The following in as excerpt of an account of Joseph Banks’ escape from the hands of the Germans during World War II, taken from his book entitled A Distant Prayer. Starving, cold, and frightened, Joseph and three friends attempt to escape a German POW camp by traveling at night and sleeping under cover during the day. This story is an example of how involved the Lord is in our lives and His willingness to help in times of great need.
The place was so small that there was only one road to walk on, so we cautiously proceeded down the single cobblestone lane through the center of the town to reach the other side. On this particular night Roland was in the lead, followed by Bob, Lloyd, and then me in the Tail End Charlie position. My natural inclination would be to hug the side of the road to stay out of sight, but Roland started straight down the middle of the road. At first I couldn’t figure out his reasoning, but then realized that going down the middle of the land lessened the chance that one of us would accidentally brush up against a house and disturb the occupants. We crept along slowly and deliberately, hardly making a sound, maintaining about ten feet between each member of our team. Roland was a great leader at times like this because he never got excited or panicked.
By the time we reached the middle of the town we were relieved that no dogs had started barking, and it looked like we were going to make it. Suddenly I was startled by a voice in the darkness. As I instinctively turned to look, a door opened from a house on my left. The light from inside shone on me and it was such an unexpected contrast from the darkness that it temporarily blinded me. I stood there like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, unable to move. Suddenly a German soldier came striding out of the house straight for me, followed by a woman. Fortunately the field of light was restricted enough so they could only see me, giving my three partners a chance to take cover. As the soldier got closer, his shadow shielded my eyes enough for me to see a huge German tank parked next to the house. I could see the excited look in his eyes. I stood there transfixed, unable to move or even make a sound. I didn’t know whether to run, put my hands up, or fall to my knees and beg for mercy, so I just stood there. When he reached me he shouted something unintelligible in German. Before I could think of what to do, I was startled to hear myself respond with a calm, confident German phrase that was obviously appropriate to what he’d asked me. He then replied to whatever I’d said with an almost cheerful, “Ya, Ya, Ya!” Then he put his arm around the woman, turned his back on me, and went back into the house and closed the door. I was so astonished and frightened that I simply stood there with my mouth open. My buddies had seen and heard the whole thing, and when I didn’t move, they came out and grabbed me and pulled me behind a nearby outbuilding where we could hide.
The whole encounter took only a few seconds. The first thing my buddies asked was, “What on earth did he say to you, and what did you say when you talked back to him?” I told them that I had no idea what either he or I said, since I couldn’t speak German. I knew that I didn’t use any of the few German words that I’d learned in POW camp, like “Hello,” “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir.” Even if I had, my accent would have been so terrible that a German would have recognized me as a foreigner immediately. Yet whatever I said had satisfied him. All of us stood there marveling in disbelief at what had just happened.
Considering that I was standing fully in plain sight of this soldier with my straggly beard, tattered clothes, no coat, and bright white letters painted on my trousers and shirt indicating that I was a P.O.W., it was just impossible that he didn’t recognize me as an escaped prisoner. Instead of shooting me or calling for help, though, he looked straight at me, spoke to me in his native language, listened to my response in a foreign language that I had never spoken before, and he accepted my answer as legitimate. Even if the guard hadn’t figured it out, there was the woman who also stared at me and heard the words that passed between us. Why didn’t either of them figure out what was going on?
As all of this settled in my mind, I felt a burning in my heart that told me that I had been blessed once again, and that the Holy Ghost had interpreted what the German had said to me and put the appropriate words in my mouth to respond. I’d been blessed with the gift of tongues. I don’t know what those two Germans saw, but obviously they didn’t see the letters on my clothing – thought they should have stood out like a neon sign in the bright light that shone through the door. The Spirit may have also changed what they saw. I think in some way my appearance had been transformed so they did not recognize me.
I’ve heard it said that for something to be a miracle there can be no logical or earthly way to explain it. If that’s true, then I was clearly the beneficiary of a miracle, and it thrilled me to know that God was still watching out for me and that He cared for me. Here in the middle of Germany, with millions of lives in turmoil, He had time to remember me and provide help in a desperate moment. My heart was filled with joy and appreciation, and I immediately testified to the others that it was Heavenly Father who protected and saved us just then. There was silence for a while as we each thought about it. Then we all agreed that it had to be a miracle. We said a silent prayer of thanks, and even though we should have been anxious to get out of there, everyone stood still for a few minutes to bask in the glow of the warm feeling that surrounded us. 1
1. Joseph Banks and Jerry Borrowman, A Distant Prayer, Covenant Communications, 2001, p. 99-101.