We are privileged to work with some radical Jesus followers...people who suffer and sacrifice for the gospel. And we get to hear a lot of crazy stories. Our friends Jason and Liana Stone are traveling East Africa right now and recently had something scary and powerful happen to them. They have told the story and given me permission to share it. So, here it is. It is a nail-biter and a powerful God encounter that will encourage you. Enjoy.
I caught a glimpse of myself a few days ago. The person I am; the person I aspire to be. And I saw my husband blazingly alive, more than usual, radiant in anointing, fearlessly wielding the gifts God gave him. What happened, you might ask. What grand thing brought about this change? What unique and special opportunity gave way for you to live more alive? (Which is really what we all want, isn’t it?) Well, to put it simply… we were kidnapped.
We spent four long but lovely days on the train from Zambia (where we said our goodbyes to my parents) to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Arriving at the train station at about 8am, we hit the streets with our 50lb. backpacks. We walked for over an hour, turning down three or four different taxis along the way, all quoting us exorbitant prices to take us to the Catholic YMCA Youth Hostel, which we knew should be only about 10 minutes away. Finally, waiting at a bus stop and watching bus after bus roll by overflowing with humans, we struck up conversation with a nicely dressed, well-spoken middle-aged guy named Stephen going in the same direction, and decided to share a taxi. The three of us jumped in the next one that came along. For the next 10 minutes while we drove he told us about the city, the corruption in the government, his small taxi business, and that his uncle actually worked at the YMCA, who he then called and let us talk to, just to confirm that rooms were available.
He was on and off the phone and conversing with the driver, all in Swahili, of course, while we drove and before long we were in what looked like a pretty shady part of town. He must have heard Jason’s murmurings, because he quickly assured us that we were just on a slight detour due to construction, which we had noticed along the way. Before long we turned down a side street. (Let me just say that by this point Jason’s red flags were up all over the place and mine, trusting soul that I am, were still completely stowed, buried deep under my unwavering hope in the human race. I have learned that I really don’t have very many gut instincts that should be trusted…) Our friend pointed to a gigantic Catholic church looming at the far end of the alley and told us that was the church that ran the hostel. Jason discreetly raised his eyebrows at me and I said, “It’s just a side street.” He muttered, “Yeah, the kinda side street you wake up on the next morning in a cold bathtub with your liver for sale on the black market.” We were just circling the church when the car stopped for a guy in the road who spoke to our friend then jumped in the car. Also well-dressed and well-spoken, he introduced himself as James and smiled broadly as he squeezed his (easily) 250 pounds of bulk in beside me. At this point Jason started playing with his door handle and found that the child-lock must be on and noticed that the lock on my door was completely buried- unable to be opened. As we drove past the church and turned into an alley the windows rolled up and the new guy next to me (James) said, “Why is he trying to open his door? What is he doing?” to which I responded with a chuckle, trying to downplay the growing anxiety, then with some confusion when he said, “We are not good men. Don’t you know we are not good men?”.
By this time there was some commotion in the car and the temperature was skyrocketing along with our heart rates. The men started raising their voices and in an instant Stephen turned around in the front seat and with sweat already pouring down his face he screamed, “F*** you, we are the mafia! Do you understand me?! This is the mafia! We own this whole part of town and you’re gonna do exactly what we tell you!” At this point the driver, still driving slowly, switched on the stereo and the remainder of our time together was set to a blaring reggae soundtrack. We pulled around a corner, with general chaos in the car, and two big black cars came out of nowhere and blocked us in, front and back. Men came pouring out of them and soon there were six or seven swarming around our car. At this moment I experienced one sharp stab of fear to my heart, realizing how completely vulnerable we were, then it left me, and I did not feel it again. Jason and I both felt an incredible sense of calm. (He afterwards told me that I looked like I could’ve fallen asleep! I guess I was pretty peaceful.)
The next five or ten minutes were spent mostly just yelling and sweating, the majority of that coming from Stephen, turned around in the front seat, with my own little personal waterfall of his sweat pouring off his chin and cascading directly down my leg. Occasionally some of the men circling around our car would stick their heads in and do a bit of shouting. Jason, as you know, is not one to be trifled with, and though he was compliant with them, he also pushed back. (I think he was a pretty perfect blend of strength and submission.) Thankfully (and oddly…) once the initial assault to the senses subsided they gave up most of their leverage by telling us they would not hurt us or take our passports, electronics, or belongings- they only wanted money! We emptied out our handbags in our laps and they took the $300 that we had, which didn’t quite appease them, as they said they would have to give this to their leaders and it’s not enough for them. They then told us they would take us to an atm and we must draw more cash for them, then they would let us go. We verbally wrestled on that point for about 15 minutes, insisting that we’d already given them all we could. (Jason tried to prove that to them by pointing out the holes in my dress and bag. “Do you see this??! Do you see these holes?? We are not rich people!!”…) Finally Jason said, “Okay, you know what, we need to pray.” I started speaking in tongues and Jason was immediately calling down justice from heaven- “Convict these men right now!! We are under your authority, God!! You rule over all things!! We ask for your justice!!!”… after a few minutes of that Stephen stopped us, “Okay okay okay! Yes. Okay, maybe God answers prayers. Maybe God has heard your prayer today. Now we must let you go.”
But that’s not all! Before we could respond to that, James, the “big guy” next to me, pointed at Jason and said, “You, when you prayed, I heard something that I need in my life, and I need you to pray for me.” I thought he might be mocking us, and I chuckled back to him, “What do you want from God, James?”. “No,” he responded, adamant, “I need a new life. I don’t want to live this way anymore and do these things to people. You must pray for me.” Jason slapped his hand on his shoulder and started praying boldly over James. Immediately Stephen lunged back from the front seat to get in on the prayer! Jason prayed conviction and courage for change over them, then proceeded to call out destiny in both of them. “James, you are a man of influence. People will listen to you, and follow you. God created you to steer people, to lead them into good things! There’s a new life for you if you choose it. Stephen, you are an evangelist! God made you tell people about him! He gave you a gift with words to use for his sake. Don’t waste it! Change your life!” and so on. Both of these men sat quietly, caught in the torrent of Spirit-words. Then, after a slight lull… Jason said, “You need to choose right now if you’re going to change your life, and if you want change, you need to give us all our money back.” These big, scary men who had been screaming profanities in our faces just moments before were flustered, fidgety, confounded by this new dilemma. Jason launched into the story of Jesus telling Peter to throw his nets in the water and how life-change can never start without obedience. Both men became nervous and distracted, even a flicker of fear shadowed their faces. Eyes darting from the $300 in his hand to the other car parked behind us, Stephen began insisting that we leave. Jason continued to press for our money back, and Stephen became increasingly nervous. Finally he said, “We cannot give you this money because of those men there. You have to leave right now. Quickly! But please, find me on facebook! If you come back here I need you to visit me. I need you to keep praying for me!”
We pulled our packs from the trunk and Stephen pressed $20 in J’s hand, “For a taxi,” he said. We slipped down a side street just as one of the black cars approached them. We left our $300 (well, $280, actually) in the alley, but I believe we walked out of there richer people for the miracle that we saw.