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Did He Encounter an Angel on the Highway?

He offered the stranger a ride and a meal, then the young man disappeared…

Illustration of a man walking into a diner with an angel; By Giordano Poloni
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“I have a story,” Uncle Junior said one Christmas Eve. My aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings were all seated around the dinner table. That wasn’t unusual. Whenever my family gathered—after the meal was finished and the dishes were done—we returned to the table to entertain one another with stories.

My mother’s older brother Harold Junior told some of the best. When he reminisced about growing up with his seven siblings, no one laughed harder than he did. But there was something in his tone of voice that Christmas Eve. Something unusual. Uncle Junior sounded serious. Everyone gave their full attention as he spoke.

“This was back in 1954,” he began. “I was tired.…” Uncle Junior was driving home to Akron, Ohio, after attending a gospel revival here in Tiffin. He hadn’t seen another car along the lonely stretch of highway. In the distance, the lights of Greenwich, Ohio, glowed. He was considering stopping for a cup of coffee if the opportunity arose, when a sudden clatter cut through the silence. He knew that sound. He’d lost a hubcap. With a groan, he pulled over to the side of the road. He searched for several minutes, kicking around in the ankle-high grass.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” A smiling young man emerged from the darkness. He was holding a hubcap. Uncle Junior felt a thrill of fear, as if an electric current had run up his spine. Where had the guy come from? And was that really the missing hubcap?

“Thank you,” said Uncle Junior, heading back to his car to check it out. He kicked the hubcap into place. Perfect fit. Uncle Junior thought he might be more tired than he realized, maybe imagining things. Like a man who’d appeared out of nowhere holding the missing hubcap.… But when Uncle Junior turned around, he saw that the man was still there.

“Now, I didn’t want to leave him stranded,” Uncle Junior told us. “It didn’t feel right. And I didn’t want to interrogate him about what he was up to. So even though it flew in the face of common sense, I offered this stranger a ride to the next town. To Greenwich.”

The man slipped into the passenger seat. The miles passed quickly as the two chatted about nothing in particular—though, knowing Uncle Junior, sports probably came up. When they reached Greenwich, Uncle Junior pulled in at a diner and offered to buy his passenger something to eat. With a broad smile, the young man accepted. As they pushed open the doors, the smell of frying meat and freshly brewed coffee greeted them. The two men entered and took a booth. “Order anything you want,” Uncle Junior urged.

“I’ll have what you’re having,” the stranger replied.

When the waitress came, Uncle Junior ordered burgers, fries and coffee. By the time they’d finished, Uncle Junior realized he’d misjudged this young man. He was a good fellow! Strange but good. The miles were long, especially at night, so Uncle Junior figured he could take his new friend farther, if he wanted. As they exited the diner, Uncle Junior turned to discuss a suitable destination—

Uncle Junior froze, mid-stride. Without a whisper of noise, without a crunch of gravel, the young man was no longer beside him. Uncle Junior went back into the diner and checked the booths, the restroom, asked the waitress if she’d seen what happened to his dining partner. Nothing. The stranger had simply vanished.

In disbelief, Uncle Junior got into his car. He’d only been driving for a few minutes when he heard a voice: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels unaware.” Hebrews 13:2; Uncle Junior knew it well. For the second time that night, he pulled over to the side of the road. The voice had sounded so real, Uncle Junior was sure there had to be someone else in the car with him. Was the young man hiding in the back? Careful inspection proved otherwise. He started the car again and drove the rest of the way home.

The room was silent for a long moment. Then we gave Uncle Junior the third degree. “I wasn’t having a crisis of faith, no tragedy in the family, no health concerns,” he said, shushing our questions. “I don’t know why it happened. I only know that it did.” He’d never gotten the stranger’s name. And, while every other detail seemed burned into his memory, he couldn’t recall what the young man looked like, even after sharing a meal with him. Clearly, that’s just how it is with angels.

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