I Refugee - Part 6: The Rock Angel - Mini-biography
The Rock as referred to in the title is not a wrestler/actor named Dewayne Johnson. Hmm, Johnson. I wonder if we're related somehow. Regardless. The Rock in this true story differs. Read on.
And the Saga Continued....
If you are still with me, you know that my family and I were trapped in Utah following a family trip to General Conference for our church, April of 2016. Above is the last family picture we took before the trip. Yeah, we don't look like that anymore. I just wanted to give you an idea of us. You also know that we are Mormons, LDS Christians. You don’t have to agree with me about it. I’m used to it.
The trip has gone from one delay on to another, but at least at this juncture, we are on our way back to Phoenix. My wife Afryka, and five of our six kids and I were in Beaver, Utah, after the alternator in the van fizzled out leaving us stranded on the road with no help. Calling upon the powers of heaven, we received aid from a senator, a mechanic, and a sheriff, which put us back on the road again.
Doesn't that sound like the start of a good joke? A senator, a mechanic, and a sheriff walk into a bar... Maybe not.
Afryka and I sat around discussing how the Lord blessed us by sending the Nevada Senator who happened to be a member of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In an act of faith, I used my priesthood to bless my family as President Thomas Spencer Monson, the leader of our church, directed me to if ever I was placed in a situation where I needed rescuing. Acting on Monson’s advice came with the reward of my faith in God’s power immediately gratified with proof.
Russ, the guy who baptized me, was apprised of our situation so he and Melinda, his wife, would not worry; and the night ended in spiritual bliss. The next morning all of us arose hopeful that we would get back to Phoenix that day to continue our lives. The kids all expressed their appreciation for missing school that day and how exciting it was for them to sleep in a motel. We enjoyed a continental breakfast. I enjoyed several conversations with the motel clerk about his Hindu faith, though his relatives were all Mormon, like me. Seems as though a great many of them became Christians by joining the Church.
I was intrigued by my conversation with him because he was the only non-Mormon in the city of Beaver, I think. When so many members of the Church live in one place, I wonder if it is still considered a blessing to be a member of the church? My wife and I thought so. We commented several times about how great it would be to live in Beaver.
Leaving Beaver, Utah
The Mechanic repaired the alternator, and soon we were on the road again. We had said our prayers and gave thanks to God, but something did not seem quite right. Afryka decided to take a turn at driving, and the going went rough.
“Maybe we should go back and have them look at the van,” I said after noticing the van began to rumble significantly once we entered the highway. It felt as if the tire would come off—a new problem.
“No, I think we should keep going,” Afryka countered. We were ready to get home and did not want any more delays.
“If the van is messing up we need to stop and go back before we get stranded like before,” I rejoined.
“Maybe we should pray about it then,” she added.
That frustrated me. This was no matter for prayer in my mind. The van was acting up, and we needed to get it checked out. We went back and forth several times before Afryka agreed to turn around to go to Beaver. We had driven with the car rattling if we went above 50 mph. It was enough to give us all foreboding feelings. What convinced us to turn around? It was the increasing anxious feelings we felt in our hearts along with the growing apprehension of the kids.
As we pulled off the highway and turned North back to Beaver, a settling feeling came on that flushed my mind of fear. It would take us another day to get home, and we might have to exhaust our money for the month, but we would travel in safety after we get the van checked out.
The Trip before the Fall
Nothing prepared us for what occurred next. As we drove along the highway at the top of a hilly area, the tire blew! The first thing that came into my mind is that we are going to crash because Afryka is driving and I don’t think she knows how to drive to avoid skidding out of control. That was my first thought. If Afryka had known that, I am sure she would have been offended was my second thought.
My third thought centered upon what was going on. The van was spinning out of control by now. In my mind’s eye, God showed me a vision of what was about to happened. The van would spin around toward the side of the highway, go over the hill and flip down the mountain.
Turning to Afryka, I put my hand on her shoulder as she looked straight ahead, full of fear, the type of resigned fear that comes with acceptance that we were going to die. I put my other hand on the dashboard and said, “It will be alright.”
Afryka told me later she thought I meant that we should be at peace in our death. When I stated, "It will be alright." even though I saw the van flipping over and down the mountain, I knew that we would all live! I just did not know what our condition would be.
I thought about Zipporah, our daughter who died tragically in 2010—about how we would be glad to see her. I could hear my children whimpering in the back as I kept my eyes on the love of my life, Afryka.
End of the Mini-Trip
Sorrow filled my heart that I took Afryka away from Miriam for the trip. She had said that she feared that something would happen to us on this trip and we would leave Miriam with no family. Tears of realization tried to fall as the van continued to spin for an eternity. My heart would not sink. The more I tried to mourn in the midst of this danger, the more the Spirit of God tried to calm and reassure to the point where I felt utter peace in my heart.
As we spent the road and twirled into the shoulder, I prepared for the pain that would come--praying that God would intervene some way. The van started to roll over the mountain when a force slammed it down and stopped us with our backs to the descending slope from the top of the hill towards the bottom of the small mountain. A force so powerful that it felt like, I don’t know…? It felt like a magnet snatched us back to the top of the hill. It was all a whirlwind for me!
The Rock Angel
Next thing that I knew, we were surrounded by witnesses of the accident who saw the tire blow out and our van careening towards certain death only to stop at the right moment.
One woman started crying because she felt such relief that we did not fall into the valley below as it seemed we were headed. Another group frantically asked if we were okay. The kids were teary, and my wife was in a daze, and I was shocked.
Ephraim, my youngest boy, said that angels had stopped the van from going over the edge. No one questioned his words. All of us, my family and the good Samaritans who stopped to help investigate the van to wanted to know what had stopped it. The Rock, half the size of the tire, wedged itself between the rear passenger side tire and the earth. It acted as an anchor, or emergency brake to stop the car from moving any farther. It was the only thing keeping the van from sliding down the slope and tumbling.
Immediately one of the sisters at the site, for we were all members of the same faith, suggested that we bow our heads in prayer and thanksgiving that we were spared. We as a group prayed with one of the Samaritans acting as voice.
Once the excitement of the moment wore off, the reality of the situation hit us. We had almost DIED! We wrecked our van! We were trapped in Utah again! Both rear tires were destroyed, and the infrastructure of the car was compromised to the point that it would take more than a new wheel to fix.
Imagine falling down this in a van going backwards. Yeah, that's the closest thing I could find to give you an idea.
Panguitch, Utah to the Rescue
The second time during the trip that God told me we needed to stay in Utah another day occurred in Beaver before the accident. The first time He told me that was before Russ asked me to stay. I declined, and the alternator gave out. This time, the second time, we almost died!
Being in shock, I smiled welcomingly to those who offered us help on the side of the road. A couple offered to drive me into the nearest town for help. Afryka and I did not want to separate our family like that, but we decided that Mosiah, Ephraim and I would go into town while Xavier, Naomi, Sariah, and Afryka would wait for us to send help.
A woman by the name of Trudy gave my son Ephraim a ride. Another family gave Mosiah and me a ride. We headed to Panguitch, Utah. I cannot recall the name of the family that transported me, but I know the mother of that family wrote a children’s book.
Once we entered Panguitch, Trudy showed compassion for us more giving me $100 before she left to make sure we had something to eat and extra money for spending. I did not know what to say, but something inside of me would not allow me to reject her charity. Her voice was full of compassion and her eyes tearful as she said goodbye and gave me her number.
The family that made room for Mosiah and me offered to host us for lunch, but I declined out of overwhelming hospitality burn out. The father of that family made sure that I was in contact with the towing company and the mechanic who would fix the van. Keeping up with him as we paced around between the place was difficult—he not knowing my handicap. I wanted to keep it a secret but did not want to make him think I did not appreciate his time by seeming not to want to walk with haste. I told him just to let him know I was doing my best to keep up with him and to excuse my slowness. I was coming out of shock. Fear and concern ruled my emotions as I waited in this town standing out since we were the only Black people there.
Our skin color did not seem to matter much, but in the back of my mind, the idea still lingered, though these people showed us on many occasions that they would help us be whatever race or religion we would! It seemed to me that I kept the idea in the back of my mind that these people could potentially be mean, racist, rude, what have you just in case all this good fortune at our most dire times was the exception and not the rule that it felt.
The family left us after we were situated with the tow truck company. I took Ephraim and Mosiah and sat at the tow truck garage waiting for the owner and his wife to transport my vehicle and family to Panguitch from the accident site. As we waited, a man and a woman in a black car drove up to me to ask about the accident. Our brief exchange given, the man driving the car wished us well by donating $40 for my troubles before he and his wife drove away.
Bursting into tears after they left, I could not fight my emotions anymore. My sons came to me, and each picked a side to hug—one on one side and one on the other as I sobbed in frustration, resignation, and gratitude. I cried out the apprehension of being Black and expecting these White people to treat me poorly. I cried away that feeling. I cried away the disappointment of being stranded in Utah. I cried away the entire trip as I thanked God for saving my family from almost dying.
Just because I have faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of a Next Life did not mean I wanted to see it soon! I cried as my sons held me. I wanted to be strong for them, but they were also there for me. I needed it.
Once the family was united in Panguitch, the Bishop in that area discovered our situation. We were in a bind. I spoke to the Bishop over the phone, and he introduced himself as Danny.
“Brother Johnson,” he said, “Don’t think of this as a problem anymore. Think of this as a vacation that you can enjoy with your family.”
From that point on, that is all my status as refugee became, a vacation. We truly were refugees! We had no way home or means to get there with our van incapacitated. We had no place to sleep with limited means to change it with what we did have. Our funds for the trip were almost depleted. Danny and his wife extended their hand of fellowship to us.
They had us over for Family Home Evening after Danny helped us get into a Motel there in Panguitch to await the repair of our van. Nowhere in the valley did they have the right tire rim for us, which had to be special-ordered. The rock that stopped us from falling off of the mountain cracked the rim of the passenger rear tire the impact of the van crashing against it was so hard. We would have to stay in Panguitch until the following Wednesday.
We threw our worries to the wind and enjoyed the small town. The kids and I took pictures together and with the memorials in town. There rests the Quilt Walk Park. This park is a memorial to the pioneers who, to save Panguitch settlement, took the snowy mountains to obtain food from the surrounding settlements—a forty-mile trip one way.
Seven men left the settlement of Panguitch to discover they could not travel the conventional method. These men left their wagons and beasts due to the deepness of the snow but suffered still without making sufficient progress. After each man prayed on a blanket put out for that purpose, they discovered they did not sink while on the quilt. For the remainder of the trip to get supplies, these men took their packed quilts and walked atop them to their destination and back to their wagons to save Panguitch.
Besides enjoying the history of the pioneers in Panguitch, we enjoyed the hospitality of the people who lived there. It was like stepping into the Andy Griffith Show! The people were kind and genuine that we met. They just seemed WHOLESOME! I felt my health improve just by being there.
Then next day to our delight, which was a Tuesday, the mechanic informed us that he had found a replacement for the wheel from a resident. The resident was willing to give up the rim to his van so that we could leave that very day by taking the one ordered for our van, which could be delayed until the following Thursday, we discovered! We took the used rim and bid Panguitch farewell.
Panguitch offered the right amount of anticlimactic antidote to the van scare that my family needed. In the midst of great tribulation, I learned that I can count on my family to support me and my God to help me. God did not remove the obstacles placed before us, but He did give us the faith and strength to outlast the situations as they came.
Find the other five parts at the link below.
© 2016 Rodric Anthony Johnson