My husband and I were married in 1965. By 1968, we had become involved with a Christian church denomination that kept the annual biblical Feasts and Holy Days—Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Pentecost, the Day of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The emphasis of these celebrations was on how they all pointed to the plan of salvation through the life, death, resurrection, and soon-coming rulership of Jesus in the Millennium.
The biggest of these celebrations in the church’s tradition was the fall Feast of Tabernacles. This was a “pilgrimage” celebration for everyone, kept in centralized “feast sites” around the country (and around the world.) People would travel for hundreds or even thousands of miles to get together for eight days in what might be described by outsiders as looking like a cross between a vacation and a church convention.
So for the first 20 years of our marriage, this was usually the highlight of our year. Our daughter Ramona was “born into” this tradition in 1970, and it became the highlight of her year also. My husband George was ordained at one of these Feast of Tabernacles gatherings in 1980, and pastored a church congregation for the next eight years.
Unfortunately, as has been historically true throughout Christendom, it’s all too easy for “church politics” to rear its ugly head in any denomination. When it does, it can ruin friendships, denominational affiliations, and much more. That has happened to us a number of times.
One of those times was in 1988. Because of what we viewed as intolerable circumstances in the leadership of the denomination we were part of at the time, George resigned from the ministry. Most of the people in our congregation didn’t understand our reasons and wanted to maintain the group’s affiliation, which meant we had to leave them behind also. A handful of people in our area did share our concerns. So we had a tiny home fellowship group that met with us for a while. But it eventually dwindled down to just our closest friends and their son, who was three years younger than Ramona. Since they were both “only children” and we had spent extensive time together since his birth, he was like a very close cousin.
One of the most difficult things to face after leaving the church organization was that we no longer had any plans for what to do for the Feast of Tabernacles. We knew that God wouldn’t condemn us for “keeping the feast at home” if we had no other choice. But the long tradition of “going away” every year where you could meet others from all over the country and enjoy a break from the grind of the rest of the year held many happy memories for us. So the thought of doing “nothing” for the Feast for the first time in over 20 years was puzzling and uncomfortable. The first fall, George and Mona and I decided to “try out” a feast site in Florida of one of the very few small “independent” groups that had split off from the denomination we had been part of. We were very disappointed in their nitpicking approach to doctrine and practice, so the official “feast” was mostly a waste of time. But while we were in the area, we took a side trip to see Disney’s Epcot Center for the first time. And that ended up being “the highlight of our feast.”
Whatever one may think about the “commercialization” of Epcot, I personally found it an incredibly inspiring experience. I viewed the attractions there as seeing a concentrated glimpse of a “God’s eye view” of the some of the greatest natural wonders that God has created around the world, and at the same time a concentrated glimpse of some the most impressive efforts of man to use the natural creative gifts that God has bestowed on Mankind. “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow”… hey, it even had a built-in Millennial theme, which had traditionally been a focus of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles! When we returned home, I was absolutely adamant that we must take our closest friends there the following year “for the Feast” so that I could share the experience with them.
So thus it was that in the fall of 1989 we headed out from Michigan in a two-car caravan for Florida. I had prepared a little “daily devotional” for the trip, based on the Days of Creation. Each day we would focus on one of the aspects of creation, read some inspirational thoughts and some scriptures, sing some related songs, have a little discussion.
Our friends had a tiny, dumpy two-door Chevette, and we had an old model Ford sedan. Just as we arrived at our destination for the first night on the road, Cave City, Kentucky, near Mammoth Cave, the radiator on our old Ford began leaking heavily and spewing steam. We limped into the motel parking lot, and George went to check on an auto parts store. He decided it must be a problem with the thermostat, so he bought one the next morning and installed it. And just in case, he bought a can of “Stop Leak.” And so we headed back out on the road.
But less than five miles down the road, the radiator began spewing again, and we took the first exit, to an expressway rest area. George was under the hood trying to figure out what to do next when a seasoned trucker walked up and proceeded to have a look himself and offer advice.
His advice was that there was NO hope for that radiator, using Stop Leak was a waste of time, and we’d be lucky to make it to the next exit… ain’t NO way we’d be getting to Florida without a new radiator. He noted there was a big truck stop just down the interstate, and that we’d better fill the radiator back up with water and try to make it to there and get that new radiator. He looked like the kind of guy who knew what he was talking about, so we decided to take his advice… having no other option anyway.
So off we went down the road again, headed for the truck stop. All of a sudden, I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed… we had accidently just passed the truck stop exit while in conversation! And at that moment, the radiator began spewing again. George had no choice but to pull off at the following exit… which was out in the middle of nowhere… with NOTHING at the exit. No gas station, no place to get more water to put in the radiator, no nothing. And it was too far to make it back to the truck stop exit because of the condition of our radiator.
We limped slowly down a deserted two-lane blacktop road in the boonies of Kentucky, not even a farmhouse in sight, wondering where it was headed. I saw a scrawled hand-painted sign on the side of the road advertising the phone number of a local “garage” that did repairs, but there was no phone in sight (and this was before cell phones!) so what good was that?
Then we finally reached a small diner even farther out in the middle of nowhere. There were no cars in the lot even though it was approaching noon, so we didn’t even know if it was still in business. But the car had hit its limit and we had to stop. I suggested that the guys drive the Chevette back to that sign and get the phone number, and then try to use a phone in the diner.
They headed off, and we women and the kids got out of the cars and stood around. I suggested we pray about the situation. Ramona’s “cousin” was a totally cynical 15 year old at the time, who was bummed out on God and religion after all we’d been through in the church politics wars. But he grumblingly held hands with us and bowed his head as the guys returned and headed over to the diner. The four of us started to pray. We reminded God that the whole reason we were there was because we wanted to honor Him at this special celebration time of year, and asked Him to please “Do something.”
As we dropped hands, and looked up after the Amen, we wondered how that TRUCK next to the cars had come without us hearing it pull up. And out jumped a man who came over and asked what the problem was. “Well,” he said, “I’m a Ford mechanic by trade. Want me to have a look?” Our resident cynic’s eyes got REAL big at about that point. We hollered at the guys to come back, and we all stood around our Ford while the mechanic tinkered a bit.
When he was done, he told us he was absolutely certain if we’d just dump in that can of Stop Leak, get some water at the diner (which was open after all) to fill up the radiator, and follow his suggestions carefully, we’d make it to Florida. He described the route we would need to take, and noted one big steep hill on the interstate in Tennessee in particular that would overheat the car for sure if we didn’t stop at the bottom at the diner there and let it cool off completely before heading up the incline.
No, he didn’t disappear as discreetly as he came. He just drove off. We were all tempted to think he might have been an angel … if it weren’t for that T-shirt he was wearing with the slightly risque’ slogan on it. It said “Mechanics have bigger tools.”
Yep. We made it all the way to Florida a day and a half later, after cooling off the car at the bottom of that steep hill before we tackled it. Well, we made it to just over the border from Georgia, anyway. JUST as we crossed into Florida, the radiator began spewing again. So we pulled off into a parking area and got out. I was almost tempted to be discouraged… until I looked across the highway at that moment and saw… a rainbow. Again out of nowhere. We all grinned, found some water nearby to fill the radiator, and headed for Kissimmee, arriving before dark.
Early the next morning we headed for Epcot. As we entered the parking lot, the radiator started spewing water again. But George insisted we were NOT going to worry about it until the end of the day. We were going to just park the car, lock the doors, hand the problem to God, and walk away—and have a great time.
So we did. At the end of the day, we added some more water and headed back to the motel.
By the second day there, we found a local radiator shop that repaired the radiator cheaply while we went to Epcot again all crammed in the Chevette. We had a terrific time at Epcot—and the Magic Kingdom on the side. We “rejoiced before the Lord,” had wonderful fellowship, inspirational conversations, and a safe trip home.
Just like our personal “angel” had promised.
I shared this story on an Internet forum a few years back, asking if readers thought the mechanic could have been an angel. My good friend, radio evangelist Ron Dart, made a comment on it that I think puts the whole circumstance in a useful perspective:
The thought occurs to me that the word “Angel” in the Greek merely means “messenger.” Couple that with the simple truth that there are a lot of good people left in the world, none of whom are perfect. Then imagine that God, upon hearing your prayer, checks his toolbox for the nearest, handiest and most useful “messenger,” and maybe you have your answer. Does God’s messenger have to be a spirit being? Or could he be flesh and blood?
Then there is the question of turning down the help God sends out of self-righteousness, out of having to have it our way or no way. You don’t suppose God would send us help by someone we would be tempted to look down on?
Nah, He wouldn’t do that…..would He?