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Thursday, 8 April 2010

Patricia St. John on the Gift of Tongues

We were waiting stationary at a busy crossroads a few miles north of Tarragona when there was a tremendous crash at the back of the car, jolting us forward and hurling us against the windscreen (it was before the days of seat belts). An enormous truck, whose owner had apparently fallen asleep, had rammed into the back of the car and cracked the Volkswagen engine in two. At first we were so thankful to discover that neither of us was hurt (although my arms and hands remained numb for several days) that we scarcely realized the predicament we were in.

The excitement and noise was indescribable. We were some way out of town, but crowds seemed to spring up from nowhere, quarrelling and arguing with Spanish heat. The police were screaming at the traffic jam, and the lorry driver seemed to be trying to turn our wheels. We discovered later that he wanted to prove that we were turning left and had not indicated. After a lot of wrangling and shouting, in the end a pick-up truck appeared and hoisted our car on top and took it to a garage in Tarragona, the nearest town.

We were taken in the truck and dumped on the pavement. It was quite dark now and starting to rain, and after ten o’clock at night. As we were nearing the end of our journey, we had very little money, and the campsite was far outside the town. Nor could we have carried our gear. We enquired about hotels, but were assured that every hotel was full, as it was a fiesta (a remarkably common occurrence in Spain). No one seemed to care, and we stood in the little street with our hand luggage and prayed. Just then a boy came up to us and said, ‘I think I know a house where you could sleep’.

He seemed like a small, bright-eyed angel, but as we followed, the streets became narrower and we began to wonder. We had obviously reached the poorer part of the town. He stopped at a tall house and beckoned us inside. He led us up a very dimly lighted stone staircase. By now we were definitely feeling scared. But he kept turning round and making encouraging noises. At last he knocked on a door.

An elderly woman opened it and after a few words of explanation she admitted us a little doubtfully into a small living room. We looked round. There were Spanish texts on the walls. We showed her our Bibles and within a couple of minutes we were all in each other’s arms. The bond of the love of Christ is seldom felt more strongly than when Christians meet in a strange land with little common language; it overrides all barriers. That night in that humble little home we instantly knew ourselves to be one in Christ Jesus.

In a city of over 60,000, there were just 60 Protestant Evangelical Christians, and she and her family were among them. They were kindness itself and though she could keep us for only one night, as her families were arriving next day, she took us to the church and we met with a little group. They escorted us and our belongings to a small chapel by the beach, not yet registered for use but containing a tiny kitchen and toilet and ample space to camp. It was quite luxurious, and we were detained for four days while the garage searched in vain for a Volkswagen engine, much hindered by two fiestas.

Then we gave up in despair and decided to travel on by train and leave the car to be picked up later when it had been mended.

Why? we wondered. Everything had gone so well. God’s guiding hand had been in evidence. Why should this delay have been allowed? We were almost at the end of our money. We had to go on the first morning to visit the British Consul, who could not speak one word of English. We needed funds sent out urgently from England. We needed to give a true account of the accident for insurance purposes.

It was here in that dingy office with a bored-looking Spanish official that I was given the gift of tongues. I knew very little Spanish, but I suddenly found that I could ask for what we wanted and give a lucid account of all that had happened. In spite of the lies told by the lorry driver, we were awarded full insurance costs six months later.

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