God knows where we are
When Art Cooney was ordained a Capuchin friar in 1976, he was fully prepared for the life of a missionary. He would travel wherever he was sent, happy to preach the word of God to those hungry for hope. While living temporarily in Saginaw, MI, he met Marge Fobear and Nancy Kawiecki at a charismatic prayer meeting. The women had a healing ministry and frequently laid hands on the sick. The three began praying together to support each other’s work.
Eventually, Father Art was assigned to a mission post in Nicaragua. Marge and Nancy assured him they would pray for him on a regular basis while he was there. Other friends and relatives promised mail and care packages. His mother gave him a card that read, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot find you.”
But when Father Art arrived at his new station, he soon forgot this comforting send-off, for this part of Nicaragua was extremely primitive. The only paved road ended in his town, named Muelle de los Bueyes—literally, “place where the oxen cross.” And they did.
“Everything looked straight out of the old West,” Father recalled. “Farmers and ranchers rode into town on horseback, some carrying six-guns. There were gunfights in front of the saloon and cattle drives through town. I thought I had gone back in time a hundred years.”
Time passed, and no mail arrived from home. And although the Nicaraguans were warm and friendly, Father began to feel forsaken. Social isolation was difficult, but far more wretched was his growing spiritual loneliness. He had never felt abandoned by God, but now “it seemed as if God had dropped me in the middle of the jungle and forgotten about me.” He often read the message on the prayer card his mother had given him. Where was that promised grace now?
Despite Father Art’s misery, there was work to be done. His new parish comprised 40 rural communities, most accessible only by horse or mule, so he planned a 10-day mission trip to several of them. Packing only what he and his guides could fit into saddlebags and wrapping his clothes in plastic to keep them dry in tropical downpours, he set out. He and his guides visited several small villages, bathing in the rivers and holding evening services by lantern light. It was what he had been sent to do, and it could have been adventurous, even fun. But Father’s heart was heavy. He still had not received any letters from home. And God seemed as distant as ever.
Then, on the fifth or sixth day on the jungle trail, Father’s horse abruptly spooked and bucked. Father clung to the saddle, but the animal crashed to the ground, trapping him underneath.
“My left arm was pinned under the horse and my left foot was caught in the stirrup,” he said. “I couldn’t free myself, and I began to panic, as the horse started to roll back and forth on me, trying to right itself.”
If the horse got to its feet, it would take off running, he knew, dragging him behind. He would be pulled into trees and die or, at the least, be seriously injured. “Lord!” he shouted. “Help me!”
Instantly a deep and profound peace settled around him like a warm blanket. Why, God was with him, right here in this unlikely place! He knew it! And he would be all right, despite the thrashing animal still on top of him.
“Further, I was suddenly aware that I hadn’t been abandoned by anyone, ever,” he said. “There were people praying for me, many people, and I felt that support.”
By now, the guides were working to calm the horse. Gradually, they did so and pulled Father to his feet. He brushed himself off, gingerly feeling his arms and especially his legs. Amazingly, neither he nor the horse was hurt. All was well, just as he had sensed.
Father finished his trip and returned to his work at Muelle de los Bueyes with a lighter heart. But it was a few weeks before he realized the full significance of that moment of grace in the jungle. A letter finally arrived, from his prayer warriors, Marge and Nancy, relating a strange story.
“We were on our way to the hospital to pray with a sick friend,” Marge wrote. “We had just pulled into a parking space when Nancy felt a sharp pain in her left leg near her thigh. It was so intense that, when she opened the car door, she could not stand or get out. Nothing like this had ever happened to her.”
The women began to pray in tongues. But as they continued, a strange feeling came over Nancy.
“This isn’t about me,” she told Marge. “I think it’s Art. He’s in some kind of trouble.”
The two continued to pray—now for Father Art—for about five minutes. Abruptly, Nancy’s pain left her, and the women went on to visit their friend.
Now Marge had some questions. “What happened to you?” she wrote. “And how is your leg?”
A lump was forming in Father Art’s throat as he looked at his calendar. For the women’s prayers in the parking lot perfectly matched the day, the exact moment, of his accident in the jungle, half a world away.
“It is hard to describe how much that letter meant to me, and how it strengthened my faith,” Father Art said. God did indeed know where each of His children was, and His grace was ample for their needs. The prayer card had been right.