Changing Directions

by John Newlin

I was on a much-needed vacation in 1983.  As an executive with one of the world’s largest companies, I had traveled widely and had been to southern California before. This time I was able to bring my family.  After a day at Universal Studios, I wanted them to see where the movie stars lived: Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills.  Winding through the Santa Monica Mountains, this scenic road was one of my favorites in L.A. - steep cliffs on the north side, and sheer drop-offs to the south. 

My wife was with me in the front seat of our rental car.  Kim, 14, and Jon, 7, had slipped off their shoes and were cross-legged in the back, peering excitedly out the windows.  I found my way to Beverly Hills and turned onto Mulholland.

Suddenly, around the bend ahead careened an open truck stacked to overflowing with trees and branches.  Green and huge, the truck looked like a monster in a movie as it headed straight toward our car.  Its outside wheels were off the ground.  Men stood in the back, struggling to keep their balance.  I steered to the right as quickly as I could, to hug the cliff wall.  The truck flipped over.  For one horrible second through my side window I saw the truck above us in the air.  It crashed onto our car, then slid down the road.

I don't remember anything else until I opened my eyes.  Everything was quiet, and above me I saw nothing but blue sky.  Birds were singing.  Then behind me I heard the tinkling of glass.  And then my wife's voice:  “Stay over here, kids.”  I couldn't see her.  The roof of the car was gone, and I was pinned in my seat.  I could feel cold metal wrapped around my neck.  There was no pain.  I could barely feel my body at all.

My wife appeared in front of me and gasped, “You're alive!”  Immediately a man was beside her.  He looked familiar, like a Mexican actor I'd seen in the movies.  His almost bronze skin contrasted sharply with his fancy white dress shirt and his thick black hair. He put his face directly in front of mine.  "The ambulance is coming, John," he said, his mustache moving as he spoke. “Everything is going to be all right.”  As my wife later recalled, no one had told him my name, and there was no way he could have known about the ambulance.  His voice was deep, his accent refined.  The man constantly moved between me and my family, taking care of everyone. 

My wife later repeated his remark about the ambulance, and I said, “It better be soon or I won’t be here.”  I had realized I wasn’t breathing.

Sirens announced the arrival of an ambulance and fire trucks.  There must have been 50 firefighters around the car.  It seemed like I waited in the remains of the car for hours, but I was never in pain.  Finally the Jaws of Life chewed enough metal away that the EMT's could lift me out.  They lowered me carefully onto a board and carried me to the ambulance.  The man with the mustache asked if he could be of further help.  “The children's shoes,” my wife replied.  “Could I ask you to find their shoes?”

At the hospital, for the first time since the accident I was in pain, and I couldn't stop coughing.  A nurse came in and washed glass out of my left shoulder.  X-rays were taken, and then a surgeon sewed up my wounds.  Metal from the car had pierced my shoulder.  A lung had collapsed.  A policeman remarked within my wife’s hearing that I wouldn’t make it through the night.

The man with the mustache appeared at the hospital with the shoes.  My wife was stunned.  They were clean, in perfect condition despite being on the car floor when the car seats were crushed together.  The man handed her his card.  “If you ever need me, you can find me at this address.”

Sometime later several police came to the hospital.  They had never seen survivors from such an accident and asked what religion the passengers of the car were.  They also asked if there were witnesses, and my wife gave them the card of the man.  Days later the police reported that when they went to the address on the card, no one there knew of him.

Well, I didn’t die, although recovery from the pain took a year or two.  The rest of the family were cut and bruised, and badly shaken up, but they didn't have to be hospitalized.  They too endured long periods of recovery.

“Jon and I crawled out through the window on my side,” Kim later told me. “Somehow the glass broke after the accident was over, just like strong hands pushed it from the inside.  I could have never broken it.”  Tinkling glass. I remembered the tinkling glass.

Once years later I said to Jon, "Do you remember the Mexican movie star who helped us?”  Giving me a strange look, he said, "He was an Englishman, Dad.  He acted like a gentleman.”  The same kind of thing happened with Kim. She remembered the man being dressed in a white linen shirt and slacks. She's a fashion designer.  Surely she would have noticed that.  “The man was just there,” my wife told me.  “One time in passing I said, 'You must be an angel. He smiled and didn't say a word.’” 

The Mexican movie star.  The Englishman.  The man in white linen.  High above the world that day, God had been with us in a very visible way.

You would think that incident would have been enough for God to get my attention completely.  But no, after the accident I continued in my international business role, traveling frequently around the world and often between New York City and Washington, DC.  One Sunday night driving south on the New Jersey Turnpike near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, it happened.  The most important moment of my life.  After the account of the accident, that may be a surprising statement but it is true.

For weeks I had been having strange feelings that occurred sometimes in long car drives by myself.  I described them as quaky feelings to the company doctor, thinking I had picked up malaria in my trips to Africa.

But the doctor said no, I didn’t have malaria.

On this particular night I was deep in thought, concerned about what in the world I was going to do.  For years I had done well in the international business world but I still faced problems in my personal life that had persisted for years.  Suddenly, out loud, in great anguish I shouted, “Jesus, I don’t know what to do!  Help me!”  No sooner were those words out of my mouth than great warmth enveloped my back, neck, and head, like a giant hand holding me.  It was the most wonderful feeling I have ever had, absolute warmth and comfort, a feeling of pure love.  Somehow my mind and my heart were opened to a new realization.  I was able to say, “You’re the Holy Spirit, aren’t you?”  At those words the warmth increased, becoming even more comforting.  I now knew what those feelings had been.  God had been trying to get my attention. After about a half hour of this intense love, I focused on the dashboard and saw I had gone about thirty miles.  I consciously began to drive again.  But the Holy Spirit was with me, as was God’s absolute hold and call on my life.  There would be no more life as usual.

I began seriously seeking God’s will in every situation.  Eventually I moved from the international business world to several activities in Christian ministry – giving this testimony, a prayer, preaching, and healing ministry with my wife, writing, and more. 

The journey has not in any way been easy.  Once several years ago, in despair at not knowing which way to proceed, I awoke early in the morning and reached for the Bible lying to my right.  It fell open to a page about halfway through.  Leaning upwards on my elbow, my eyes saw these words:

                        I said, you are my servant.  

                        I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

                        So do not be afraid, for I am with you.

                        Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

                        I will strengthen you and help you.

                        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

True.  That is what I saw.  An absolute reassurance of God’s call. Sometime later I read the two lines that precede those words in the 41st chapter of Isaiah:

I took you from the ends of the earth.

                        From its farthest corners I called you.

That was where I had been before leaving the international business world, the ends of the earth.  God is amazing.  He is always with us.

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1The account of the Beverly Hills accident is largely taken from “It Happened on Mulholland Drive” by John Newlin adapted with permission from “Angels on Earth.”  Copyright 2002 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512.  All rights reserved.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE,
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION . Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan.  All rights reserved.