‘Should we join the army?’ the young men asked me. ‘Come back next Sunday and I will preach about it’, was my response. Why not a direct answer you might ask? Well, this was the early 1970s and I was not in Canada, or England, but in that long narrow strip of land, bordered by the Andes, with the longest seacoast of any country in the world, called Chile.
The country was in turmoil. In 1970 Salvadore Allende Gossens was elected to lead the country. He was the first freely elected Communist president in the Western Hemisphere. His programme aimed to extend state control to almost every area of the economy, and the resulting breakdown in the economy led, only three years later, to a military take over, under General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. This brought in a very repressive regime condemned by most human rights organisations.
I had come to Chile by a rather circuitous route. Having become a Christian whilst studying for a BSc in Agriculture and Horticulture, I then went on to Theological College and obtained a DD Sponsored by the United Church of Canada. I went, with a missionary team, to China, only to be thrown out of there by the Communist Regime. For 12 years I worked with my team in India, but was then asked to go to Jamaica and teach others about what to do on the mission field. But I was not a teacher, I was a missionary. Quite frankly, I was bored by the work. So I asked for a sabbatical of 12 months, though I actually took two years, and went to work with Teen Challenge. Having been recalled by the Church I was asked to go, again with my team, this time to Chile. Our time there was one of great turmoil and uprisings.
Despite the troubles of that land, we saw God move in wonderful ways. One day a young man came to me at the end of the Sunday service and said, ‘I want to play football’. I told him that I believed when a young boy had been to church on Sunday it was good way of keeping him out of mischief. He then said, ‘What, with this?’ Lifting up his leg I saw he had a club foot. I asked if I could pray for him. When he agreed I sent him to get another leader of the church so that we could pray together. I took a small bottle of oil and, as the Bible teaches, I anointed him and then started praying. Almost immediately, the young boy started screaming, and I told my colleague to take off his boot. I could not pray any more because all three watched as his foot grew to become normal.
The young boy had some way to go home, and I knew he could not walk with one boot. So I went to see a man nearby who sold shoes and explained the situation, saying I had only $11. He was so astounded by what he heard that he said I could have the boots for only $11. That could easily have been the end of the story but it wasn’t. A few years ago the Chilean International Football Team came to London. I received a letter telling me to be there, and that I would receive the shock of my life. Not only was the young man playing football for his country, but he also scored a goal!
Every Sunday service we would have at least one member of the secret police, taking notes of what was said. This was why I could not give a direct answer to these young men. On the Sunday morning following the question, I preached on the well-known text, ‘Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but render to God that which is God’s ‘. I thought I had got round the problem quite well, but that was not the thinking of the authorities.
The following Sunday, we had just started our service when in burst about 12 men, guns blazing, and shot about 25 of the congregation. My deputy, John, was one of them. Seeing them coming towards me, he jumped in front to shield me from the bullets. If ever there was a case of, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for a friend’, then this was it. John was killed instantly. They went straight through him, and five exploded in my stomach.
I knew I desperately needed medical help, but I was unable to obtain it locally for political reasons. The British Consul said although he could not get me to Canada, he could get me to England there and then.
I left on the aircraft that afternoon with only the clothes I had on, and my Bible, which I still have. By the time we reached England I was unconscious. I was totally unaware of them putting me in a helicopter for an emergency landing at the hospital. They were all prepared for me, and I was taken straight into the operating theatre and onto the table.
I became aware of where I was when, quite suddenly, I found myself standing in the air – suspended, as it were, in space – looking at my body on the operating table. After a few moments two angels came along and said, ‘This way’. We travelled along a dark passage, but all the time I could see a light at the end. When we got to the end of the tunnel it was like going through thick cobwebs, and into the most marvellous place I had ever dreamed of.
The first person who came into my vision was my mother. You might think that not surprising, but it was to me. Sometime before leaving Chile I had a letter from my parents saying that were moving over to England. What I did not know was that whilst travelling my mother suffered a massive heart attack, and survived for only a week after arriving in England. She came forward, threw her arms around me, and hugged me.
Another surprise awaited me as I looked across and saw my sister. Again, I did not know she was dead. She had also been in Chile and I knew had been shot in the foot. Gangrene had set in and she had very quickly died. For some reason she did not come across to greet me, but merely waved.
The two angels were still with me and started to introduce me to people. Some were missionaries, and some were well known figures of history, some of whom I knew and others I did not know. What I was aware of was the feeling of splendour of the place, which was wonderful. Everything was dazzling. The colours, especially the green, were so incredible it was indescribable.
Finally, we came to the one Person to whom I needed no introduction – Jesus. As I looked at this majestic figure, love seemed to pour out from Him. The only words I can find are those of a chorus we sing, ‘Beautiful beyond description’. I asked what might seem a strange questions, ‘Where am I, Lord?’ His response was, ‘You are in the Paradise of God’. I told Him I thought I was in Heaven but He replied, ‘No man has entered Heaven except He that has come out of Heaven’. I said I had not really thought about it, but I did recall reading it. ‘Do you not remember what I said to the thief on the cross?’ He asked me. Of course I did: ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise ‘.
Thinking this was all wonderful, I asked, ‘What happens next?’ The reply of Jesus was, ‘For you, nothing’. Then one of the angels spoke and said, ‘Not this time’. As I heard those words I went all the way back into my body.
The following morning the surgeon came and spoke to me. He asked if I knew I had been dead for nine minutes. I told him that I knew I had died, but was unaware of the time because the moment it happened, I was in eternity.
I recovered from my ordeal but was told I must not return to being a missionary, but should find some very light work to do. So, as always, I prayed about it and asked God to open up an opportunity for me.
The very next day a man came to see me and said, ‘What are you going to do now’. I told him I was going to find a job, and then asked who he was. His reply was not what I expected. ‘I am a Christian and I have heard about you. At present I am the Playing Field Officer for the County Council. I am leaving the job and I need someone to replace me. I know you have a BSc in Agriculture and Horticulture, and I think you’re the man for the job’. I took up the post and at the same time ran a small church. I just took the services on a Sunday and other people did the sick visiting, and other work.
I finally gave up the job when I had a heart attack. Today I am still active, and am the Prayer Officer for a chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. God is amazingly good.