Swords Of Straw

     It happened in a country I will not identify except to say that it is somewhere on this planet.  And it happened to people who have never answered to the names used here.  The important thing is that it happened!

     The Terror, we might as well call him that.  He was a bandit leader, a terrorist, and so ruthless a killer that the government had offered a huge reward for anyone who could bring him in dead or alive.

     Attempts were made to subdue him.  But he was out to destroy everything he didn’t care for—and that included most everything and most everybody.  This cunning bandit and his men were destroying everything in their path.  The situation was desperate.  Medicines were needed.  Food was needed.  But who could enter the danger zone?

     Finally a contingent of the finest soldiers was sent in.  But the Terror quickly disposed of them by simply setting a trap.  He had his men dig a huge pit and then placed spears and sharpened iron stakes in the bottom of it.  It was so carefully camouflaged that the soldiers marched right into it—to their death.  Then one day pastor John (mentioned    earlier)  receive a call from a government official, asking if he would try to take some medicines into that area.

     Pastor John and his little group of workers prayed earnestly about this assignment, this challenge, from the government.  And as they prayed, they remembered the promise, “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”  Psalms 91:11, 12

     They felt that they must try.

     And so the government provided three or four aircraft, which were then loaded with food, clothing and medicines.  These supplies—about a hundred tons in all-were flown as near as possible to the area controlled by the Terror.  The a convoy of seventeen trucks and two or three jeeps was sent, ready to take the supplies into the stricken territory.

     As pastor John left on his dangerous mission, the government official said to him.  “Be careful.  But God is with you.”  He told him to work closely with his commander in that section of the country.

     But when Pastor John arrived, the colonel told him with a shake of his head.  “It’s impossible for you to go in. “But then he said, “Wait.  I have some soldiers that are on the fringes of that area, and at twelve o’clock each day they send a report of the movements of the Terror.”

     It was on the fifth day that the report came in by radio that the Terror and his band had moved to another part of the country and that the main road into the area was relatively safe.  They decided to try the next morning.

     The convoy was loaded from the warehouses and Pastor John was given a government driver that he had used before—a young man by the name of Peter.  He was a good Christian and a careful driver.  Though his loyalty was to the government, he happened to be a member of the Terror’s tribe, and so he knew the language.  Pastor John, incidentally, had learned the Terror’s tribal language too, as a young man, for he had worked in that area.

     They started out that morning, Pastor John and Peter in the lead jeep.  The colonel had told them that the first part of their journey would be the most dangerous.  It was through a valley.  And as they drove through that valley, the pastor kept thinking of David’s words, “the valley of the shadow of death.” For it was just that.  In the road were corpses that the Terror’s men had left.  Along the sides of the road were stakes, with women impaled on the stakes, gashed open—hideous scenes that one never expect to see in a lifetime.

     Then as they proceeded farther into the Terror’s territory, the roads were so filled with dead bodies that they stopped.  They tried to pull some of the bodies aside, but they could not, for it would delay them in reaching a point of safety that evening.  So they just had to put those vehicles into four-wheel drive and grind over the corpses as they proceeded.

     They got out of that valley.  The colonel had told them that when they climbed the escarpment they would be out of the danger zone.  And what a prayer of thanksgiving they offered when they reached the top!

     They knew it would take the heavily loaded trucks about half an hour to get up that very difficult grade.  So Peter and the pastor decided to go on and wait for them at a village a little way ahead.

     They started on with lighter hearts.  They could make better time now.  It was a high, level, flat plateau with clumps of dense jungle through which they had to pass. 

     They were going through one of these dense clumps of jungle when suddenly Peter jerked the wheel to the left and they piled into the ditch, the jeep on its side.  There they were hugging each other tightly, and the pastor said, “What’s your trouble?  What happened?”

     And Peter said,  “Oh, we’re going to die!  They’re going to kill us!”

     “What’s the matter?”

     “Oh, I’ve seen the Terror’s sign of an ambush!  I’ve seen his sign!”

     Only to his own tribesmen would the Terror give the warning.  The secret sign was in a conspicuous place so that members of his own tribe would know that ahead was a trap.

     Two minutes passed. Three, four, maybe five minutes passed.  Nothing happened.  The pastor tried to climb out of the jeep, but peter pulled him back on top of him again.  “No!  You must not go out!”

     Finally, with great difficulty, Pastor john did climb out.  He stood at the edge of the road and looked around.  He could see nothing suspicious—except that there were fresh tracks in the road.  And he had the strange feeling that he was being watched.

     He was impressed by the Spirit of God to say something.  So he put his little portable transistorized loud speaker to his mouth and spoke in the language of the tribe through whose territory they were passing.  He just said to the trees and the jungle around him, “We have come as friends.  I am pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  I am here to help you.  Anybody in this area who needs help, we are here to help you.  We are not here as enemies but as friends.”

     Nothing happened. Everything was quiet.  It was deadly still!  Then out of the silence   came the snap of two dry twigs.  Snap! Snap! It was a signal—a signal that he had learned as a boy.  It was a challenging signal, and a reply must be given.  Someone off in the jungle was challenging their passage.  If he could come up with right word, everything would be all right.  But it had been twelve or fourteen years since he had used that word—that password—and he had forgotten it.

     He flashed a message on the frequency of heaven.  And like another flash, that word came back to the tip of his tongue.  He shouted it out.  It was the right word!

     Again he said through his loudspeaker, “Friend, whoever you are out there, please come and let’s shake hands.”  And he gave in the tribal language the respectful greeting that only the big chiefs receive.  Again nothing happened.

     Then, off to the right, there was a rustle in the jungle.  The leaves moved, and onto the edge of the road stepped a tall, handsome, fine-looking warrior with an automatic rifle in his hand, pointed right at him.

     The pastor said, “Friend, put down your gun, please.  I have no weapons.  I’m here as a friend.”

     The warrior took two or three more steps toward him, with that automatic rifle still pointed right at him.  He could see that he was some tremendous leader.  Again he gave the respectful greeting.

     Finally he laid down his gun and approached cautiously, suspiciously.  As he approached the pastor extended his hand.  The warrior looked at him, clasped his hand, and said in surprise. “Pastor John, what are you doing here?”

     He had war paint on his forehead and decorating his cheeks.  The pastor couldn’t recognize him, and so he said, “Do you know me?”

     “Yes, yes, of course I know you.  Don’t you know me?”

     “Who are you?”

     “I am the Terror.”

     The pastor was holding a huge reward in his hand, as it were.  And this terribly feared bandit knew him!

     “Don’t you remember?  I am Henry from the village of Wait.  You used to teach us in your little Branch Sabbath School, thirteen or fifteen years ago.  I am Henry.  Don’t you remember me, pastor John?”

     Of course he remembered him!  An the boy Henry was now this feared bandit!

     As the pastor held his hand, the Terror began to tremble like a leaf in the wind.  His whole body was shaking.  He said, “Now I understand.  Now I understand.  For the first time in my life my voice disappeared.  My voice was taken from me.  I tried to give an order as your jeep went into the ditch—an order for my men to kill.  But I couldn’t find a voice.  My voice was taken away.  And as I looked at the wheels spinning around on your jeep, I could see soldiers standing around, heavily armed.  I could see these soldiers off in the road behind you.  They didn’t look like any soldiers I have ever seen.”

     He went on.  “Now I understand.  Those stories you used to tell us, those picture rolls you used to show us—of your God, of those angels that your God sends.”  He was still trembling.  “Now I understand.  Those beings that looked like the moon and like the stars were angels from your God!  Oh, Pastor John, what are you doing here?”

     What a thrill!  He told him what he was doing there.  And he knew those mighty angels from heaven were still standing right there beside them.  For this terrible killer, this man skilled in destruction and death was still trembling!

     They talked for two or three minutes, and then the Terror heard the truck approaching.  He said,  “Pastor John, are there soldiers in those trucks?”

     “Yes, Henry, but they are under my control.  They are under my control.”

     “Oh, but they will kill me!”

     He had heard.  He knew there was a tremendous price on his head.  But the pastor assured him, “There will be no killing here today.  God and His angels are here.  There will be no killing today!”

     The trucks were still some distance away, and the pastor said to him, “Friend, you have seen today a wonderful demonstration of god’s love for you.  I did not see those soldiers, those angel that you saw.  But I know that just one of those angels could have annihilated you and your men.  But God loves you.   That same Jesus that you heard about under the trees in the village of Wait, fifteen years ago, is still speaking to you.  Promise me, friend—promise me, Henry—that you will give up this life of destruction, that you will respect and honor the love of the Jesus Who has saved your life, who want to give you eternal life with Him!”

     Still trembling, he hesitated and looked around.  The pastor asked him how many men he had with him in the jungle and asked him to call them.  He gave an order, and dozens of heavily armed bandits came out from both sides of that jungle.  They couldn’t understand what had happened to their proud and haughty leader who grasped the had of a white man, a member of the race they were sworn to destroy.  They looked at him with cruelty and death in their eyes.

     As his men approached, the Terror said to them,  “This man’s skin is white, but his heart is the same as ours.  He is our friend.”

     They gathered around him, and he told them about his voice disappearing, about the soldiers from heaven, and that the pastor had assured him they were still standing there, watching over their meeting.

     Then the pastor asked him again. “Will you promise to give up this terrible life of destruction and slaughter?”

     And there in the presence of his men he promised!

     It took a long time to persuade the government that the Terror was a converted man.  Top officials were convinced only when they saw that the horrible reign of terror had completely subsided.  Then another proclamation was issued, explaining briefly that the Terror was now a Christian and that the price on his head was no longer an offer.  The radio blared the news. The newspaper carried it in headlines.

     And Pastor John kept remembering the words of his father, spoken to him as a frightened boy of ten,  “Sonny, our Father in heaven has sent His angels to be with us.  Everything will be all right.

M. L. Lloyd

     “It is impossible to give any idea of the experience of the people of God who shall be alive upon the earth when celestial glory and a repetition of the persecutions of the past are blended. They will walk in the light proceeding from the throne of God. By means of the angels there will be constant communication between heaven and earth. . .     

     In the midst of the time of trouble that is coming--a time of trouble such as has not been since there was a nation--God's chosen people will stand unmoved. Satan and his host cannot destroy them, for angels that excel in strength will protect them.”

9T 16, 17 (1909).

     “The heavenly sentinels, faithful to their trust, continue their watch. Though a general decree has fixed the time when commandment keepers may be put to death, their enemies will in some cases anticipate the decree, and before the time specified, will endeavor to take their lives. But none can pass the mighty guardians stationed about every faithful soul. Some are assailed in their flight from the cities and villages; but the swords raised against them break and fall powerless as a straw. Others are defended by angels in the form of men of war.      

     In all ages, God has wrought through holy angels for the succor and deliverance of His people. Celestial beings have taken an active part in the affairs of men. They have appeared clothed in garments that shone as the lightning; they have come as men in the garb of wayfarers. Angels have appeared in human form to men of God. They have rested, as if weary, under the oaks at noon. They have accepted the hospitalities of human homes. They have acted as guides to benighted travelers. They have, with their own hands, kindled the fires at the altar. They have opened prison doors and set free the servants of the Lord. Clothed with the panoply of heaven, they came to roll away the stone from the Saviour's tomb.    

     In the form of men, angels are often in the assemblies of the righteous; and they visit the assemblies of the wicked, as they went to Sodom, to make a record of their deeds, to determine whether they have passed the boundary of God's forbearance. The Lord delights in mercy; and for the sake of a few who really serve Him, He restrains calamities and prolongs the tranquillity of multitudes. Little do sinners against God realize that they are indebted for their own lives to the faithful few whom they delight to ridicule and oppress.    

     Though the rulers of this world know it not, yet often in their councils angels have been spokesmen. Human eyes have looked upon them; human ears have listened to their appeals; human lips have opposed their suggestions and ridiculed their counsels; human hands have met them with insult and abuse. In the council hall and the court of justice these heavenly messengers have shown an intimate acquaintance with human history; they have proved themselves better able to plead the cause of the oppressed than were their ablest and most eloquent defenders.” GC 631





M. L. Lloyd