The Black Angel
Do not remain neglectful of hospitality to strangers, for by it some have entertained angels without knowing it Hebrews 13.2
He spotted me on the crowded ward of the hospital ship, USS Solace. This black man, clad in his clean, blue Navy dungarees, appeared to be a member of the ship's crew. He made his way through the crowded bunks of wounded Marines and sailors, came up to me with an engaging smile, stuck out his hand and said: "My name's so & so– good to meet you. What's your name and where are you from?"
My right hand was bandaged so I gave him my left. I tried to tell him my name, but no sound came out, not even a light whisper. Every day I tried to make a sound, form a word, but nothing came forth– only the air from labored breathing through the tracheotomy tube inserted into my throat on the battlefield. The hospital ship was riding low in the water, filled with wounded from the last great land battle of WWII. Over one quarter of a million were killed on both sides. The Army, Navy and Marines had suffered tremendous casualties in defeating the fanatical Japanese Imperial Forces on Okinawa in 1945. This particular hospital ship, the USS Solace, was coming from the island of Guam heading for San Francisco. Many of us who were wounded in Okinawa were sent by sea and air to Guam before being trans-shipped to the US. This black, new-found friend hesitated beside my bed and then went down to the foot and read my name and casualty information from the hospital tag: "Boardman, Robert R., gunshot wounds, neck, larynx and hand, Okinawa, 17 June 1945." I was a Sherman tank driver in C Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division that fateful morning just four days before the end of the battle. Two of our tanks sustained severe casualties from Japanese anti-tank fire. We who escaped were soon gunned down by Japanese snipers. The ship's crewman, whose name I can't remember, was attracted to my bunk in that crowded hospital ward because he spotted me reading a Gideon-issued New Testament.
I was a relatively new believer, having put my faith in Jesus Christ near New Guinea about 18 months before Okinawa, my third battle. On Cape Gloucester, New Britain, I knew that God wanted me to share with others as my life's vocation, the open secret that God loves them. Now I found myself with no voice, not even a faint whisper. Several questions loomed in my mind as I tried to read the New Testament given to me on Guam by Joe Alvarez, a close buddy and wounded C Company comrade. "How can I serve God with no voice? My God has all power. He could have prevented this and protected me. Why did He have to let this happen?" Into every one of our lives comes suffering in one of its myriad forms. No one is immune. It is very difficult when we first enter its doors and peer into the dark room of trial, to see and understand any worthwhile purpose. The black crewman seemed to ponder how he could best help me. Then he reached over and took the New Testament out of my hand. In my weakened condition and with the aforementioned questions looming large, I wasn't getting much out of the book, even though I was silently praying for God's help to understand. My new friend opened up the pages of the book that a few months before had revealed to me the answers to life, death, my wrongdoings and the gift of eternal life. "Here, Bob, read this chapter. I'll come back and visit you tomorrow." There are several major milestones in each of our lives during our pilgrimage. These are turning points, critical times of decision. Our response and decision determine the entire remaining direction of the way we will go. Aboard that hospital ship was just such a critical milestone for me.
The chapter that was opened by this kind sailor was Romans 8. I read and reread it many times. It didn't tell me why God allowed this affliction in my life. But it did tell me that God knew all about it and that if I trusted Him it would all work together for my good and for God's glory. Romans 8 also told me that there wasn't anything that could separate me from God's love, despite my limitations and weaknesses. Was this a black angel that God sent in answer to my heart-cry for help? It could have been. Or else it was a believer who was spirit-led who opened his Bible in the right place in time of great need in my life. Someday I will know for sure. Until then, to me, he is God's Black Angel.
The Spirit is helping us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself pleads for us with unspeakable yearnings. And He who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit thinks, for He pleads for His people in accordance with God's will. Yes, we know that all things go on working together for the good of those who keep on loving God, who are called in accordance with God's purpose.Romans 8.26,27,28
Thank you, Father, for full assurance that no force in heaven or earth, including death, can separate me from Your love, in Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.