GOD, providence of
Elmer Bendiner's describes a bombing run over the German city of Kassel: Our B-17 (THE
TONDELAYO) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on
this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a
twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our
pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple. On the morning following the
raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of
unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been
found in the gas tanks--eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast
us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. Even after thirty-five
years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the
story from Bohn.
He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers
told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but
Bohn eventually sought out the answer. Apparently when the armorers opened each of those
shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.
Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl
in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech.
Eventually, they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note
read: "This is all we can do for you now."
Elmer Bendiner, The Fall of Fortresses.
On the front porch of his little country store in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Berry,
his partner, stood. Business was all gone, and Berry asked, "How much longer can we
keep this going?" Lincoln answered, "It looks as if our business has just about
winked out." Then he continued, "You know, I wouldn't mind so much if I could
just do what I want to do. I want to study law. I wouldn't mind so much if we could sell
everything we've got and pay all our bills and have just enough left over to buy one
book--Blackstone's Commentary on English Law, but I guess I can't." A strange-looking
wagon was coming up the road. The driver angled it up close to the store porch, then
looked at Lincoln and said, "I'm trying to move my family out west, and I'm out of
money. I've got a good barrel here that I could sell for fifty cents." Abraham
Lincoln's eyes went along the wagon and came to the wife looking at him pleadingly, face
thin and emaciated. Lincoln ran his hand into his pocket and took out, according to him,
"the last fifty cents I had" and said, "I reckon I could use a good
barrel." All day long the barrel sat on the porch of that store. Berry kept chiding
Lincoln about it. Late in the evening Lincoln walked out and looked down into the barrel.
He saw something in the bottom of it, papers that he hadn't noticed before. His long arms
went down into the barrel and, as he fumbled around, he hit something solid. He pulled out
a book and stood petrified: it was Blackstone's Commentary on English Law. Lincoln later
"I stood there holding the book and looking up toward the heavens. There came a
deep impression on me that God had something for me to do and He was showing he now that I
had to get ready for it. Why this miracle otherwise?"
Heroes come in strange forms and unexpected places. It was 1960. I was in a graduate
course in Islamic history, law, and theology at Brandeis University. Our primary text was
in Arabic, the diary of a Muslin doctor in Damascus in the 11th century. My Arabic was
less than adequate, so every class was traumatic. What began as a nightmare, though, ended
as a priceless memory. It was not the course. It was the professor.
He was Semitics librarian at Harvard, a refugee from Hungary who had studied organ
building under Albert Schweitzer, and an Islamic scholar of distinction. I was his
chauffeur to and from the train station. I do not remember much about the Muslim doctor. I
will never forget Joseph de Somogyi. Joseph de Somogyi was a devout Lutheran as well as a
scholar. When nazism began to permeate life in Hungary, he laid his open Hebrew Bible on
his university desk. Other professors would ask: "Joseph, is that not Jewish?"
"Yes," he would reply. "It is the most Jewish of all things Jewish!"
They would challenge his temerity and urge him to be more careful. His response: "I
am a Christian. Aren't you?" One evening a policeman appeared at his door. He
informed Joseph that he would return later with two Gestapo agents. His advice: "I
would appreciate it if you would disappear."
For some time Joseph lived in hiding with peasants in rural Hungary. His life work lay
buried in scholarly manuscripts in an orchard in anticipation of a day when his country
would again be free. Nazism passed, and he returned to his university post. Then the
Soviet Union moved against Hungary. One hundred twenty-seven women and children sought
safety in the basement of Joseph's villa on the Danube. The target of the Soviet bombers
was a munitions factory across the river. Joseph's name soon appeared on the list of those
to be arrested and shipped to Siberia.
A conference of Semitic scholars was scheduled in Vienna. Joseph applied for a visa to
go. He was refused. After three more refusals he decided to visit personally the office of
the individual responsible for all visas. The office was on the fourth floor. I will never
forget my friend's face as he looked across at me and said, "Dennis, I was so angry
that I did not take the elevator. I took the stairs to cool off." At the second
landing, he bumped into a former student of his. After a warm embrace, the student asked,
"Doctor, what are you doing here? Can I help you?" Then Joseph learned that this
former student's fiancÚ was the personal secretary of the official he had come to see.
The student took Joseph to the fourth floor, introduced him to his fiancÚ, and instructed
her to grant the visa to his old professor. She paled and replied: "You know I can't.
His name is on the proscribed list." At that, Joseph's former student said with some
emotion: Give the doctor a visa, or cancel our wedding plans." The fiancÚ, shaken,
arose, walked to the window, and stood for a long time. Then she returned to her desk and
granted the visa.
When Doctor de Somogyi arrived in Vienna, he found a message from H.H. Rowley, the
British Old Testament scholar. It said, "I do not have a position worthy of you, but
we have a stipend that can keep you alive until something appropriate comes." That
stipend enabled him to survive until the positions at Harvard and Brandeis opened for him.
I will not forget Doctor de Somogyi'a look as he leaned across to face me more fully
and asked: "Dennis, do you think it was an accident that I took the stairs that day
instead of the elevator?"
Dennis Kinlaw, Christianity Today, January 15, 1990, p. 13.
It was Christmas Eve 1875 and Ira Sankey was traveling on a Delaware River steamboat
when he was recognized by some of the passangers. His picture had been in the newspaper
because he was the song leader for the famous evangelist D.L. Moody. They asked him to
sing one of his own hymns, but Sankey demurred, saying that he preferred to sing William
B. Bradbury's hymn, "Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us." As he sang, one of the
stanzas began, "We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way."
When he finished, a man stepped from the shadows and asked, "Did you ever serve in
the Union Army?" "Yes," Mr. Sankey answered, "in the spring of
1860." Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlit night in
1862?" "Yes," Mr. Sankey answered, very much surprised. "So did I, but
I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post, I thought to
myself, 'That fellow will never get away alive.' I raised my musket and took aim. I was
standing in the shadow, completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling
upon you. At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised your eyes to heaven and began
to sing...'Let him sing his song to the end,' I said to myself, 'I can shoot him
afterwards. He's my victim at all events, and my bullet cannot miss him.' But the song you
sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly: 'We are Thine; do
Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way.' Those words stirred up many memories. I
began to think of my childhood and my God-fearing mother. She had many times sung that
song to me. When you had finished your song, it was impossible for me to take aim again. I
thought, 'The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great
and mighty.' And my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side."
K Hughes, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome,
Tyndale, 1988, p. 69.
God's wonderful works which happen daily are lightly esteemed, not because they are of
no import but because they happen so constantly and without interruption. Man is used to
the miracle that God rules the world and upholds all creation, and because things daily
run their appointed course, it seems insignificant, and no man thinks it worth his while
to meditate upon it and to regard it as God's wonderful work, and yet it is a greater
wonder than that Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves and made wine from water.
Martin Luther, Day by Day We Magnify Thee.