While I believe in the existence of angels, I never thought I would ever spend an afternoon with one. I never realized that I had encountered one until years later, and that’s largely because it all started with picking up a hitchhiker on a hot, dry, dusty highway in southeast Turkey. You might not believe me, but read my story first and then decide for yourself.
While we were living in Aleppo, Syria, where I worked as a research scientist from 1984-86, we made many trips to Turkey. In one of those trips, in July 1985, my wife and I decided to visit Nemrut Dag, a fascinating historic site of the Commagene civilization dating from the first century BC. This site is on top of a 2,134 metre mountain where you find these amazing heads (tumulus) of three kings and their gods – see the photo for one of the many views. There is a largely cobble stone road almost all the way up, but with a steep grade. In 1985, that site wasn’t that well-known to tourists.
We were about two hours away from Nemrut Dag on a main highway, it was around 2 pm, very hot. The region was barren, no villages, hardly anything green, all quite desolate. Up ahead we saw a hitchhiker, thumbing for a ride – on a highway in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. My wife and I don’t as a rule pick up hitchhikers, especially in a foreign country. But somehow, we felt we should stop and offer this fellow a ride. When we stopped, he said he was a civil servant from the UK, taking a year off travelling. He had a pleasant smile and manner about him, and only a small backpack. We explained we were going to Nemrut Dag and then the next town for the night on the road back to Syria. He said that was fine, that’s the direction he wanted to go, so we agreed to give him a ride.
Our daughter, about 18 months old at the time, was in her car seat and going through her Railway Children story book and audio cassette. It was one of her favourite stories, and she was enjoying it a lot – maybe for the tenth time on this trip! The hitchhiker sat in the rear seat beside her, and he instantly was involved in the story, turning the pages for her. She was quite comfortable with him, it was so natural, as if she knew him for years.
Eventually we arrived at the foot of the mountain to Nemrut Dag, and there was this cobblestone road up to almost the top. The road had some switchbacks and zigzags, as well as a steep incline, maybe a 15% grade or more. So I started driving up the road in our gas Peugeot. Although I had experience driving in the Rockies in Canada, this was different and about half way up the car stalled. I tried to start it again a few times, but was soon afraid to flood the carburetor. We had just turned a sharp corner, so backing down in reverse would be dangerous. This was before the days of cell phones, there was no other traffic being late in the day. I had no idea how to locate a tow truck, or if there was one for a hundred kilometres. I started to wonder how I would ever get out of this situation – it all seemed a bit hopeless. I am not a mechanic – I had no clue what to do next. I didn’t own the car – it was maintained for both business and personal use by the research centre where I worked.
Just then, the hitchhiker said “I know what to do”, and he got out of the car. He asked me to remain in the car and just pull the lever to release the hood. He lifted up the hood and I could hear him adjusting something. He asked me to try the ignition again, which I did, and the car started! He put down the hood, got into his seat, and said to drive up to the top. I did, maybe a bit faster than before, but not wanting to go over the edge of course – there were no guard rails. I was immensely thankful for his help.
We reached a small parking area at the top, and it was another twenty minutes to reach the mountain top by foot. We were there just before sundown, it was marvelous to see the whole valley before us. We were the only people there. I took a few photos, one with the hitchhiker in it standing just beside one of those gigantic heads. There was a small café of sorts, where we had some tea just before closing time.
We walked down to our car, and drove down the mountain without incident and then on the nearest town, Karadat. There was only one hotel, and it was a one star hotel. We had agreed to meet in the morning for breakfast and then travel further together. We checked into a room, and I assume he did as well. I remember waking up a lot, wondering if there were lice in the bed – paranoia strikes at the oddest times! That morning, there was no trace of this fellow – he had disappeared as far as we could tell. A bit puzzled, we drove on to Gaziantep to do some grocery shopping, then to Kilis, the border crossing into Syria, and eventually home to Aleppo.
Now, I really believe the hitchhiker was an angel. Why? Well, had he had not come along, we would have been stranded on that mountain road for some time. Second, when I got the photos developed, the hitchhiker does not appear in them. Maybe I was mistaken, I thought. But years later when I talked about this significant event with my wife, she said that she has absolutely no recollection of picking up this hitchhiker nor the incident of the car stalling on the mountain road. My daughter has a complete memory of this – a bit remarkable for a child only one and a half years old. I cannot fathom why my wife has no memory of this – almost as if it has been totally erased from her mind. She has a good memory, and often remembers details in our travels better than myself. My daughter to this day is equally mystified.
When we look into the Scriptures, we see that there is confirmation for my interpretation of those events. First, angels sometimes did appear in the Bible as “normal people”, and therefore it was not always apparent to someone that they were with an angel. See the stories about Abraham (Gen. 18:1-2), Lot (Gen. 19:1, 5, 8) and Manoah (Judg. 13:11). Not everyone with an angel might see them – Balaam’s donkey saw the angel on the road from the beginning (Num. 22:22-23) and Balaam only saw the angle when his “eyes ere opened” (Num. 22:31). These were Balaam’s spiritual eyes, not his physical eyes of course. Likewise, see Daniel 10:7, where Daniel was the only one who saw a vision of a man. Others with him were terrified with fear but did not see the man – their spiritual eyes were not “opened”. Finally, in Hebrews 1:14 we read that angels are sent to minister to those who will inherit salvation.
I believe the Lord sent the angel because He knew that I would be otherwise stranded on the mountain road in an essentially impossible predicament (Heb. 1:14). This is the only time that my wife and I ever picked up a hitch-hiker, and I was initially surprised that she agreed to this. The angel appeared as a “normal person” to us, as happens in the Scriptures. My wife’s spiritual eyes were not opened to the events, so she could not remember them. I think this is because the Lord wanted me to know that He did send an angel, and that He was indeed looking after me. I believe such angelic encounters are rare, and one musn’t “read them into” situtations. But nevertheless, it can happen.
When I first shared this story, a lady told me of her encounter with an angel. She was visiting a city and ended up on a side street in the “wrong part of town”. As she was walking down the street, some men approached her, apparently part of a gang and they were starting to threaten her. She was afraid, yet suddenly they all looked afraid and walked away quickly from her. She was quite relieved. As she went further down the street, a lady called out from a house window “who was the guy behind you?” She replied that she didn’t see anyone behind her. The lady in the window said that there was a really tall, tough looking guy behind her, ready to take on all the men approaching her. But after the men left, he suddenly disappeared. So, did the Lord send an angel to protect her? Seems likely.
Here’s a spiritual exercise you might want to try. Spend some time in quiet, listening prayer and ask the Lord if He ever sent angel to help you. You might indeed be surprised by what comes to mind.