Our family was in London for a holiday —working and pleasure—and we’d rented a tiny flat with a lovely view of the Thames, but in an area my daughter declared to be teetering on “the edge of sketch.” After a day’s sightseeing, we deposited our teenagers at that flat while my husband and I set out for a stroll. There was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant not too far away, I explained, that I’d read had wonderful takeaway food. We could bring some back for dinner.
We set out walking, and walking, and walking, and it wasn’t too long till we realized we were blindingly lost. We had a small map which didn’t do much once we were in the thinner arteries of the city, in a less traveled neighborhood which clearly recognized us as not of their own. There were few people walking, fewer still loitering in door stops, smoking as they warily eyed us.
We stood in an empty intersection, turning this way and that, wondering what to do next and praying for help. After a nearly clockwise spin, my husband turned back from looking down an empty street and was surprised to find a small, elderly man with a neat white beard appear from nowhere; he stood in front of a locked and barred door which had just been vacant. Approaching my husband he asked in a thick Scots accent, “Which way are ye going?”
“That way,” my husband said hesitantly, pointing west.
“That’s where I’m going too,” the stranger replied.
“No,” I turned back around, certain that the restaurant was in another direction. “That way.” I pointed southeast.
“That’s where I’m going, too,” the Scotsman said.
My husband and I exchanged a glance above the stranger’s head. Didn’t he know where he was going, either?
I explained that we were Americans – he grinned, clearly he could already guess this by our accents. We wanted to locate a restaurant I’d read about online but had become a challenge to find.
“Follow me,” he commanded. “I know the place.” I was nervous, but what choice did we have? I looked him over and noticed my husband did, too. The man was slight, perfectly dressed in an expensive navy wool coat with a tartan scarf wrapped around his neck and a blue felt hat on his head. Because he was slight, my husband could definitely “take him” if need be. I glanced at the man’s shoes. They were well worn, almost falling apart, a distinct contrast to his well-cared for clothing. I wrote it off to Scots frugality and we followed him.
Within a minute or two, he was leading us down an alley, which appeared to be completely deserted. Was he leading us somewhere to be jumped? I wondered. It was off the beaten path, and the buildings were so high on either side that we would be completely hidden from view. I glanced at my husband, who was between us and making light, awkward conversation with the man, and he nodded. After a few minutes of twists and turns we arrived at the start of a long street, nearly abandoned, with business after business on either side shuttered and barred off, a long, nearly unbroken row that eventually met with a busy crossroad about a half mile down.
We stood in front of the restaurant and the man nodded. “Here you are, then.” He looked down the long street. “When you’ve finished, you walk straight and quickly till you come to the main road, and then turn right.” He had not asked us to where we were returning, so I did not know how he knew which way we should go. I realized we hadn’t even even mentioned the name of this restaurant! He spoke up again. “Do not go back the way you came,” he said in a strong voice. “It’s nae safe for you.”
We nodded and, still somewhat bewildered and stunned, said nothing, just stepped inside the restaurant. Within a second I said to my husband, “Oh! We forgot to thank him!” I turned and went outside, but he was gone. I quickly walked several steps in one direction, and then the next, but there were no breaks in the walls of businesses and none of the surrounding buildings were even open; our Scotsman was nowhere to be found. Within the previous few seconds, he had completely disappeared.
My heart quickened and I felt wrapped in a holy hush; within my spirit, I knew. He’d been sent to help us, presented in a way that would make us feel safe and comforted, but in the well-worn shoes of someone who had walked many miles in service.
We bought our delicious food and walked toward the road, as we’d been instructed. It was true, then, what scripture promised. That angels are sent to guard our way 1, to protect and guide us, to serve, protect, and be messengers of God: “Do not go back the way you came, it’s nae safe for you” is timeless truth for all who walk the path of faith, is it not? Angels are not just for “back then” and not just for others, but for us, all of us, here and now, those of us who will inherit salvation 2.
Billy Graham, in his book, Angels: God’s Secret Agents, recalls a similar situation wherein a group of American troops trapped up north during the Korean war were freezing, starving, and lost. After prayer and praise, they found themselves suddenly confronted with an English speaking South Korean who led them through the mountains to safety behind their own lines. “When they looked up to thank him,” Graham writes, “they found that he had disappeared.” I read this account some years after our London encounter, but it resonated perfectly with our experience.
Life can be difficult; we can become lost, bewildered, confused, and in dangers of various sorts. God, however, promises that he will never leave us, He is a very present help in times of trouble 3. Sometimes, to our unexpected pleasure, that help arrives in angelic form, of which we mostly, at the time, remain unaware 4.