God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble—Psalm 46:1 (NASB)
Recently, I was thinking about God’s help in times of trouble, remembering a night in Mexico back in 2009. I was staying in the city of San Miguel de Allende (SMA), Guanajuato with my friend Christina, a kiwi transplant that I had worked with in California that summer.
There is a cafe that specializes in hot chocolate and churros and we had wanted to give a try and so set out for it one night.
We traveled on foot through the labyrinthine streets, making our way to El Centro, and turned onto the street Cuadrante.
Standing beside a sign we had noticed on previous walks was a tall husky Mexican man—clad in biker attire. The sign beside him read, JJ’s Bar.
He called to us, asking if we wanted a free drink. At first we declined, smiling and walking past slowly. He called to us again, telling us that he was the bar owner.
We both hesitated, but we were curious—and I was personally game for a free drink.
At my persuasion, we turned back and agreed to his offer, following him through the first door which led into a small unlit courtyard.
The unlit courtyard had a darkness beneath the dark that I did not like, but then we took a few steps down into a brightly lit room. Getting past the impressiveness of the décor, we realized that we were the only people in the bar which was unsettling.
Christina asked if it was a slow night.
JJ made his way to the bar and, without turning around, said, “That’s because I don’t usually open it up to the public.”
Christina and I shot a quick look at each other, neither of us comfortable with his reply. Wanting a clearer indication of what we had just walked into, I decided to take an even closer look around the place.
There was a staircase just off the bar, also unlit. I didn’t like the feel of that staircase and I had a knowing in me to not go up those stairs, not for anything.
As I walked around looking at the framed photos on the wall, I noticed they were all photos of biker rallies. Looking more closely at the photos, I saw that the men were wearing the Hell’s Angels colors, and JJ was in every single photo.
I thought about my biker friends back home in the states. I thought about the stories my friends told me, stories about violent clubs they were indirectly associated with. They were true stories not much unlike the experiences Hunter S. Thompson had written about in Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
As I stared at the framed alter of the Hell’s Angels on the wall I knew it was time for us to get out of JJ’s Bar, and quickly. And, if we were going to get out safely, I had to play it very cool with this dude.
We sat down at the bar and let him pour us a drink, Christina and I both keeping our eyes on his hands. We didn’t have to speak it aloud, I knew we were both thinking the same thing, “Are we about to get drugged?”
JJ’s conversation with us became sexual in nature which made Christina so tense there was no concealing it in her body language. JJ noticed and took it as an opportunity to hone in on her.
Christina sat next to me, chain smoking and fidgeting nervously, ignoring his inappropriateness as words filled my mouth to redirect him from her. I started to ask questions, finding out that he was ex-military (United States Army). He even brought out identification to confirm, and intimidate, me.
As his banter became more inappropriate, I asked God to help us, asked for help out of the bad situation I had led us into.
We finished our drink and I knew we needed to start making our exit. Words filled my mouth again. I started to say that we had friends waiting for us—but it wasn’t true. I even asked Christina if they had sent us a text. She knew what I was doing and followed along.
But, JJ knew too. He understood entirely. We all did.
JJ said, “Stay and have another drink.”
“No, but thanks,” I said, watching him intently.
“Stay,” he said, looking at me and opening bottles.
“No, really we have to go. Great place, and again thanks for the drinks,” I said smiling.
“You are going to stay and have another drink. You are not leaving,” JJ looked right at me, and he wasn’t asking—not at all.
It was time, right at that moment, to get up and start moving towards the door—quickly.
“Well, we are not staying. Its time for us to go,” I said standing and hoping Christina would keep following my lead.
Everything happened quickly, and in slow motion—or it seemed.
I kept talking as I walked across the room, keeping him in my peripheral where he walked parallel to us and continued to tell us that we were going to stay. It was an unspoken race to the door.
Then it happened, the very thing I hoped would not.
I felt Christina stop and turn to go back to the bar. I knew without even turning around that she was going back for her cigarette lighter—her tangible comfort in a very scary situation.
I was almost out the door when JJ stepped directly between our line of path. It was strategic.
He knew it. I knew it. We all did.
Christina stood clutching her lighter and trembling, looking to me in speechless panic for help. I saw what could happen in a flash. JJ would take three steps, towards me or Christina, and it would be very bad.
If he came towards me, which I believed was likelier, it would happen in a blink of an eye. He would take three steps and slam that heavy metal door against my sternum, crushing it. He would lock us in and nobody would hear us screaming for help—nobody.
A strength not my own came over me, changed my entire body language, consumed me from the inside out. I faced him fully, and confidently, a holy stare down. I was like David standing before Goliath.
I could see Christina on the verge of tears from the corner of my eye, clutching that lighter in her hand.
I didn’t have a sling and stone. There was nothing around I could use as an actual weapon, but I knew that God was with me. And, I believed that He was going to get us out of the situation.
“You are going to move out of her way and we are going to leave,” I spoke with an authority I’ve never heard in my voice before that night.
He just stood there, staring at me.
I spoke again, “I said move out of her way. We are leaving.”
He stared at me a few long seconds and then stepped out of her way, swatting his hand at me and shaking his head.
Christina and I took off running. We ran and ran and never looked back. We ran until we were in El Centro again—Christina bent over puking and me crouched down sobbing.
All I could manage to say at first was, “I am sorry,” over and over again. Or, maybe I just thought the words.
Still shaken, Christina asked, “How did you do that, Julisa? How did you get us out of there? How did you know what to say? Why weren’t you scared?”
My heart was still pounding in my throat. I was plenty scared and I told her so.
I looked at my beautiful friend, so thankful that she was safe. I looked at my friend who had countless times told me that she does not believe that Jesus is God.
More tears fell from my eyes as I realized how close we were to danger and I said, “Christina, God is real. Jesus is God. And Jesus just saved us from a very bad situation. That was not my own strength—it just wasn’t.”
A year later, Christina messaged me on Facebook, telling me about another encounter she had with JJ in SMA.
Christina was in a bar where she met two girls from New Zealand. She saw JJ walk over to talk to them and when he walked away she went over to warn the girls to steer clear of him, and especially his bar.
Earlier that week Christina had found out from some locals who knew JJ that he was notorious for abusing women. They told her stories of drunken nights and dragging women through the streets by their hair.
Christina went back to the friends she was with when JJ came up to her. He started cussing her out and wanted to know what she had told the girls because they were refusing to even talk to him. But, she stood up to him, boldly telling JJ that she wasn’t afraid of him and knew all about him.
My jaw dropped open reading her messages. There was a pause and then another message came through. She told me that JJ was killed in a motorcycle accident that very night.
I kept rereading the message when another message came through. Christina asked me if I thought that God had killed JJ, had struck him dead because of the things he was doing to hurt people.
At the time, I wasn’t able to confidently answer her question, but what I did know with certainty is that the choices we make have consequences. We can choose life or death.
I told Christina that I believed JJ’s decisions and the life style he was living had an end in itself—in his case, and that night, the end was death.
For awhile, I didn’t really talk about what happened to us. I’ve still got family and friends, in fact, who know nothing about that night.
Today, I share the story more because I believe it glorifies God. He truly is our protector. But, His protection wasn’t merely the way out of that situation.
I believe there are times when God protects us by telling us NOT to go into a situation. I know He was trying to keep us from going into that bar. We didn’t listen, but in His mercy and grace He never left us. I am thankful that my relationship with Jesus is maturing and that He is helping me to be more sensitive to His Holy Spirit.
I am reminded of a prayer Paul requested in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 (NASB), “that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.”
Thank You, Abba Father, for rescuing us.