Woken by the hand of God

The Sani Pass, Lesotho
June 17, 2004

Gus and Betty were retired missionaries touring through Lesotho as they paid a visit to their eldest son who was volunteering in the Peace Corps. They’d spent twenty years working in parishes throughout the Senegal, and their children had each chosen similar paths. While a pair of God fearing retirees isn’t my usual idea of good company, my choices in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho were undeniably slim.
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I’d been having trouble sleeping that night, must have been dinner or perhaps the altitude I thought. Regardless, it was 2am and I was wide awake in the pitch dark confines of our room. As I stared blankly at the ceiling all I could think of was the searing pain that made its way through my chest and throat every time I took a breath. The cold weather had got to me.
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“Everybody wake up – we have to get out of here.” I’ll never forget Gus’s choppy voice, resonating off the rooms barren walls. Instantly I was alert, trying in vain to focus on something, anything. All I could find, though, was smoke, hot, choking smoke. Gus shone the flashlight from his top bunk and the rays of light barely made their way to me. Between us lay a chasm of smoke, billowing out from the fireplace, turning our cozy chambers into a race against time.

We quickly gathered ourselves and crawled our way towards the door. My throat seared with pain as I tried to catch my breath. As Gus pushed open the door we felt the fierce winter winds whip across our faces as clouds of smoke forced their way out of the building. The cold air snapped me out the haze that had nearly paralyzed me but I still couldn’t muster a word. Looking over at Gus and Betty, our eyes met, each of us knowing that another ten minutes in there would have meant we might never have woken up….