A PAT ON THE BACK FROM GOD
The guardian angels of life sometime fly so high as to be beyond
our sight, but they are always looking down upon us.
Jean Paul Richter
And one more story about driving.... It was in January 1948
when young Anthony Zimmerman arrived as a freshly minted Catholic
missionary priest at Yokohama port in Japan. He was the first of
his order, the Society of the Divine Word, to journey from
America after World War 11 had ended, but he would eventually be
joined by many more, along with priests being sent out of China
before the Communists could catch up with them.
Anthony still remembers how he felt when his feet touched the
pier after riding the waves for twelve days. "I felt myself
swaying," he says, "and I watched as my 117 trunks of luggage
were lined up for inspection." Inside were many articles for the
war-deprived missionaries: army-surplus shoes, winter underwear,
jackets, canned goods, even a bicycle and tiny motorcycle.
General Douglas MacArthur had given the word that missionaries
were welcome in Japan, and his command apparently cut the red
tape - Japanese tax officials gave only a cursory inspection to
the luggage and Anthony was waved on to start his new life in
"The missionaries in our Tokyo house gave me a warm welcome
that night," Anthony recalls. "We went to chapel right away to
thank God for the safe journey. I don't remember whether I
thanked my guardian angel specifically, but I usually kept in
touch with him at morning and evening prayers, so I probably
nodded to him then too, asking that he accompany me during my
future in Japan." He went first to a mission in Tajimi, where he
would study Japanese and teach English. Those were the days of
food and fuel rationing, when Japanese families sold precious
heirlooms at bargain prices to buy the necessities of life. As
they saw Americans helping them, giving them food and fuel and
kind treatment, the environment slowly changed to mutual
acceptance and tolerance. Yet living conditions were not
"Travelling took a long time, there was no flush plumbing
and we didn't always like the food. When I once asked my superior
what that terrible smell was, he answered, "Either its supper or
the toilet;" Anthony says, adding that he commuted on rocky and
deserted roads by a little putt-putt motorcycle.
"Looking back, I think my guardian angel did not approve of
all the risks I took, but I prayed to him daily and tried to keep
him on my good side just in case." By 1950, Anthony had relocated
to Ehocho parish in Nagoya, but he still commuted to various
sites to teach English, visit the hospitalized and, if the
Japanese people were willing, to discuss the Christian message of
healing and forgiveness. On occasion he would make rounds at the
Umemori sanitarium for terminally ill tuberculosis patients. It
was in the spring of 1950, after a visit to that sanitarium, that
something special happened.
"After visiting with patients at Umemori, I packed
everything into the jeep and started the drive back to Ehocho
parish," he recalls. "I was never good at finding roads, but I
drove on anyway, expecting that somehow I would return safely. I
was not particularly attentive, being lost in a reverie about the
people I had just left."
He was thinking about how desolate they were. In war-ravaged
Japan, funds for the care of terminally ill patients were limited
The wait before death was gloomy, bereft of joy and hope. But a
few were grateful to be told of God's love. For them, Anthony
mused, his spirit still heavy at the sight of all that suffering,
for them he could help open the gates of heaven.
He was nearing a crossroad now, but he didn't realize it was
there. It was a wooded area, trees and shrubs crowded to the
road's edge, and he saw only the continuous path of the road
straight ahead. There was no stop sign, and he barrelled the jeep
onward to get home.
But, still deep in thought, Anthony felt a powerful jolt.
The jeep, travelling swiftly forward, began to rock dangerously
up and down, and from side to side. It was like sitting on top of
an earthquake. Was it an earthquake? What was happening? Afraid
of braking too hard and turning over, Anthony came slowly to a
stop. And just in time. No more than fifteen yards ahead, an
enormous truck came roaring from a side road that was hidden by
the foliage and tore through the place where he would have been.
"If we had collided, the truck would have totalled both the
jeep and me," he says. "Spontaneously, I looked to heaven to
thank God. I relish the moment still:" But what had gone wrong
with the jeep? As his heart quieted from the near miss, he
realized that he must have hit something large or, at the very
least, blown a tire - a typical occurrence on those roads.
Shakily, he got out to look. But there was nothing to see. The
jeep seemed perfect - its tires were fine and he saw no dents or
scrapes. And the road was completely smooth, without a rock or
Frowning, Anthony got in again and started the engine.
Flawless. As he pulled away, the jeep ran smoothly, with no hint
of the shaking that had just taken place.
There was nothing wrong with it, absolutely nothing. But
something mighty had manhandled it and changed Anthony's course.
It was then that he realized what had happened and spoke to his
guardian angel. "Sorry about that," he said. "And thank you very
Later Anthony learned that he was not the only priest to
have been similarly graced. During that same period, a classmate,
John, went routinely to a convent near Peking to say mass for the
sisters there. He knew the route very well - a simple straight
path. One morning he called a native with a pedicab to take him
by that direct mute.
Peking was already surrounded by the Communists, and the
rumble of distant artillery could be beard. "Straight ahead;"
John said to the man operating the pedicab.
"No, sir!" the man said. John was used to bargaining, but this
time it was different. The man had already started a roundabout
route that would take fifteen minutes longer and cost more.
"Straight ahead!" John again insisted.
"You win" John sat back in defeat as the pedicab began its
circuitous and seemingly senseless journey.
But the route had not been pointless. For as they travelled,
a massive explosion ripped through the air and a bomb made a
direct hit on the straight road where John would have been. Who
can say whether the pedicab operator was an angel - or simply
inspired by one? But as both priests know, angels take special
care of missionaries,
"What does it feel like at such a time?" Anthony asks. "It
feels like a pat on the back from God, Who says, 'I know you're
here, and I like what you're doing. I also have more work that I
want you to do. So hang in there! But be more careful!' One does
not forget such a time and event."
Anthony eventually earned a doctorate and taught in Japan.
Now retired, he has a new career, writing books on theology. "I
suspect that in heaven, my guardian angel is going to tell me
that he already knew all this was coming for me, and that is one
of the reasons he made the jeep rock to keep me from being
killed," he says. "The episode is etched into my memory. It is a
gift I will never forget."
Many "Christian missionaries" do much good work in humanitarian
ways. They may often not have the correct "theology" per se to
give to people, but their kindness and service in helping others
is not without notice from God. Being spiritually blinded to
certain truths of God's word, does not mean the Most High will
not give them guardian angels. Their humanitarian work is often
protected and so are they as they dedicate their lives to serving
others - Keith Hunt