In 1990, a Somerset businessman, Ian Loring, was facing a personal crisis. An unpleasant business career had come to a dramatic end, and he had been fired. At the age of twenty-seven, he was unemployed, and not particularly employable. In a Bristol shopping centre, he saw and heard a typical open-air gospel presentation. He was singularly unmoved, impressed neither by the clever reverse lettering used by the evangelist Korki Davey, nor by the testimony of a converted Irishman ‘from the mire to the choir’.
About two months later, reflecting on an increasingly certain future, and relaxing in the bath, he was startled to ear a quiet authoritative voice: ‘Do not store up for [yourself] treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy... But store up for [yourself] treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’ (See Matthew 6:19-21, 24.)
Ian knew that, for whatever reason, God had chosen to speak to him. In early 1991, after some training in evangelism, he found himself traveling towards Albania.
Crossing from Albania into Northern Greece could be hazardous, as the Greeks weren’t too keen either on Protestant evangelists, or their evangelical literature. He writes:
Caralee [my wife] and I felt deeply in need of a rest in Thessaloniki. I had been leading a huge number of Bible studies, and the constant stream of visitors from the growing church fellowship to our room in Little Paris, sometimes from 8 a.m. through to 11 p.m. was draining. So was the feeling of living in a fishbowl, being constantly watched by others: along with Mike Brown, we were the only foreigners living in the market town for the region’s 250,000 people. Sometimes, when we reached Greece, we would sleep for 24 hours at a stretch to recover.
On this day, when we reached the Greek side of the border, we discovered their customs officers were on strike. I asked a policeman if it was still okay to pass through, and he told me it was fine by him. However, as Caralee began to drive past the customs point, a man in a light grey uniform jumped up on to the footplate, yanked open my door and dragged me down on to the road. As my side hit the ground, he was going berserk, shouting, punching me in the stomach and kicking me in the back and kidneys. I was completely stunned by the assault. Other customs officers were gathering around, and I could hear Caralee screaming at them.
When the beating had finished, my sides were raw. I felt sick and in shock. We were made to park up our vehicle and led away towards a police Land Rover. We had driven through the customs officers’ picket line, and the man, a stocky colonel with a high forehead, was shouting that he was going to have us arrested.
‘You have tried to enter our country with violence,’ he raged, scarlet-faced. I couldn’t believe the accusation. We were driven away from the border point with the colonel and a police officer sifting stiffly in the front. I looked at Caralee: she had tears in her eyes.
Two of my ribs were too sensitive to touch, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to us. The officer was offering no explanations, and the colonel kept repeating his charge.
After a short drive the car drew into the Greek town of Kastoria and pulled up outside the courthouse. The colonel marched us roughly inside the building. We sat there waiting for an unbearably long time in a plain room a single wooden bench. I felt deeply upset and afraid: we were in a foreign country unable to speak the language and facing a trumped-up charge. Caralee’s hand felt warm as I held it, and we prayed together furiously.
The colonel entered shortly and presented us with a document and a black Biro. ‘Sign this...here,’ he shouted gruffly. It was written in Greek, which neither of us could read, but I assumed it was some admission of our offence. Another policeman was attempting to translate, but he was saying little more than, ‘Sign here, please.’
As I pushed the document away, my hand was shaking. ‘Look,’ I said angrily, ‘we’d like to speak to a lawyer.’
‘You haven’t got a lawyer,’ the colonel snapped sarcastically. ‘You’re in Greece now. You’ll sign it, or else you’ll be forgotten about!’ It was an ominous statement.
No one said a word: everyone was equally stunned. The man spoke quickly in Greek, and the colonel and the officer left the room. He sat down next to Caralee without introducing himself. ‘Tell me what has happened,’ be said, and I explained the events of the last couple of hours with a huge sense of relief.
‘Wait here,’ he replied, ‘I shan’t be long.’
Half an hour later, we entered the courtroom with the man now representing us. ‘Sit there with me,’ he said, ‘You will be all right. Just say that you are sorry when I tell you.’
There were three judges presiding over the session that day in Kastoria courthouse: two men, and a woman sitting in the middle, all of them dressed in black and red legal robes. The policeman spoke first, then the customs colonel, and then our lawyer. The colonel spoke again with a red face, raising his voice angrily. Our lawyer spoke once more, and then the room went silent.
Neither Caralee nor I could understand a word of what was being said.
As I waited, I felt tense and cold. I shuffled uncomfortably in the chair and cast my eyes around the room. Directly behind the woman judge was a large Orthodox painting of the resurrected Christ with his arms outstretched towards us. Across the courtroom roof, the painting fanned out to depict a grey-bearded God the Father looking down from a patch of blue sky between the clouds. I studied the painting for a long minute. A strong sensation came over me that in this room Jesus was going to be both our judge and our advocate, and my spirits began to lift.
The woman judge stood up and slammed her hammer down on the bench. She turned towards us and announced; ‘You are without blame, and free to go. I’m sorry.’ The sense of relief and vindication was phenomenal. She then turned to the colonel and began to berate him at length. He seemed to shrink a little before her and turned even redder in the face.
Outside the courtroom, we shook our lawyer’s hand firmly. ‘Could we have your card? We still don’t know your name,’ I enquired. ‘What do we owe you?’
‘Oh, it’s all right,’ the man replied, already stepping away. ‘You would have done the same for me.’ Then he was gone through the front door of the courthouse.
I looked at Caralee and she at me. It was a little strange. The police officer escorted us back to the car, and the colonel sat without speaking in the front. As we drove towards the border, he reached back and offered his hand. I shook it, lightly at first, but then with firmness as he looked at me with his pride now diminished.
The whole incident left a deep impression on us. It seemed to underline in our hearts God’s amazing care, even if we strayed over the edge — in this instance through a picket line. And as for our free lawyer who had so quickly disappeared, who was he? An angel with an Oxford legal dictionary?
The next time we arrived at the border, the colonel greeted me like an old friend, hugging me warmly and offering me a glass of ouzo. It was as if, like children, we’d had a fight and made up and now he respected me. Whenever I needed help getting people or goods through the border from then on, it was the colonel’s pleasure to make the process smooth.
[Author's Note] It seems to me, that it is far more likely that Ian’s lawyer was an angel than an actual English-speaking lawyer who turned up at the right time, with the necessary diplomatic skills to rescue two very frightened evangelists in a remote part of Greece. This story fits the category of angels who appear as human beings. Only afterwards did the recipients of their help realize the true nature of their helper.