An Angel Ladder

“Hello. Sorry to have to join you.” The stranger smiled when he spoke, as if it were a nice quiet day in the village.

Dick Duerksen
An Angel Ladder

Alejandro was a colporteur, a young man who walked the humid mountains of Central America searching for families who needed the truth-filled books he carried in his backpack. It wasn’t a way to become wealthy, but had proved to be a good way to earn “just enough” to cover his college tuition.

He had been born in these mountains, had grown up eating wild mangoes and guavas, sucking on sugarcane, and helping care for his family’s hillside farm. He had named and fed goats, chickens, three milk cows, doves, and multiple families of kittens. He loved it here. The humidity. The cool night breezes. The blue/black butterflies that seemed to follow him everywhere. The happy songs he sang with friends at church.

His parents valued education and had made sure he attended the local elementary school and then a nearby high school. When he graduated, they took him on a long bus ride to the Seventh-day Adventist college near the capital city. It was far from home and much more expensive than the family had expected.

* * *

“I think there may be a way,” one of the financial aid counselors said. “The conference is offering a scholarship to students who work as colporteurs during the summer. You know, selling Bibles, prophecy booklets, and other materials in the high mountain villages. If you’re interested, I’ll see what I can do to connect you.”

A few weeks later Alejandro had a backpack full of books and 10 days of training. And a map with several small villages circled in red. And a new pair of good mountain walking shoes.

Alejandro had not expected that the training would focus so much time on “how to pray” and “depending on the Holy Spirit.” He had thought there would be more about “surviving in the woods” and “the right words for selling.”

“The Holy Spirit and God’s angels will be with you every step of the way. Talk to them often,” the leader had reminded the colporteurs many times.

He had been doing a lot of talking, especially during the past couple weeks. A group of rebel soldiers had shown up in the hillside coffee plantations, demanding money and food, harassing the villagers, and stealing animals. There were rumors that soldiers had shot several village men. Now there were also government soldiers in the hills, and everyone was trying to stay out of the way of the guns.

Alejandro kept on earning his scholarship, walking the hills, going from one small wooden house to the next small wooden house. Talking with wives, mothers, and their men. Showing The Desire of AgesThe Great Controversy, and the dozen other books in his backpack. Explaining the gospel again and again.

* * *

The next house had never been painted. Alejandro imagined the new friends he would make, and walked up the hill. After climbing the three stairs, he knocked on the old wooden door. A woman answered, a woman whose face was lined with worry and whose fear flicked her eyes from left to right.

“Go away,” she said in a voice slightly above a whisper, a voice crisp with terror.

“But señora, I have books that will give you peace and hope,” Alejandro said, reaching for his backpack.

“Go away,” she said again. “It’s not safe. Many soldiers are near.”

Then she closed the door and locked it with the sliding of a large metal bolt.

Alejandro stood there for a moment, listening as all the normal forest sounds died away. The birds, the cicadas, the frogs, even the old burro all had gone silent. The soggy afternoon air pressed down and chased him back down the steps toward the muddy path.

There was no place to run. Nowhere to hide. No barn. No neighborhood with a “safe house.” Nothing but a few trees, some tall bamboo, and the coffee plants.

And an ancient brown bamboo-slat chicken coop.

Alejandro sprinted across the path, under the bamboo, and joined the chickens.

The quiet had become a war zone. Rebel soldiers were shooting at government soldiers, and government soldiers were shooting the rebels. The chicken coop was in the middle of the mess, and Alejandro and his backpack were scrunched down into the chicken dust—watching the battle from beneath the broken bamboo.

How am I ever going to get out of here alive? Alejandro thought. Then he remembered his trainer’s words and began talking with the Holy Spirit and the guardian angels. He told them his problem and begged for them to somehow get him out before the bright hot bullets ended his life. He was very clear in his request!

Alejandro’s breath caught as he saw a stranger, tall and dressed in white, sprint across the path toward the chicken coop. He followed the colporteur’s lead and joined him in the dirt with the chickens.

“What are you, crazy?” Alejandro asked the newcomer.

“Hello. Sorry to have to join you.” The stranger smiled when he spoke, as if it were a nice quiet day in the village.

They talked for a few minutes, and then the stranger glanced at his watch. 

“Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I am supposed to be in another village down the road right now. It was good to meet you, but I must go.”

He slipped out under the bamboo, stood tall beside the chicken coop, dusted off the dirt, and walked calmly toward the path, not bothering to dodge the bullets screaming through the village. When he reached the center of the path, he turned, waved to Alejandro, and walked slowly up an invisible stairway into the sky. At the top of the stairs he disappeared.

Alejandro lay still, staring through the broken bamboo to the empty place where there had been a stairway. Then he smiled, breathed an eloquent “Thank you,” grabbed his backpack, and slipped out under the chicken coop wall. Outside he stood tall, brushed off the dirt, and walked calmly toward the center of the path. There were no stairs, but the shooting had stopped, and the woods were silent.

When Alejandro arrived at the center of the path, he stopped, looked toward the rebels, looked toward the government troops, and pointed up into the sky.“I have an appointment in the next village,” he said loudly, “and must be going now.” Then he walked down the road to safety.

Dick Duerksen