Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2000]
A missionary on furlough told this true story while visiting his home church in Michigan.
"While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies.
This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital. Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured.
I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident.
Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, 'Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by
The young man pressed the point, however, and said, 'No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.'"
At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the Michigan congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story:
"On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?"
The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn't concerned with who they were; he was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 26!
This story is an incredible example of how the Spirit of the Lord moves in mysterious ways. If you ever hear such prodding, go along with it.
Origins: "Potential victim's attacker is scared off by guardian angels" is a common glurge theme. (Another widely-circulated tale about a girl who barely avoids becoming the victim of a rapist also draws upon this theme.)
These tales are obviously parables, but since the version cited in the example section above has been embellished with details intended to demonstrate it to be a "true story," we've once again received numerous "Is this true?" queries about it. As a literal account of an actual occurrence, this one has a few implausibilities:
- The native who had received treatment for his serious injuries and been told about Jesus Christ by a missionary decides to repay the kindness by killing and robbing that same missionary.
- Even though the attacker expects to find the missionary alone, unarmed, and asleep, he enlists the aid of five confederates to help him overpower his victim.
- When the gang of six thugs unexpectedly discovers their victim is not alone but is protected by a swarm of armed guards who outnumber them by more than four to one, instead of turning tail and running before they're hacked to bits, each and every one of them risks death by hanging around to conduct a census of exactly how many guards are present.
- Weeks later, for no explicable reason, the wayward native approaches the missionary and exposes himself to punishment by announcing that he and his gang had planned to murder the lone missionary if only he hadn't been so heavily guarded.
Once again, we have a lovely little parable someone couldn't help but attempt to dress up. A more plausible version of the same story appeared in the 1986 book Touch the World Through Prayer:
A few weeks later the Higgenses returned to America on furlough. They reported that the night before they left Nairobi, a local pastor had visited them. He told how a member of the
While they were on furlough a friend, Clay Brent, asked the Higgenses if they have been in any danger recently. Higgens asked, "Why?" Then Clay said that on
A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Jesus Christ, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men you had with you there?" The missionary answered, "There were no men there; just my wife and I." The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard - hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission station so that the natives were afraid to attack. Only then did
A few days later I received a letter from my wife, asking whether we had been in any danger on a date and at a time she named. On that particular night she had been suddenly awakened with the strong impression that I was in danger. She rose and prayed until the burden lifted and peace returned.
On consulting my diary, I discovered that this midnight prayer synchronized with the time we were passing through the robber-infested area. God heard and answered the prayer for the safety of His servants.
As usual, we make the point that inspirational tales don't suddenly gain the power to change lives because someone claims they're fact, nor do fictional tales lose their power to inspire believers to move mountains because they were made up. Folks will find inspiration in parables whether the tales have a factual basis or not; thus, this "true story!" flourish is unnecessary at best and downright insulting at worst. Moreover, it's sadly ironic that so many tales contrived to display a particular belief system as The One True Way include fabrications tossed in to better carry the message.
The Christian commandment about not bearing false witness just isn't getting the mileage it used to.
Last updated: 1 February 2008
1. Duewel, Wesley. Touch the World Through Prayer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-310-36271-7 (pp. 85-86). 2. Graham, Billy. Angels: God's Secret Agents. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1975. ISBN 0-8499-1167-2 (p. 5). Pollard, Jeanetta Bearden. Mrs. Claus Shares Stories from the Heart. Hickory, KY: Success Ranch Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0-972-23770-4 (pp. 112-113). Powell, Ivor. Bible Windows. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1954. ISBN 0-82543-522-6 (pp. 85-86). 3. Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations. Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0-88469-100-4 (pp. 1048-1049).