Desert Angel

This is a True Story - It happened to us just as recorded here.

Hebrews 13:2 tells us to, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” I suspect this also works in reverse; sometimes angels entertain us and we are unaware.

I believe that my wife Sue and I had an angelic encounter in 1984 at the time of which we were unaware.

When this took place we were living in the middle of an extremely remote desert location in Southeastern California.  The area is called the Anza Borrego Desert. It is located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  It is the nation’s largest state park and is about 1000 square miles in size. Anza-Borrego is very similar to Death Valley National Park.  It is an extremely dry low desert, with areas ranging from sinks below sea level to lofty mountains all around.  If you like majestic scenery and don’t mind summer temperatures that can rise above 125F, it is the place for you.  As beautiful as the area is, it can be dangerous. On average, two tourists die here each summer; usually because they go off-road without sufficient preparation, get stuck or lost, and die of heat stroke or dehydration.

We love the desert and in 1984 we had a Volkswagen square back that we had specially modified for going off-road into the desert. It was a great vehicle and could go anywhere a dune buggy or jeep could go. However, it had one odd quirk; about once a year it would not start in the morning. No matter what was tried, it just would not start.  If left overnight, the next morning the engine would start and run just fine. In an effort to get the problem fixed we took it to a VW dealer in Orange County, CA. They had never heard of such a problem but tried to diagnosis it using the latest computerized electronic equipment, but to no avail.  Everything worked normally.  We also took it to a well known VW expert repair shop on two different occasions. However no was able to find the cause of this weird problem. Being it happened so rarely, we decided just to ignore it and used the car as one of our daily drivers in the desert.

One warm sunny day in May we decided to go off-roading. We drove the VW about 20 miles from town, up through a very pretty dry wash. (At the time it was legal to drive off of dirt roads into areas with no roads for vehicles, but this is no longer allowed.) After going quite some distance we decided to stop and look at some interesting geological features.

When we decided to move on, we got back into the car and, to our surprise, it pulled its annual no-start trick.  Even with repeated attempts, we knew immediately that the car would not start until the next morning. Keep in mind this was just when cell phones were being introduced and we did not have one yet.  So, there we were stuck miles off road and were not equipped to spend the night in this place. Fortunately, the situation was probably not life threading as the temperature was not predicted to get above the high 90’s.  We also probably had enough water to walk out to a paved road, but it was going to be a very long hike.  In the desert you never really know about safety because any number of unpredictable and dangerous things can happen, such as encountering rattle snakes or scorpions, breaking a leg, or getting disoriented and walking in the wrong direction.  I did not want to put my wife through the long walk out. Considering how long it would take to come back for her, I would not leave her where we were either.  Then there was the fact that I would need another off-road vehicle to get back to her.  We needed a better plan.

Here we were stuck literally in middle of nowhere. In all the times we had been off-road in this area before we had never encountered another person, so hope of rescue seemed out of the question. Somewhat in desperation we decided to pray for help; it had come to that.  We then began preparing for the long trek out to a paved road.

Within 5 minutes of our praying, and to our utter amazement, a man in a dune buggy drove up to us.  This was a surprise because we had not seen him coming up the wash or across the desert. He seemed to appear out of nowhere.  We were so overjoyed that we really did not stop to think about it. The driver appeared to be a very friendly man about 40 years old, dressed appropriately for the desert and wearing a big smile.

He asked if we needed help, to which we gleefully replied, “Yes!” most emphatically. He asked us what the problem was.  I replied by telling him the enigmatic tale of the car’s starting problem to which he quickly replied, “Oh, I know what’s wrong.” My thought was “Oh yeah, right. Two VW experts on three different occasions had tried unsuccessfully to diagnose the problem and this guy out here, who just happened to come along, thinks he knows - fat chance.”  I was just thinking that he could give us a ride into town.  But to humor the guy I asked, “Yeah?  What do you think the problem is?”

Our new friend replied that there was a solenoid switch located behind the back armrest panel upholstery which had a very slight pin hole leak in it. This was so small that only on rare occasions would it allow moisture to accumulate in the switch and this would prevent the electrical switch from getting energy from the battery at the front of the car to the starter motor at the rear of the car. He further explained a special tool was needed that would allow the switch to be by-passed, and fortunately for us, he just happened to have the special tool with him and the extended wiring necessary to reach from the battery at the front of the car to the starter motor at the rear of the car.

Working just a few more minutes he made the connection and the car started. We joyously thanked him.  He quickly put his tools away and jumped back into his dune buggy.  I asked if I could pay him for his services. With a smile he declined. I asked if I could at least buy him and his wife dinner.  He again declined and with a wave and a smile said, “No, just glad to help,” and headed off in the direction he was going.

We drove out of the wash thinking how lucky we had been that this guy just happened to come along at the perfect time. “What a lucky coincidence,” we agreed. Later we had the solenoid switch replaced, as our rescuer suggested, and sure enough, that eliminated the car’s starting problem.

When Sue and I thought back on this experience, we began to realize what an amazing set of low-probability events were involved here.  We thought a fiction writer could not include an incident like this in a novel because it was totally implausible. If I were told this story, would I believe it? I think my response would be, “Okay let me get this straight. You get stuck off road because of a mechanical problem that is so subtle and rare that multiple experts had never seen it before.  You are far out in the desert where you never even see any other people. You pray, and within 5 minutes some guy shows up who not only correctly diagnoses the problem, but also happens to have the tools necessary to fix the problem to get you out of this dangerous situation.  Is that what you expect me to believe?”

Well, for what it is worth, this is a true story.  Sue and I are convinced that this was an angel or, if not an angel, he must have been some other form of Divine Intervention, because it happened just like it is described here.

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