Alone in the Plaza…

When I was a young man, my wife and I traveled to Brazil and were missionaries with a campus ministry for 5 years. We raised support and we went in faith, believing that God would meet all our needs. This was in July of 1980.

For two years we worked with another wonderful couple and others from the States to build a church and raise up leaders. It was a wonderful time but it required a LOT of faith to believe that God would take care of our every need. In the first place, I spoke Spanish, but in Brazil they speak Portuguese.

We took lessons but, we learned to speak the language by wading into the deep water of day to day activities and learning as we went about business. God always showed up, and even though my Brazilian friends would encouragement me that my Portuguese was improving, I was never quite sure that what I intended to say from the pulpit was exactly what was said!!! I laugh about it today that it was truly a miracle people came to Jesus through my Portuguese.

In 1982 We decided to outreach the city of Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America and today, boasts a population of over 12.18 million people. Realizing I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to fly, I took a bus which was called a “Leito” which meant it had attendants like an airplane and was a “sleeper” bus. It was very nice and I settled into my seat for the roughly 9 hour trip.

In those days we had friends with a group called “Youth With A Mission” (YWAM) and I was told that when I arrived in Sao Paulo, a young man named; to the best of my recollection, Aristarchus…(this was over 30+ years ago, but it was a really “different” biblical name like that.), would meet me in the plaza next to the bus station.

I had never been in that city, I had never met this Aristarchus, I wasn’t traveling with much money, I had no phone number for this man and somehow, I was supposed to recognize him, and he would recognize me, and then I would go to his home to sleep for the night. Seemed reasonable to me at 25 years of age.

When I arrived at the plaza, I got off the bus and saw the plaza across the street. I don’t know what I had expected, but we arrived super early in the morning at 2:30 a,m. and as I looked across the street from the bus station I thought I would see a person or two, but instead it was PACKED with people! I thought if I waited by the bus terminal, the plaza would clear out, but instead, it got busier!!

I prayed and asked the Lord to watch over me and to keep me from harm. Brazil, at least in those days, was infamous for getting robbed, or stabbed and robbed or held at gunpoint while you were robbed. Thieves would get on buses and wait until the bus was on a lone stretch of road, then they would take out their guns and walk the aisle of the bus point a gun at you and demand cash, rings, jewelry of all kinds and they would simply shoot you if you resisted. In one instance, they even shot a baby for crying…really bad dudes.

Remembering all of this as I walked into that crowded plaza, I nonetheless had a real peace inside. I looked just like the corn-fed white boy I was…and everyone in that plaza knew I must be crazy to be walking with two suitcases into a plaza and sitting on the steps of the fountain, apparently waiting for Aristarchus to find me. But, herein is a lesson I learned. God; sometimes, will not allow us to recognize the danger of our situation until we are past it. I’m not saying He always does that…I’m not sure God “always” does anything, and of course there was the youthful virtue of being “clueless’ but I have to say I did not fear anything at that moment. He cannot however cure STUPID…but He does deliver us sometimes from it.

In the minute or two that I was sitting there at that fountain, I was approached by a man who stood staring at me. I stood up and was taller than he was. He had an even shorter man standing next to him. I asked him in my Indiana Portuguese accent, “Hello, Are you Aristarchus?” He said nothing and nodded up and down to the affirmative. Now…you would think I would ask for identification and a secret handshake, but of course, being me…I just believed him!

Aren’t you glad that God intervenes in our lives? Like I said, I never recognized the danger I was in at the moment, but I was blithely walking like a goober obediently behind some guy who hadn’t said a word. (You wonder how on earth I have survived this long don’t you?) As I pulled my luggage behind a me, we were almost to the edge of the plaza and were getting ready to walk down a long alleyway, when suddenly, I heard a voice call out, “Douglas!” I turned around and a really tall, sharp chinned Brazilian walked quickly up to me and asked, “Are you Douglas?” I said “Yes, I am, who are you?”

He smiled and said, “Douglas, allow me to introduce you to my friend, Aristarchus!” I looked at the tall guy, then behind him I saw a young guy, about my age, standing next to him. I said to the tall guy, “I thought this was… I turned to introduce him to my chaperones but they had taken off running down the alley.

Aristarchus smiled at me and said “Ladrões”…the Portugues word for “Thieves”. I stood there blinking and after hearing Aristarchus say a few things, like the name of my ministry partner in Rio and some mutual aquaintances, I realized he was the REAL Aristarchus. I was reprimanded gently by my new host as he said, “Never leave a public area with someone Douglas unless you are absolutely sure you know them!” I nodded and stopped in my tracks and just bowed my head and thanked God.

Aristarchus continued, “If it hadn’t been for your friend, I would not have known where you were!” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “I didn’t catch his name, but said, “You know, your friend who brought me to you!” I told him I didn’t have a friend with me. He said, “Then who is…” he looked behind him where the tall Brazilian had been standing while we spoke. I looked for him too, but we couldn’t find him. I told Aristarchus I thought the tall dude was HIS friend and he said, “No Douglas, I arrived here alone, and I’m sorry I was late!” “He came and said to hurry and he would introduce me to you!”

We looked at each other for a few moments…trying to take in what had just happened. Aristarchus looked at me and said, “Douglas, how did he know where you were? And how did he know to come get me and bring me to you?” In that instant the realization of what had just happened hit us at the same time and we hugged each other and began praising God. I had just been delivered from real harm by a good looking sharp chinned Angel of the Lord…I truly believe that.

Do you think God is not aware of what is going on in your life? Do you think he doesn’t know your situation, the danger you may be in or the struggle you are facing. Do you not think God, the Lord of the Universe doesn’t know the plans He has for you? Let me tell you this my friend, God cares about your destiny, He cares about your future plans and He wants to work beside you to see it come to pass.

He hears your prayers…He HEARS you. He is always watching you and watching out for you. He wis watching over His word to perform it. It reminds me of a line from Amy Grant’s song from the 80’s “Angels”

“God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A wreckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,
though I never see with Human eyes the hands that lead me home.
But I know they’re all around me, all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in I know sometimes they fight,
to keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away…
if you’re wondering what’s protecting me, then you’re gonna hear me say:
“He’s got his Angels watching over me, every step I take,
Angels watching over me!”

He hasn’t stopped my friends…and they are there for you! God will make good His promises over your life. The prophecies He has spoken though His prophets will come to pass…though they tarry wait for them…be patient…God will fulfill His words over your life.

“I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the ramparts. I will watch to see what He will say to me and how I will answer my reproof. Then the LORD answered me: “Write down this vision and clearly inscribe it on tablets, so that he who reads it may run. For the vision AWAITS FOR THE APPOINTED TIME; it testifies of the end, and will not lie. Though it lingers, wait for it, SINCE IT WILL SURELY COME AND NOT DELAY.…” Habakkuk 2:2

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