“Unless the Lord had given me help
I would soon have dwelt in the
Silence of death” Psalm 94:17 (NIV).
, author of the bestselling five-volume set of Storytime in Africa
In Loma Linda, California, Barton Road runs east and west. Near the east side of town, California Street goes north from Barton Road. Few people have any idea what happened at this intersection at about 11 a.m., May 27, 1981. But I will never forget it as long as I have a memory.
That memorable morning I was sitting in my 1973 Dodge Dart at the intersection, waiting to turn into California Street. In those days there was no turning lane and no signal light.
As 13 cars passed, I observed that just across the road from me, a Loma Linda fire engine and a paramedics truck were parked side by side parallel to California Street and facing me. The crews were in their vehicles.
After the cars had passed, I looked east again. An orange Volkswagen Bug was coming my way from some distance. It turned to my right and disappeared. The way was clear. I turned left, but before making it completely across I noted that the Bug was almost on me! Flooring the gas pedal I attempted to finish crossing, but the Bug hit my right rear fender. That sent me skidding to the right on California Street. Would I hit the citrus-packing house on the right side (in the area of the present Arco filling station)?
I jerked the steering wheel to get back onto California Street, but in seconds I was skidding across it on two wheels. I saw the tire tracks later.
In split seconds I realized I had four choices: I could hit the rear bumper of the fire engine; I could attempt to squeeze between the bumper of the paramedics truck and an electric light pole; I could hit the light pole; or I could go down a 7-foot (2-meter) embankment and hit a concrete irrigation standpipe.
There was no time to think. Leaving my hands on the steering wheel but loosening my grip, I cried out, “Lord, steer!”
Immediately I ran head-on into the light pole and, of course, came to an abrupt stop.
Blood was running down my face. My upper two front teeth were somewhat pushed in. My left knee, left wrist, right elbow, and rib cage were in terrible pain. I was certain my right shoulder was fractured. But I was alive! God had spared my life!
Immediately two paramedics came and opened my car door, which I could not have done. One turned the engine off — I hadn’t even though of it. The other one wanted to know if I wanted them to call an ambulance, which I did. Then one asked me if I wanted to get out of the car — I could sit on the embankment by the service road.
I decided to stay in the car.
They returned to their vehicle, where the crew members were now working outside.
I sat there thinking. For weeks I had been struggling with several serious challenges. Now this! It was almost overwhelming.
Then three more paramedics came. The first two had worn white shirts and navy-blue trousers. These three were wearing white shirts and white trousers.
One of them opened the door and asked kindly, “Is there something we can do while the ambulance comes? We can help you.”
“I think I’d like to go sit on the bank,” I answered. “I’ve changed my mind.”
“Do you need help getting there?” one asked. “We can help you.”
“Yes, I hurt so much. Maybe one of you could give me support on my left arm. I’m sure my right shoulder is fractured.”
He helped me out and steadied me as the four of us walked over to the embankment.
“Please help me sit down,” I requested.
After doing so, one asked, “Is there something more you’d like? We can help you.”
“I wish one of you could give me support on my back,” I gasped. “I’m so weak! There’s nothing to lean on. And it will hurt too much to lie down.”
“I can do that,” replied one gently, and he sat down behind me and held me up with his hands.
“Is there something more you would like?” asked another.
“Yes, I’m really concerned. My right arm is going numb. I’m afraid a nerve is being pinched because of the fracture. I must have my right hand. I do a lot of writing. Can one of you please steady my arm and hand and change the position just a little so it is not so numb?”
“Yes,” responded the second one. He knelt down with one knee on the ground and one knee up where he could lay my arm across it. He turned it slightly and asked, “Is it numb now?”
“No, it’s OK now.” I was gasping between words because of the pain.
The third paramedic asked if there was anything I needed him to do. I thanked him and replied that I didn’t know of anything. He smiled, excused himself with “I have some things to do,” and he went over and joined the crew. I did not see him any more.
Frequently I asked the man in front of me to turn my arm. He seemed very skillful at moving it. I knew that Dr. Tom Zirkle, a plastic surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center, had been teaching paramedics. I saw him standing with the paramedics and fire crew a short distance away. When things settled down, I thought, I would commend him for the fine teaching he was doing. These paramedics were outstanding!
I sat there in such anguish that I decided to pour out my heart and soul to this paramedic.
He listened attentively with a compassion that seemed new to me. So between gasps I explained that I had spent 10 years working in Africa. On my vacations I had traveled to a dozen countries to collect from Africans, true, character-building African stories for African children. Two books had been published in the late 1960s. Now, after many years, the manuscripts for two more books were finished.
“They’re lying on my dresser at home,” I explained. “One of the books — Book 4 — has a great deal in it about spiritualism that’s very common across Africa and many other places. It teaches about Satan and the true God. All of the books teach children about the gospel. I was supposed to take these two new manuscripts to Andrews University next week. Julia Neuffer, a retired book editor, is planning to edit these with me.”
My listener was very attentive. He seemed so very sympathetic, so understanding. It helped to share with him. Somehow the pain was less.
“It seemed to me,” I went on between gasps, “that just before I got out of my car, God told me that Satan was trying to destroy me because he didn’t want the
Storytime in Africa books printed.”
My friend nodded. Every few minutes he changed the position of my arm.
I explained that I needed to get to Andrews University the next week to take the last two classes that were required for me to graduate in August from the Master’s of Divinity program. I had taken this curriculum, not to be a pastor, but for other reasons.
What if I had to have surgery? How would I get to Michigan in time for the June session to take a class required for graduation? It specified a long term-paper.
My listener registered concern.
During this time, while I was talking with him, several people had come to me with questions. A policeman wanted my ID and access to the inside of my car. One of the firemen asked me if I wanted them to call a tow truck. But first they needed to call my insurance company. He explained that although my car didn’t have a dent on it (it was built like a bomb), it was totaled because it would be sprung underneath. So he got the insurance card from my wallet.
I asked him about the driver of the other car. He said that he was a Loma Linda student and was not injured. His somewhat damaged car could be repaired.
About that time my sister, Elisabeth, was coming south on California Street. She saw my car — then me. She came over to me, and I explained what was going on. Then she removed my possessions from my car and left. She would see me in the hospital’s emergency room.
At last the ambulance arrived.
“Please don’t make me lie down on a stretcher,” I asked the paramedic who had been helping me. “It’s too painful.”
“You will need to lie down,” he replied gently. “We will help you onto it. You will not know we have moved you.”
With that, my two paramedics moved me to the ambulance. I felt no pain with the move.
“Are you going with me?” I asked them.
“These men who came with the ambulance will go with you,” one answered.
I thanked the two of them as they left.
When the ambulance door was shut, it was suddenly dark inside. Outside there had been a soft, bright light. It seemed to almost shimmer like a mirage on a hot day, especially around the paramedic who had held my arm.
The ambulance crew wheeled me into a somewhat darkened room with no other patients in it. As I lay there a strange feeling swept over me.
“I’ve seen this room before,” I thought. “My bed. The empty bed beside me. The chair at the foot of the bed. The curtain that hangs between beds.” All was familiar, but I had never been here before. Then I remembered. Three times I had had a strange experience. I had been driving east along Colton Avenue under the freeway overpass. As I approached this overpass it had become darker and this room in the emergency room had come to my mind.
“Where is this?” I had wondered.
The exactly same thing had happened three times in the previous two weeks.
What did it mean?
Now I realized that God had been letting me know that He knew all about what was coming! What a comfort!
The x-rays showed a “fracture, though the surgical neck of the right humerus with mild impaction of the shaft into the rotated humeral head.” There was “no dislocation of the humeral head.” I would not need surgery. No other fractures were seen. How thankful to our heavenly Father I was!
“You can probably go to Andrews in about a month,” my orthopedist told me. “Of course you will need to continue physical therapy and exercises.”
My sister took me home to live with her family. How thankful I was for this.
The dean at Andrews University assured me on the phone that the June class would be rescheduled for July. My other requirement could be fulfilled as a reading project.
By August I had finished the classes, thanks to Julia’s help in writing. We also had polished the two manuscripts. I had had physical therapy, and the sling was gone when I graduated. People had been so kind that I was amazed.
Back at Loma Linda, I determined to go and thank the crew that had helped me, so I went to the fire station. All the fire crews and paramedics were present. Several of the men there I recognized, and I reminded them of what they had asked me and our conversations. I thanked them, then asked, “Where are the paramedics who stayed with me while I was sitting on the ground?”
“There was no one with you,” replied a paramedic dressed in blue trousers and a white shirt.
All the firemen and paramedics agreed. One said, “There was no one. We came over and asked you questions several times, but no one was with you. We kept looking over at you and wondered how you could sit there like that.”
“There were two paramedics with me,” I insisted. “At first there were three, but one went over to work with you. They wore white, short-sleeved shirts and white trousers. They had white patches on their left sleeves with medium-sized blue letters, but I couldn’t read what the words said. The one holding my arm had laid it across his knee while he knelt on the ground with the other knee. I apologized to him that he had to get his white trousers dirty. He said, ‘It’s all right. This often happens.”
My audience — both groups — stood shaking their heads. One man said, “Maybe there were paramedics who we were not aware of. We will give you phone numbers and you can call other companies.”
I took the list home and phoned them all. Everyone assured me that paramedics do not wear white trousers.
I went back to the fire crew with my report.
“I know I saw them,” I said. “There was no way I could have sat there all alone. I could not have even gotten out of the car.”
Then one spoke up. “Those were angels!” he exclaimed. “We didn’t see them, but you did!”
“You didn’t see the third one who went over and joined your crew?”
“No, there was no one in white trousers.”
A few days later I saw Dr. Zirkle at the post office. He was a good friend of mine. I thanked him for all the help the hospital workers had given. Then I commended him for the fine training he had given the paramedics. I told him that the ones in white trousers were exceptionally good.
“There weren’t any in white trousers,” he replied. “They all wear navy-blue trousers. Besides we didn’t see anyone with you. I kept looking over at you. You were doing well sitting there alone. I couldn’t understand how you could sit there like that. None of us could understand it. Carolyn, those were angels! Those were angels! We didn’t see them, but you did.”
I told him about my dilemma in choosing what to hit. He said that the crews in both trucks had been watching. They had seen me waiting for the string of cars to go by. They saw me start across when the Bug was coming and wondered why I had done what I did.
I explained that I thought the car had turned left (to my right) and then it was right there!
He replied that there was no road to turn onto. He explained that he and the policeman went onto Barton Road where I had been and tried to figure out why I turned when I did. They concluded that it was because an antiquated rigging for a railroad guard was still there, and it had obstructed my view. (The rigging disappeared soon after.)
He said that the driver of the Bug had begun to brake in plenty of time before the stop. His brakes and tires were good. But for some strange reason he had gone into a skid and had skidded all the way until he hit me. The policeman and fire crew had done tests on the pavement of both streets to see if there was oil or some other slick substance that cause the skidding. There was none.
“Besides there was no good reason for you to have skidded,” he said.
He told me that as the crew members were watching, they realized I was going to be in trouble. One of them called the police and another the power company before I hit the pole.
“You hit the right thing,” the doctor said. “Don’t ever hit the bumper of a fire engine. If you had hit the sharp corner, it would have gone right through your car and killed you. Those steel bumpers are heavily weighted. There wasn’t room enough for you to go between the paramedics truck and the light pole.
“And it would have been terrible if you had gone down the embankment and hit the concrete standpipe.
“The light pole was the right choice. We thought that at the speed you were going you would break the light pole if you hit it — at least the wires would break. The pole did shake, and the wires arced, sending sparks along them for perhaps two city blocks.
“When we checked the skids marks, it was obvious that you were on the two left wheels. But the strange thing was that as you started to cross, you were going toward the sharp corner of the fire engine bumper, but suddenly the tire marks curved and went to the pole.
“That must have been when you turned the steering wheel over to the Lord. Those were angels with you, Carolyn. Don’t ever forget them. They were angels!”
Later I asked my sister if she had seen anyone with me when I was sitting on the embankment.
“No! Of course not!” she declared. “You were sitting there by yourself.”
I told her about the paramedics. She just shook her head.
“They had to have been angels,” I said.
To think that the paramedics and the fire crew were there before I was. I asked Dr. Zirkle why they were there. He explained that they were on a reconnaissance to locate fire hydrants and emergency routes and equipment around the city. They had parked there to study maps.
Then I told him that for several weeks I had been wrestling with some serious problems. I would go for walks up in the hills east of Yucaipa where I lived. I had never seen anyone on the fire road that wound around the desolate region. Often I had prayed to see an angel. It had seemed to me that just to see one would ease my troubled mind. But I had asked for a gentle one like the one who awakened Elijah when he fled Jezebel.
I also didn’t want to see one in a desolate region; I would be terrified.
“Please, Lord, send one to me where people are around — where it would be natural to have him there,” I had often prayed. “Dr. Zirkle, that’s what he did — not just one but three! And when I think of them, I have a long way to go to be fit company for angels for all eternity.”
He smiled and said, “We all do!”
“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” reads the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” by Isaac Watts.
Thirty-four years have passed since that eventful day. What happened to the
Storytime in Africa books? Did Satan find another way to defeat the project? There have probably been many more ways than we recognized, but he has obviously challenged their publication and distribution numerous times.
To date these books have been printed at 11 publishing houses. They have been produced in English, French, Swahili; and two books in Amharic. So far about 360,000 copies had been sold.
Storytime, literature evangelists have put food on their tables, and many students have earned scholarships to academies and colleges. Many thousands of dollars in tithe have been paid into the church. Hundreds — possibly thousands — of children and adults have come to know Jesus and been baptized as a result of reading the books. Hope Channel in South Africa broadcast to much of the world dramatizations of 10 stories and produced DVDs for the public.
When I think of the faithful Christians who told me stories and those who were heroes in many of the stories — the difficulties, and often persecutions they went through — I am amazed at how God has used them to increase His family. What a day it will be when all of us gather with the angels in heaven above. I will be looking for three angels who were wearing white trousers.
Again and again in various ways Satan has attacked the production and sale of the books, but God has always sent His angels to defeat his strategies. And He will continue to do so as we commit our lives to Him and trust Him.
Just before leaving Yucaipa to drive to Loma Linda on that memorable morning, a friend and I had prayed together over the phone for God’s blessing and a safe trip. As I drove down I had sung several times all four stanzas of the magnificent hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” I had just finished the last stanza before crossing Barton Road. “And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, Lord of all!”
Now as I look back on what God did for me that day and has been doing since, I long even more to be with the angelic host!
“O that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall,
Join in the everlasting song
And crown Him Lord of all!”
Oh Lord, may it not be long!