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Saturday, 27 June 2015

A Mere Coincidence?

The Greyhound bus cruised smoothly along the Pacific Highway heading in a South-Easterly direction along the coastline of Queensland, Australia. As this vehicle was one of a brand new fleet of coaches recently acquired by the company, eating and drinking on board were strictly forbidden - except the sucking of peppermints. Little wonder that the sale of Trebor and Polo mints were high on the agenda, with tuck shops heavily stocked with such confection and little of anything else.

So the pleasant imagination of this free and single British backpacker was allowed unlimited access to his mind, as he ponders on his recent adventures. Like that beautiful tropical beach at Sentosa Island, Singapore, thickly lined with palm trees, among where a wooden shack which served as an outdoor bar has given the area a real Copacabana-style atmosphere. After a lengthy swim in the warm Indian Ocean, the backpacker then finds himself sipping a very pleasant-tasting locally-brewed alcoholic drink, a pint glass from which a Singaporean sitting next to him was also drinking, and from whom the traveller, who had dampened his wooden seat while wearing wet shorts and yet a dry singlet, had gotten his inspiration to try out the beverage. 

And then, a little later, after an overnight flight across the Oceania Islands such as Indonesia, and perhaps over the tiny island of Timor-Leste, the travel enthusiast, after settling down at a Backpacker's Hostel in Cairns, then took the morning catamaran to Low Isles from Port Douglas. Here at the Great Barrier Reef, not far off the coast of North Queensland, he hired snorkeling gear, and with a purpose-designed, single-use underwater camera purchased on board, he took photos of the fabulous coral reef with its abundant marine life just off the island's coarse sandy beach.

And then afterwards, after spending a further few days in the tropical "Winter" heat of Townsville, which was a gateway to Magnetic Island with fantastic hilltop views of its imposing and wild Radical Beach, he was once again heading South, towards Arlie Beach, the gateway to Cook Islands, a part-sunken mountain range, hence dubbed "Continental Islands" as opposed to "Coral Cay" as was the case with Low Isles. One of the islands in this archipelago - Heron Island - has a luxurious fringe reef which featured the famous Brain Coral, as well as giant clams, and schools of brightly-coloured fish, particularly of the striped Zebra variety. Not only the backpacker felt that he was already in Heaven wearing goggles and snorkel, but also became an enthusiastic convert to marine biology.

There was something absolutely wonderful about long-haul independent travel! Not only were all his daily responsibilities left well and truly behind, but his family, along with all friends and acquaintances were far, far away - some 11,000 miles 17,800 km distant, a fact confirmed by just looking up at the cloudless night sky, where the Southern Cross constellation was backed by a distinct hazy band of the Milky Way coursing across the heavens from horizon to horizon. Not the sort of view seen from the Northern Hemisphere, or at least certainly not from the British suburbia. As such, half a world away from anyone who knew him, he sat alone at a table at a bus station restaurant, consuming a snack to satisfy his appetite before re-boarding the bus. Then pulling in from the opposite direction as it journeyed North, another Greyhound bus emptied its passengers into the self-service buffet as it also stopped for the one-hour on-route service. Then about five minutes later:-


He jolted from his semi-doze, and looked up to see a young backpacker looking straight down at him. 

"You know me! But who are you?"
"You don't remember? That hostel in St Louis?"
"Yes, I stopped in St. Louis on my way to San Francisco nearly two years ago."
"Then you don't recall when I gave you that map in the kitchen?"
"By heck! I do recall the incident. When I was without (a Greyhound route map of the USA) you gave me a spare one. I recall. What are you doing here?"
"I guess the same as you. Travelling across Australia."
"And you picked the same place and the same time of the year to travel. And we meet again, purely by chance. Amazing!"

Just then the announcement came for us to board, if I wanted to continue with the journey. I said goodbye and proceeded to the waiting coach. The wonder of backpacking, which is very different from an escorted coach tour, the latter in which the entire group stay together throughout the whole trip, and led by a ranger who decides on the location and duration of each stop. In my case I was alone, and had to book in advance for every leg of the journey from Cairns to Sydney. Then to add to this, I could choose any destination, choose any hotel or hostel, do my own shopping, cooking, and use of the launderette, and stay at any one stop as long as I desired. If I had found the venue to be inspiring, it would have been easy for me to extend the stay by booking an extra night or two at the hostel. If not, then providing that a seat is available on the next bus out, I can leave on the same day, maybe even after a couple of hours. That's the wonder of holding a national bus pass, normally available only to travellers from overseas.

Backpacking Australia, 1997

The conversation in that buffet was a meeting by pure chance with someone I became friends with nearly two years earlier, when I backpacked across the United States in 1995, using the same method of travel by holding a Greyhound Bus Ameripass ticket, which for a month, allowed me to travel freely to any part of the country. That particular trip also held wonderful memories. This included hiking into the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where at the bottom I stood at the banks of the Colorado River, unseen from South Rim Village where all the tourists flock. At night, while standing by Bright Angel Creek which flows into the main river, I looked up to see a magnificent display of stars and constellations of the Northern Hemisphere I had never seen before in my entire life!  Wow, no wonder God had challenged Abraham to count the stars (Genesis 15:5) - "So shall your offspring be."

It was at the Huckleberry Hostel in St Louis, Missouri, when this guy and I found ourselves chatting away in the kitchen while cooking our evening meals, and I was moaning that I had left the Greyhound Bus route map at home by mistake, a silly thing to do, I guess, because it came with the Pass ticket, which I was careful to pack. Fortunately, this fellow helped me out by giving me a spare map. Strange really, but during that chance meeting in Australia two years later, he recognised me straightaway. But I didn't recognise him myself until he identified himself. 

Pure chance? A coincidence? No, rather I believe that God himself has a sense of humour, and predestined this meeting from eternity past. Not only that, but had actually arrange with precise timing and location of the encounter, brief as it was, which took place in June 1997, about eighteen months before I met my future wife Alex. And I could see a connection between these things and that of an incident which occurred in London only last Sunday. 

At present, I'm still on a self-imposed "exile" from my home church in Ascot when, on the ninth Sunday of my sabbatical, I paid a visit to Westminster Chapel in London. I have fond memories of that particular church. Early in our marriage, before our first daughter was born, I took my wife there for a "Prayer for Israel" all-day Saturday Conference, headed by the late Lance Lambert, an expert on Biblical Prophecy, particularly on God's future dealings and blessings for the nation of Israel. Lambert, unlike my experience with the majority of Messianic teachers, believed in and advocated Eternal Security of the Believer, making his teachings on God's promises to Israel particularly powerful. 

But this Sunday, I wanted to sample a typical weekly service. I found my experience both glad with a lace of sorrow. Glad to feel the strong presence of the Holy Spirit, and the friendliness of those who greeted me and spent time for a chat. But sad about the abundance of empty pews, along with totally deserted balconies. The building could have easily have held three to four times the size of the congregation which was present that Sunday. One explanation was that many of the students (primarily of the University of London) had finished their term, and had gone home. For this, I'll most likely return, probably in late October or early November.

But the sense of the presence of God could not be mistaken, as the preach was about Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, with an emphasis on Eternal Security. I felt so moved, as if I was floating on air! Here was something so edifying, so uplifting, that I could have stood up and shouted praises to God. It was after the service had ended and I was heading back to Victoria Station to board a train home when something rather unpredictable happened. Along the route from the chapel to the station, the Westminster Cathedral stands majestically. This is the seat of the Cardinal of London, second only to the Pope in Rome. More than that, this was the church where I was baptised as a Catholic in 1952, when I was a few weeks old. So as I passed it, I decided to take a peek inside.

The interior was huge, cavernous, and gloomy. The very high ceiling was blackened, as if soot from the many candles which burned for centuries around the sanctuary had slowly accumulated over the ages. Above the Altar, an enormous Crucifix hung, with an image of the dead Jesus Christ painted on it, his lifeless head slumped over his chest. In one of the side chapels, a service was taking place, or rather a musical chant, the same words sung over and over again which had a mesmerising impact as I listened:

Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

So the chant went on and on, without deviating. As I strolled out of the building, I found myself walking along through Victoria Street, chanting away - such was the mesmerising power it had on me.

But was this all a coincidence? How can I connect this incident with the chance meeting back in Australia? Basically, both were unplanned by me, and both was the result of off-chance timing. Yes, the walk into the Cathedral was a decision on my part, as was the route I chose to travel on Down Under. But the chance meeting, along with my ignorance of what went on inside the church were occasions beyond my control, but neither they were coincidences. Rather, as I believe, they were both fore-planned by God himself.  

But why did God had wanted me to see and listen to the chanting? Immediately upon hearing it, I sensed something was not right, although at the time I could not put my finger on it. I could not let go of such a rhythm, because it had such a powerful hold on me. Rather it went round and round my head. Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy...

It was during the working week which followed that something of an answer to this mystery began to dawn. It's was all down to one word, Acquittal. I visualised someone who was standing in front of a magistrate in Court. His crime was burglary, stealing valuable goods to try to contribute towards a massive debt he could not pay, for his bank account was overdrawn by several thousand pounds. He was sentenced to prison until his debt was paid, which would take many years. Then someone very rich like John D. Rockefeller arrived and not only paid the defendant's debt, but also credited over a million pounds into his bank account. No longer overdrawn, the defendant can buy anything he wants.

And that's where the chanting was so misplaced. How would Rockefeller had felt if the defendant pleaded with him for mercy, after his debt was paid off, and in addition, so much imputed into his account? All the defendant had to do was believe and accept what he had received, and to demonstrate his faith, simply to say, Thank you so much, sir. No amount of chanting can change the situation. He was free, and nothing can add to his freedom.

God knows best. And if he can make things happen against all odds, I'm sure we can entrust our futures into his hands, no matter where we are.


  1. Frank,
    it is not coincidence that I came over to view your blog today. Twice today I have been diverted to a different church, this morning because I thought the church I normally attend was closed, and this evening because I had to back to the same church I went to this morning because I left my mackintosh there this morning. I have since found out that the church I normally go to was not closed, and it was as if the Lord changed the time in order to divert me (long story). However, in both services the gift of miracles were mentioned, and when I phoned my friend, she had gone out this morning and seen a van with the word 'miracle' written on the side. I know the Lord has been encouraging me to believe that He will heal me regarding something that has been on going for years, and telling me to trust in Him, and that scripture says all the promises of God are 'yes' in Jesus.
    Where you have written 'All the defendant had to do was believe and accept what he had received, and to demonstrate his faith, simply to say, Thank you so much' this also applies to 'healing' which is a promise of God in Psalm 103, and I believe that I am being encouraged to do simply that, just believe that I am healed.
    God bless you for sharing this, nothing is coincidence Frank, I have had many things people could call 'coincidence' happen in my life since I have come to know the Lord.

  2. Dear Frank,
    Praise God that with Him there are no coincidences! My family has fond memories of Westminster Abbey. We were not saved at the time, but we enjoyed the spirituality, beauty and history there, and we made a rubbing of St. George slaying the dragon, which is still on our wall today. The message in our Sunday service this evening was entitled "Once," and the topic of how Christ did everything only once to save us, for it was finished and sufficient. Keeping Christ on the cross in the crucifix, or chanting over and over again for mercy, or believing that the communion wafer actually becomes Christ's body that is broken over and over again, negates the power and glory of "Once." Thanks as always for the great post and God bless.