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It’s been about fifteen months since I last saw my Nigerian colleague in person and, in the intervening months, I’m aware he’s been seriously sick.

Today, he greets me with a smile.

“How are you, Ben?” I ask him.

“Better than I’ve ever been,” he replies, beaming, and it doesn’t take long for the story of his sickness to emerge.

***

It’s about two years ago, in the middle of the night, when Ben wakes up from a vivid and unexpected dream.

“I was standing at the top of a high rise apartment block,” he explains, “ but then I started falling, tumbling, plummeting downwards, and I could see the ground rising up to meet me.” He pauses a moment, recalling the details of the dream, and then he continues. “Before I hit the ground, two huge arms appeared out of nowhere and caught me in a hug.”

“Do you think it was a warning dream?” I ask him. “Do you think God was trying to tell you something about your sickness, ahead of time?”

“Yes,” he responds, emphatically, “but I only discovered it was a warning, once I had the benefit of hindsight.”

***

Approximately one year on from the dream, and Ben and his wife are applying for visas for the USA. Both of them want to be at their son’s university graduation, and Ben is hoping to combine the visit with work, by attending the World Bank’s annual conference, the week before.

“We couldn’t understand it when both our visa applications were rejected,” he tells me. “Especially my wife, as she had visited our son multiple times during the years he was a student in the USA, and she had never previously been turned down for a visa. So we knew it wasn’t a case of discrimination against us because of our Nigerian nationality. There was no explanation; it just made no sense.”

Returning home, dejected and disappointed, they decide to pray and seek God for guidance about what to do. “What we both sensed clearly was God telling us not to appeal the decision,” Ben explains. “Neither of us could understand why, but we felt we had to accept what He was saying.”

They find it difficult to share the news with their son, but he accepts the situation with good grace.

***

Three weeks later – by which time he and his wife would have been in the USA if they had been granted their visas – Ben becomes seriously sick. Without any warning, his symptoms escalate and he finds himself hospitalised.

Overnight, his speech, memory and motor skills vanish.

Unable to speak, he withdraws into himself, barely able to make himself understood through a flailing sort of sign language.

Unable to walk, one of the nurses finds him a wheelchair, which his wife uses to manoeuvre him out of the hospital ward, whenever he needs a change of scene.

Unable to remember, his mind is endlessly tormented, particularly in the darkest depths of the night, when he tosses and turns, sleep evading him.

“It was absolute agony,” he tells me. “I couldn’t communicate what was happening, or explain how I was feeling.” He pauses a moment, and gazes into the distance. “At one point, the spiritual attack was so intense that I felt convinced I’d be confined to a wheelchair for life, unable ever to walk again.”

***

Many weeks of hospitalisation follow; sickness by day, and agonising torment by night.

Throughout this time, Ben is acutely aware that his wife is praying, pleading with God to heal her husband. “Her tenacity was incredible,” he tells me. “I feel humbled, every time I even think about it.”

Ben’s wife is resolute in her faith in Jesus. She believes, without a shadow of a doubt, that He will bring her husband back from the brink of death, and restore his life again.

Then, in the middle of one of the longest, most tortuous, tumultuous nights of the soul, Ben hears a still, small whisper. Through the fog of long-term sleep deprivation, he recognises the voice of the Holy Spirit, reminding him of a long-ago-forgotten verse from the Bible: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Struggling to muster the strength to turn over in bed, he manages to take hold of his dog-eared, well-worn Bible, and looks up the verse in Deuteronomy 33 verse 27.

Rolling onto his back, exhausted by the energy he’s had to exert, he suddenly remembers his dream from eighteen months earlier. The dream in which he is at the top of a high rise building, when he suddenly starts to fall. The dream in which he is hurtling down towards the ground. The dream in which two huge arms appear out of nowhere and catch him in a hug, just in time.

“It was then that it slowly dawned on me – and it began to make sense,” he reveals. “God had warned me what would happen. He had given me about a year to get ready. But I had ignored him. So now, in His grace, He was reaching out to catch me in a huge hug, just in time. Underneath me were His everlasting arms.”

***

Ben will never forget the day that he gets up and out of his wheelchair.

Immediately after God gives him the words from Deuteronomy 33 verse 27, and Ben recalls his vivid warning dream, he can feel God supernaturally strengthening him. It happens almost imperceptibly, little by little, but he knows that he is being restored and released from this horrendous prison that has kept him bound for so many months.

He can sense his memory returning, then his speech, and finally his motor skills.

There is an utter sense of elation when he stands up and walks – initially faltering, taking the steps of an unsteady toddler, but then with increasing confidence.

“Jesus has healed me,” he declares. “The doctors wrote me off, as good as dead. Yet here I am, alive and walking, confounding them all.” He has tears in his eyes, as he whispers to me, “I had to learn to listen to the voice of God, and not let the Enemy drown Him out.”

***

Hearing Ben’s moving account of what he has gone through, I find myself reflecting:

  • When God tries to warn me about something, ahead of time, how willing am I to heed the warning?
  • When a spiritual battle is raging in my mind, especially in the depths of the night, what can I do to ensure I hear the voice of God, and not let the Enemy drown Him out?
  • When someone I love is sick, to what extent will I be found praying and pleading for that person’s healing and restoration?

Maybe you would like to reflect on these questions with me, and share your thoughts in the comments below.

***

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