Haze hung like a thin gray blanket over Manila. Although it was only 6:30 a.m., I knew the day would be another hot, humid one—my blouse was already sticking to me. Dreading the trip ahead of me, I wished I could make the nightmare of the past few days vanish.
Weaving in and out of traffic, our Filipino driver was taking my co-worker, Helena, and me to the bus station. The traffic was as unnerving to me now as it had been when our family arrived in the Philippines five months earlier to do mission work. An occasional honk of a horn indicated a driver was claiming the right of way.
I settled back against the seat, my mind whirling. 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 the shortness of breath and chest pains he was experiencing. Doctors discovered that his previous heart damage from rheumatic fever 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 had 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 because the damage was so bad. She offered no promises, gave 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 living for the past five weeks. We had been learning one of the national languages. I needed to pack up all of the belongings we had left behind when we hurriedly came to Manila for Dennis’ heart tests.
My thoughts drifted to Dennis, my husband of ten years, and our two children who were staying in the mission guesthouse in Manila while I was making my three-day trip.
“Lord, be with them today; keep them safe,” I silently prayed.
Over the past few days I had looked at dozens of Bible verses on peace and comfort. I had been praying constantly, 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. You'll have to help me. I'm so afraid.”
"I recognize that corner," said Helena, seated next to me. Her words jolted me back to the present. "The bus station will be on our right in about three blocks."
Since we were early, we had our choice of seats on the bus. The 180-mile trip ahead of us through the mountains would take between seven and nine hours with many stops along the way. I closed my eyes, feeling exhausted. I was trying so hard to trust God, but the anxious thoughts kept crowding my mind.
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?
In the Philippines, many people are outwardly religious, without any depth of personal faith. Often religious symbols are used for good luck. However, these pins seemed genuinely Christian.
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 the younger man.
"Yes. How did you know?" I gasped, shocked that we could be so easily identified in a city of 10 million people. How had they 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 a camera around your neck,” was their response. “You're not dressed like tourists.”
The Filipino man of Chinese descent explained he was Pastor Lim from a small church about forty miles beyond where we were going. He said he had met someone from SIL on his previous travels.
Pastor Lim's traveling companion introduced himself as Rogel. He said 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 talked about how he was the first in his Buddhist family to become a Christian, and how the rest of his family rejected him and his choice of occupation.
I told him that I had a husband and two children who were staying in the mission guesthouse in Manila.
"If you have a family, 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 God's comfort with me. Then he prayed with me.
God's peace, which had been eluding me, flooded over me. I felt His presence in this encounter with this stranger in a way I never had before. “Thanks Lord, for showing me you care for me. Now I trust You.”
As I thought about this incident shortly afterward, questions raced through my mind. Just who were these two men? How had they chosen seats directly in front of us? How did they know who we were? A Bible verse from Hebrews then came to mind. "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2 NIV).
When I reached the bamboo house in Lantap, I packed everything we owned back into the crate we had brought from the U.S. Then I returned to Manila by bus three days later. Because Dennis's survival was uncertain, we decided to go back to the United States for the surgery. There we would be 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 valve that clicks in his chest is still working twenty-one years later.
In the years that have passed since our time in the Philippines in 1985, I've often thought about the incident on the bus. Were the strangers who they said they were . . . or had I entertained angels? 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.
The mother of two adult children, Janet Seever lives with her husband in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she edits Prayer Alive magazine, a publication of Wycliffe Canada. Her articles and stories have appeared on Internet and in various publications, including the books Celebrating the Season, Expressions of Gratitude, Opening the Gifts of Christmas, and Grace Givers. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org