The Man in the Black Car


 I once had lunch with a missionary who had lived and worked for over a decade not far from—are you ready for this?—Casablanca. 

   I know: it brought the same exotic, romantic sensation to me when I heard it. In fact, I expected him to come dressed in a white suit and grey fedora, wearing that same world-weary, sardonic Bogart look.

   But he didn't"t. Karl Dortzbach was just as ordinary as could be:  simple, down-to-earth, husband, father and missionary, like all the other missionaries that had gathered that week for our conference in Atlanta. 

   Karl and his family were serving in Morocco and so, for much of our meal together, I kept asking him what Casablanca was like? Does it bear any resemblance at all to the Hollywood version?

   He seemed supremely bored with the question; had obviously answered it dozens of times. "It never did bear any resemblance to the Hollywood version," he replied. 

   How true! I have since learned that the entire movie had been filmed on a single set in downtown Hollywood, years before the 'on-location' craze took hold. 

   During our lunch, Karl decided to shift the topic to something more substantial and I'm so glad he did. He told about an experience he'd had with a little house church that he'd started in Tangier. It was a dangerous situation: under the government of Hassan II, Morocco had become fanatically repressive. Christian evangelism was strictly forbidden.

Karl had a little group of new believers meeting in his home—former Muslims, can you believe it?—they met every Sunday for a morning of quiet, clandestine worship. 

   But one Sunday morning, a black car showed up across the street, with a man behind the wheel, just sitting there, watching as people filed into Karl's home. Everybody knew what a black car meant: a government agent of the Hassan regime! 

   The following Friday night—it was prayer night now—there was the car and the man again, watching as they came into the house.

   That evening, the entire meeting was devoted to one subject: the man in the black car. "Lord! Take him away!" "Protect your people!" "Don't let anybody scatter us." "Help us, Lord! We're not hurting anyone!" The prayers went on for hours. 

   But when they left, the car was still there. Karl was really worried; his wife, Debbie, even more so. Should they cancel the next Sunday worship? Should they disband? Karl and Debbie decided not to. The Lord Himself would have to take care of them all. 

   The following Sunday, about an hour, before the little congregation arrived, Karl was getting dressed for it, when he looked out the window and saw the black car. Only this time the man was getting out! He came up to the front door. 

   A feeling of panic swept through the entire household. When Karl answered the door, the man spoke sternly: "Would you come with me please." 

   "Right now?" 

   "Right now."

   Karl left his family in tears and followed the man to the car. They both got in, but they didn't drive away. Instead, they just sat there, staring together through the windshield. Finally, the man identified himself as a special agent for government intelligence. "You are having Christian meetings in your home, I believe."  

   "Yes," Karl answered, "But just with a few friends." 

   "I want to know what you do there,"  the man demanded. 

   "Well...we pray and read the Bible." 

   "I want you to know that I've been ordered to arrest your people..." the policeman said and then, to Karl's astonishment, he turned, looked him right in the eyes and said: "But...last week, my daughter became terribly ill. The doctors don't know what is wrong. My wife and I don't know what to do. Do you think the prayers of your people can help?" 

   Karl just sat there stunned! He could not believe what he had just heard. In seconds all the dread was gone. Finally, he mustered the words: "We'll be praying this morning. Why don't you just come in and continue your investigation?" 

   When everyone arrived for worship that morning, once again there was the dreaded black car. But this time the officer was already inside, sitting in one of the chairs...

   ...and looking through a Bible! 

   That morning, everyone listened to the officer's story and heard his plea for help. They found out that the girl had quite suddenly become ill on that last Friday night. Yes, the night they had all cried out for God to deliver them from the agent.

   But—oh!—God in his infinite, glorious wisdom, delivered the agent instead! 

   That morning, the little church prayed for the officer. Later, he began showing up on Sundays for worship and, shortly after his little daughter got well, he gave his life to Jesus Christ! 

   An enemy of the Gospel! A persecutor of the Church! Soon to be bearing a cross of his own! 

   You don't think a church that prays can make a difference in this world, dear ones? Oh, you've been watchin' too much Hollywood! Come! Join us and you'll find out! 

   We're doin' it every Wednesday night! 

   And I love my Sundays with you!  

See you there!                                  RAS

My 'Miss America'
What Holds You Up?