Story by Janet Seever
A gray blanket of haze hung over Manila. Although it was only 6:30 a.m., the day would be another hot, humid one–my blouse was already sticking to me. Dreading the trip ahead, I wished I could make the nightmare of the past few days vanish by closing my eyes.
Weaving through traffic, the Filipino driver was taking my co-worker, Helena, and me to the bus station. Manila traffic was as unnerving now as it had been when our family had arrived in the Philippines five months earlier to do mission work.
I settled back against the seat, my mind whirling with recent events. I hadn’t slept well for several nights and my body was running on adrenaline.
My husband, Dennis, had spent several days in the modern Manila Heart Hospital, undergoing tests for shortness of breath and chest pains. Doctors discovered that his previous damage from rheumatic fever twenty years earlier had now doubled.
The cardiologist’s words ran through my mind like a continuous tape loop: Atrial fibrillation. Sixty percent leakage past the mitral valve. Congestive heart failure. Fluid in the lungs. A dangerously enlarged heart.
The cardiologist told Dennis he needed surgery within a month, or he would face certain death. Even now she didn’t know if the surgery would be successful. She offered no promises, no guarantees.
Today’s bus trip would take me back to the little barrio (community) of Lantap, 180 miles north of Manila where we had been learning Ilocano, one of the national languages, for the past five weeks. I needed to pack up all of the belongings we had left behind when we hurriedly came to Manila for Dennis’s tests.
My thoughts drifted to Dennis, my husband of ten years, and our two children who were staying in the mission guest house in Manila while I was making my three-day trip. Dennis would be spending his time resting while other people watched Tim, six, and Rachel, three.
“Lord, be with them today; keep Dennis safe.”
Over the past few days I had looked at dozens of Bible verses on peace and comfort, but God’s peace still eluded me. My one question was: would I be a widow at thirty-nine?
“Lord, I know You want me to trust You, but I’m finding it hard. I’m so afraid. Don’t let Dennis die.”
“I recognize that corner,” said Helena, jolting me back to the present. “The bus station will be on our right in about three blocks.” She would be traveling back on the same bus with me.
True to Helena’s words, our driver soon pulled into the bus yard. As we got our suitcases out of the trunk, I turned to Helena. “I’m glad you’ll be on the bus with me.”
“It’s not really a difficult trip once you’ve made it as many times as I have,” said Helena. “The Banaue bus is the one we want.” She indicated one in a long line of buses.
Since we were early, we had our choice of seats and found two toward the back.
The 180-mile trip ahead of us would take about eight hours with many stops along the way. The road through the mountains of Luzon had numerous hairpin turns. All scenery along the way looked as if it could be made into picture postcards, but today I wasn’t interested in sight-seeing.
I closed my eyes, feeling exhausted. I was trying so hard to trust God, but the anxious thoughts kept crowding my mind. “Lord, show me that You are with me in a tangible way. Help me trust You.”
Other passengers were now beginning to fill the bus. I looked up just as two young men entered. One was carrying a guitar and both had a lapel pins. As they came closer, I could see one pin read “Trust God” and the other was a cross within a fish. Were they Christians?
Finding seats directly in front of us, the two men turned around to greet us. They knew English well.
“Are the two of you with SIL?” asked one of the men.
“Yes. How did you know?” I asked, shocked that we could be identified in a city of 20 million people. How had they even heard of SIL, the Bible translation organization with which Helena and I were working?
“You don’t look like tourists because you don’t have cameras,” was the response. “You’re not dressed like tourists.”
One of the men, a Filipino of Chinese descent, explained he was Pastor Lim from a small church about forty miles beyond where we were going. He had met someone from SIL on a previous bus trip.
Pastor Lim’s traveling companion introduced himself as Rogel. He worked with a mission in Banaue.
Helena settled back in her seat with a magazine, while I continued my conversation with Pastor Lim. He said he was the first in his Buddhist family to become a Christian. The rest of his family had rejected him and his choice of occupation.
In answer to his question about my family, I told him my husband and two children were staying in a mission guest house in Manila.
“Why are you traveling alone?” he asked.
“My husband has a serious heart condition. I need to go back and pack up our things.” Conversation with this gentle man came easily. “God wants me to trust Him, but I’m afraid my husband might die,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes with a tissue.
“God loves you very much and is watching over your family,” Pastor Lim replied with certainty. “Your husband will be all right.” For the next hour Pastor Lim turned around in his seat and lovingly shared Scripture and words of comfort with me. Then he prayed with me.
God’s peace, which had been eluding me, flooded over me. I felt God’s presence in this encounter with a stranger in a way I never had before.
“Thanks, Lord, for showing me you care for me. I trust You.”
As I thought about this incident shortly afterward, questions rushed to my mind. Just who were these two men? How did they know who we were? A Bible verse came to mind. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV). What do angels look like?
When I reached the bamboo house in Lantap, I repacked everything we owned into a crate. Then I returned to Manila by bus three days later.
Because Dennis might die, we returned to the U. S. for the surgery. There we were surrounded by our families.
Heart damage in the U.S. was rated 1 to 4, with 4 being the most serious. Doctors ranked Dennis as 4 plus. However, true to Pastor Lim’s prediction, Dennis came through the surgery well. The mechanical heart valve is still working seventeen years later with no further problem.
Over the passing years, I’ve often thought about the incident on the bus. The strangers seemed as human as I am . . . but who understands God’s ways? Of one thing I am certain–it was a God-arranged encounter. My two “angels” came with God’s message of love and comfort when I desperately needed it.