During the sixties and seventies hitchhiking was common for young people searching for adventure or the meaning of life. An urban legend among the Jesus Generation featured an angel of God visiting people as a hitchhiker. The story goes like this—someone is driving along a road, spots a hitchhiker and stops to pick him up. As they travel along, the hitchhiker turns to the driver and announces, “The Lord Jesus is coming back soon!” In the next instant, the driver turns towards the hitchhiker but he’s vanished. The meaning of the story was simple—be ready for the Lord’s return! I did my share of hitchhiking in those days, and I picked up plenty of hitchhikers, but I never had this experience, nor could I verify the story of the visiting, hitchhiking angel.[i]
Recently, a good friend of mine gave a first hand account of a visiting angel. This is no urban legend, but his own account of someone who visited his mother in a hospital in Georgia, as she lay ravaged by cancer. Mario was near the end of his training in Navy flight school in northwest Florida. When it was clear his mother was near death, and against the advice of his instructor, he abruptly took leave to visit his mother before she died.
Mario’s mother read the Bible every day for as long as he could remember, but she didn’t have a personal assurance in her heart of God’s forgiveness. It was a Saturday morning, and the hospital chaplain had promised to stop by for a visit, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. Another pastor, an African-American man dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, arrived at her room unannounced with balloons and flowers. He told them they were for someone else who was already released from the hospital. Mario’s mother, Frances, was in a room near a nurse’s station at the end of a closed corridor. Another nurse’s station sat at the other end of the hallway where the elevator was located, with a waiting room and the only access and exit door for the floor.
As the pastor came in the room, he saw Francis was near death. Greeting her by her first name, which was not posted anywhere outside or inside the room, she rose up in bed and smiled. This alone amazed Mario since her body was riddled with cancer, with her spine no longer able to support her. The pastor asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she admitted her uncertainty. When he offered to pray for her, Mario’s mom gladly accepted his offer and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord that morning.
The pastor completed his visit and went out of the room, off to whatever else required his attention that day. As the hospital door shut behind the pastor, Mario followed right after him. Opening the door, he didn’t see the pastor in the hallway. He went to the nurse’s desk to ask where he had gone, but they hadn’t seen any “man in a red shirt and blue jeans.” Puzzled, my friend proceeded to the other nurse’s station, near the waiting room with the elevator. They had not seen the man, nor did they have any idea where he went.
My friend and his sister went over and over the details of the pastor’s visit. They had seen him, talked with him, heard him greet their mother and pray with her. How could he just disappear? Even to this day, Mario and his sister talk with reverence about this encounter with the mysterious pastor. Was he a visiting angel? They never tracked this man down to verify it, but their hearts tell them he was.