As I walked along a ridge in rural Ethiopia, I saw an old crippled man sitting at the edge of a nearby trail. “Do you have the Word of Life?” this man shouted in his Ethiopian language. Not many missionaries get an invitation like that, so I waved my Ethiopian Bible and shouted in reply, “Yes I have the Word of Life”. An amazing set of circumstances had led up to this moment. Dare we call these coincidences, or were they the hand of God?
Many years ago, my wife Vida and I were missionaries to this east African nation. Vida ran a small bush clinic. One day, a very sick man named Kebeda came by. Although Vida treated him with everything she had, he just got worse and worse. All we could do was send him to the mission hospital that was days away. He was put on the back of an old truck that bounced for days over terrible roads. At the hospital, nobody could converse with him. He was far from home and spoke only his own tribal language. Unfortunately for Kebeda, his condition was so severe that the doctors were unable to operate. All they could do was make him comfortable and let him stay in the ward.
A few weeks later, a mule trader was traveling near the mission hospital when he got a toothache that hurt so bad he thought he was going to die. He was directed to the mission hospital to get help for his severe infection. Was it a coincidence that this mule trader was placed in the bed next to Kebeda and that he could speak Kebeda’s language?!!
Shortly before all of this in Los Angeles, the Lord told Joy Ridderhof, founder of Gospel Recordings, “I want you to go to Ethiopia”. In obedience, she and two coworkers left for Ethiopia to record Gospel messages. Was it a coincidence that she was at the hospital at the same time that the mule trader and Kebeda were there?
Joy recorded messages in Kebeda’s language using the mule trader as the interpreter. Those tapes were sent to Los Angeles where phonograph records were made and then sent back to the mission hospital. But no one could understand them so they were put in a cupboard. Over the years they collected dust.
Kebeda never returned home. He died in the hospital and was buried in the little cemetery alongside.
Several years later, another missionary took the dusty records from the cupboard and transferred them onto a cassette. Was it a coincidence that I was passing that way and picked up that cassette?
And so it was that on that day when this old man was waving and shouting, “Do you have the Word of Life?” that I had that cassette with me. Was it another coincidence that the messages on that cassette were actually in this man’s language!
This man told me about a dream he had had many years ago. He had seen a man running down the trail shouting out, “The Word of Life is coming! Believe it and you’ll live forever!” From that time on, this crippled man had waited at the edge of the trail for the Word of Life to come. Now after all these years it had arrived and the old man drank it all in! I had to go to another village and so I left the cassette and a player for him to listen to.
When I returned that evening the man was ready to come to Christ. Although he couldn’t stand, he held his hands high, renounced Satan and gave his hear to Christ.
The thing that really got through to him was that when he played the cassette he heard the voice of his own son Kebeda who had left that area all those years before and who had died in the mission hospital!
Today we marvel how God brought so many things together: A dream. A mission hospital. A toothache. A mule trader. Dusty records. A cassette. And the voice of that man’s lost son – all to bring this one man the Word of Life!