in Spanish, “Don’t stay here. They will kill you. At night everything on this road dies. Go on to the next town and sleep at the church. You will be safe there.”
The civil war in Nicaragua was raging at the time, the Sandinistas’ popular guerilla movement against the Somoza government dictatorship. It was a horrible and bloody war. Terror was everywhere.
“I never run,”‘ I said. “We will sleep where we stop with the cross. I have learned you never run. You must face fear and overcome it, or it will haunt you.”
The old man who had spoken made the sign of the cross as we parked the truck and trailer under a tree. It is very uncommon for us to park under a tree, because birds often park in them.
We opened some cold canned food, ate and soon we were in bed. Mike was in the front bed, and I was at the back on the bottom, and Don at the back on the top bunk. I was too exhausted to think. I went sound asleep just after I lay down. The night was hot and I was wet with sweat. A loud banging on the side of the trailer and the loud voice of a man yelling, “Narcotica policia” woke me. I shook my head, sitting up in bed, and pulled back the window curtain to look out. A gun was in my face.
I turned on the light, slipped into my pants and opened the door. There were guns pointed at me. One short, middle aged man put a pistol directly in my face, pushing me back and stepping in.
All were in khakis or blue jeans and plain shirts. Several had mustaches and most were in their late teens or early twenties. Several came into the trailer and looked around as if they were going to buy it. Don did not say a word, even though he spoke Spanish. Mike was sitting up in bed wondering what was going on. He could not find his glasses.
“What’s happening Arthur, what’s going on with all these guys?” he asked sleepily.
“Pray, Mike. Pray.”
The short man waved his pistol toward the door. They took me by the shoulder and arm and as I started out I reached up and grabbed the truck keys. This was simply on an impulse, for no particular reason except maybe I thought they might want the truck and they could have it.
There wasn’t a doubt these were not narcotics police. The people would later say they were government troops, the government would say there were guerillas. Never mind who, the problem was terror on the roads to rob, to kill and to terrorize the land.
I began to witness in the little Spanish I knew. “Dios te ama. (God loves you) Jesus will forgive you and come to live in your heart.”
No one seemed to hear my words. I could see seven men with rifles and pistols, plus two more lying on the back of the truck with machine guns protecting the others. It was a clear night and beautiful. Maybe they want to rob us, I thought, but no. They took me beside the truck and stood me there with orders not to move. They lined up about 15 feet away, raised their guns and pointed them toward me. Suddenly I realized they were going to shoot me. I was standing before a firing squad.
The cross was on top of the truck and difficult to get to. Now, this is what flashed through my mind. If I’m going to die I don’t want to die without a Bible. The guns were all aimed at me as I suddenly turned to the right, took about two quick steps and reached to put the key in the truck keyhole. I did it on the first try. I was thinking, even if they shoot me I think I can get the door open before I die and grab a box of Bibles. The men were screaming, “No, no!”
I swung the door open, raised the front seat and grabbed a box of Bibles. The gunmen had no way to know what I was getting or doing. Only God knows why they didn’t shoot, but my thought was, if I’m going to die, what does it matter whether I get it from the front or from the back?
I set the box of Bibles on the ground and tried to get it open. It was bound with strong corded tape which made it almost impossible to get open. I could see the feet of the men around me and feel their pull on my shoulder trying to get me up. After getting an opening in the box of American Society Bibles, I thought I’d give them all a Bible too, filling my arms as I stood up. No one was there!
What’s happening, I wondered. The glory of God was present, and then I saw the unbelievable. All the gunmen were on the ground, fiat on their backs. The short man who seemed to be the commander was lying inside the trailer with only his feet and legs sticking out. As I walked toward them they began to slowly get up in a daze. The man at the door now sat collecting himself.
I said in Spanish, “Do you want a Bible?”
“We won’t bother you,” he said.
I grabbed a water bottle and offered them water. All of them jumped up and raced away into the night with no truck lights turned on. I stood in silence. What had happened? It was all so fast!
As I walked into the trailer Don said, “We thought you were dead.”
“They were going to kill me, shoot me,” I said. “But I opened the truck and got some Bibles. When I looked up the men were on the ground.”
“Arthur, we could hear the blows of meat against meat. We thought they were killing you. Then we heard them yell ‘0-o-o-oh’ and they came falling back. One of the men fell into the doorway.”
We sat up talking and talking. At dawn as I prepared to leave, carrying the cross down the highway, the people of the houses were there. They were saying, “We saw a bright light. God was here and the gunmen fell to the ground.”
That very same night, in Phoenix, Arizona, Paul and Jan Crouch of TBN, were in bed about to go to sleep. They had done some special programming on Channel 21. Just as Jan was about to go to sleep the ceiling of the room lit up with my face. In the vision she saw me about to die. Jan grabbed Paul and shouted, “Paul, pray! Arthur is about to die!”
She had been reading Billy Graham’s book, Angels and she prayed in her own special and beautiful way. “Lord, send twelve big angels down right now and deliver him.” Soon they felt peace as Jan said, “Arthur is okay now.”
It was the same night, the same, time, 2:00am Nicaragua time, 1:00am Phoenix time.
A few nights later we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, and telephoned back to the United States and heard the rest of the story.
Jesus said, “Be not afraid, go. I will be with you always.”
Days after the firing squad experience, I reached southern Nicaragua. The crowds were gathering in each village and town to welcome me and the cross, and to hear the words of Jesus. All day the people were with me. Thousands and thousands … little children in their dirty clothes, teenagers, old men and women … everyone wanting to get near. I had no interpreter so I preached all the Spanish I knew. At the end of the day I was exhausted. The heat was intense. The night before I had no sleep at all as we were parked with the truck, trailer and cross in the center of a big gun battle. Soldiers were crawling about in the houses and buildings, firing, but no one shot at us. I sat on the hood of the truck and several times and preached. Mike and I talked so they would see who we were.
Several times soldiers would dash up to us, get gospel materials, and then run off to fight. It was now two days and one night without sleep and constant ministry. Even after dark I was walking. Every cell in my body seemed to ache and be weary. I could see the trailer ahead. When I got there I was totally exhausted, but I preached. I was so sleepy and tired, I said, “Mike, go on up the road to a place where there are no people and stop there. I can’t sit here all night trying to talk. Help me, move on up.
I lifted the cross again and walked into the darkness as Mike gave the crowd gospel material. Mike blew the horn as he passed me by.
“Oh, Lord, help him find a quiet place,” I prayed.
Oh, it feels so good to be exhausted in the service of God! It was a dark night and difficult for me to see where to walk. Finally I could see the lights of a town ahead. I hoped Mike could find a quiet place on the roadside. Then I saw one of those little roadside restaurants with about 15 people in it. They saw me and started toward the door. I saw the trailer parked at a closed gas station ahead. I did not stop walking. I could only pray, “Lord help me make it a few more steps.”
Arriving at the trailer I leaned the cross against it, opened the door and just fell into my bed still dressed in my dirty, smelly clothes. I was breathing hard and pouring sweat, hungry, tired and weak.
“Oh, Jesus, help me,” I whispered, too exhausted to take off my shoes. “Mike,” I whispered, “there are some people coming over from that restaurant, you witness to them.”
I heard Mike’s voice, filled with excitement and wonder, “Arthur, Arthur, you won’t believe it! Look!”
I could hardly get up to look out the window. Coming down the road was an amazing sight. You could see from the lights of the gas station, a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people running through the night. Out of the town, toward us, the entire town was coming out to see the cross and hear about Jesus. I fell back exhausted, “Mike, you preach.”
The crowd gathered outside the door. I could hear Mike in his few words of Spanish trying to tell the people about Jesus. My Spanish is so poor it takes the grace of God for me to lead anyone to Jesus, but for Mike it takes a miracle, like Pentecost!
I began to smile, then to laugh. My heart was overcome with the eager and hungry hearts. Tomorrow they may die in this war. I got up, stood at the door. Those beautiful faces were shining in the reflected light. My aching body was rejuvenated, my mind clear, my heart afire. Words poured forth in Spanish. I looked. These were my people; this is my home, the roadsides of the world!