By Death or by Life

Just as Winfried Wentland was about to set out on a long journey in the heart of Africa, he was warned in two dreams that the enemy would try to take his life…

Excerpt from: By Life or by Death, by Winfried Wentland with Stephen Bransford

River of blood

A man approached me in a dream as I slept on top of the container. I don’t recall much about his features, but I recall that they were very sharply defined. He said to me, “You will lose the equipment but I will save your life.”

I awoke with a start and could almost hear his voice. In fact, as I listened, I could hear the crew stowing camp gear below me. I thought it might have been one of them. “Boafo, did you say something to me?”

“No, Boss.”

“Kwesi, did you say something?”

“No, Boss. We’re all trying to be quiet so you can get your beauty rest.”

“Thank you,” I chuckled, “but I’ve got all the beauty I can stand. Let’s get going.”

We packed our gear as usual, grabbed some cold monkey and hardtack, and hit the road. We were traveling in the equatorial region of Africa. The next night I had the same dream. Again the man said to me, “You will lose the equipment but I will save your life.” Again, I awoke pondering what this could mean. I had already settled the question of my own death. It was in God’s timing and I was ready. I did not like the idea of losing the equipment. CfaN had recently supplied me with a satellite telephone. I decided the time had come to use it. I dialed Reinhard Bonnke’s number in Germany.

“Reinhard, I have had a very vivid dream twice. The same dream, two nights in a row. In both cases a man comes to me and says, ‘You will lose the equipment but I will save your life.’ I am wondering if this is a warning, and should we continue to this meeting?”

He was quiet on the other end of the line, obviously thinking through his response.

“I never have dreams, Reinhard, but this seems like something that I should not ignore.”

“I agree, you should not ignore it. But you should continue to the meeting.”

“Okay. But I do not want to lose our equipment. This is what I do. I see that it gets to the meetings on time and in good condition.”

“Yes, Winfried, and you do it with excellence. But I can replace equipment, I cannot replace you. Go on to the meeting. Obviously, the enemy is trying to attack again. I will not give him an inch and neither will you. Go on to the meeting. I will see you there and it will be glorious.”

Indeed, it was. We arrived without incident and held a successful campaign, then packed for the next assignment. Back on the road I was sleeping in a hammock under a thorn tree. The same dream came again. This time I awoke knowing that whatever was ahead for me was near.

He took us under the bridge. We looked up some forty feet at the supporting timbers. They were rotted, insect-eaten, and worn at the stress points. As a car crossed above us, the timbers sagged and groaned. We looked at each other and shook our heads.

“Out here, they use a bridge like this until it collapses,” I said.

“That’s when they figure it’s time to repair it. So the last one to cross this bridge better know how to swim.”

We looked downstream and saw a ferry on a cable across the water. We all agreed that it looked like the better option for the truck. Still, it would take some planning because the ferry deck was not large enough to accommodate the entire bulk of the tandem trailers.

A long hill descended from the bridge abutment to the ferry landing below. The landing itself was barely wide enough to accommodate my truck and a single trailer. I unhitched one of the trailers at the top and left it there with Stephen and Friday. The plan would be to take each trailer across one at a time. I sent Kwesi and Mike across the bridge in the Land Rover to watch the first trailer on the other side after I had delivered it there.

On each bank of the river a small collection of huts had been built. These people lived from farming and hunting and from selling small trinkets to those who waited at the crossing. A few of them emerged to watch us use the ferry.

I descended the 20 degree incline to the landing, and my brakes hissed loudly as I eased down to the ferry apron. The ferryman signaled me to come aboard and I continued forward onto the steel decking. Moving slowly forward, I watched my mirror as Boafo signaled that the last wheels of my trailer were on the deck. I stopped and left the diesel engine idling. I could feel the sway of the water beneath me as the ferry pulled free of the bank and began to cross.

Winfried Wentland driving through Cameroon
Winfried Wentland driving through Cameroon
Winfried Wentland in Nigeria

Regrouping on shore, we made new plans. We attached a long cable to each side of the trailer and laid it out up the hill. It would take two powerful trucks pulling simultaneously, we determined, to pull me safely back onto land. We figured it would take two because they would have to pull while climbing the 20 degree slope. We went ahead and rigged two cables so two engines could share the load and waited. No trucks came by for the rest of the day.

It was early evening and we made camp at the top of the embankment. The ferryman came to us and apologized, explaining that he had mistakenly filled a ballast tank with water, which upset the balance of the ferry. He had fixed the problem and assured us that we could make the crossing when we were ready to try again.

That night, sitting around the bonfire, I told the men about my dream for the first time. “I think this was what I was being warned about,” I said. “The dream put me on high alert so I was able to react quickly and keep the truck and equipment from being lost.”

“But the man said you would lose the equipment,” Boafo said.

“That’s what I thought he said. Maybe I heard wrong. Or maybe he was just letting me know what was at stake. Anyway, we saved the equipment and should be on our way in plenty of time for the meetings.”

The next day we waited until mid-afternoon before we found two dump truck drivers willing to accept money to pull us out as planned. I explained that once they had attached the cables and pulled out the slack in the line, they needed to lock their handbrakes and hold the lines tight while I released the air brakes in the cab. Then we would give them the signal to pull.

When I got into the cab, I found that the submerged engine had allowed the air pressure to escape from the brake system. The brakes were locked. I returned to the dump trucks and told them to cut their engines and keep their brakes locked. My crew and I would have to dive into the water with a special tool that would allow us to manually release the brakes on my drive wheels under the cab.

This took several hours. With each trip down into the water, the manual lever would have to be inserted into a slot and then turned counter-clockwise to release each wheel. We each took turns. We found the murky water very difficult to see in and the brake slot in the wheel almost impossible to find. It was a daunting challenge, but we finally got it done.

Now I instructed my crew about safety. “If a cable breaks it will fly down the hill with enough force to cut a man in two. No one is to stand in the bite of the line.”

Then I had men stand on each side of my trailer as it emerged from the water. These men were my wheel bracers, holding wheel-blocking planks that could be set behind the wheels to keep the trailer from rolling back into the water should the trucks not be able to continue pulling. A crowd of perhaps a hundred people gathered to watch on both sides of the river and on the bridge.

Suddenly, I realized that I had $20,000 in cash in the cab. If anything went wrong, I needed that money not to be wet. I took the envelope out of hiding and stuffed it in my pocket. Then I ran up the hill and locked it in the Land Rover. I took the Rover key ring and added it to my truck ignition ring. Then I re-entered the truck.

Everyone was ready and in place. I gave the signal and the two trucks began pulling. To my delight, I began moving backward. As the trucks strained against the dead weight of my load, their drive wheels began to spin in the dirt. One of the trucks shimmied sideways and rammed into a tree, which stopped him cold. The other truck was unaware and continued churning forward, but all the weight shifted suddenly to his cable and it broke, sounding like a rifle shot.

My wheel bracers saw the cable snaking down the hill toward them and ran for their lives, dropping their wheel blocks. The second cable snapped and now I was freewheeling forward, back into the water. In seconds I plunged into total blackness.

I tried to open the door but the water pressure held it fast. I began feeling around the cabin, but I could see nothing. Suddenly the windshield shattered and the river came gushing into my lap. I had only a moment to fill my lungs. I knew the river was deep, but I did not know how far down the truck would travel with the heavy trailer pushing me forward. I waited until the cab had filled with water and the pressure inside and out had equalized, then I felt for the window handle and began to roll it down. At the same time, I felt the soft impact of the wheels touching the bottom of the river. An eerie darkness surrounded me. The silence seemed to put its arms around me to hold me there.

I reached for the keys in the ignition and snatched them free. Grabbing the window, I pulled myself out, kicking my legs. I could not tell up from down but I trusted a subtle sense of buoyancy that pointed me toward the surface, though I could see nothing. I began to swim in the direction that felt like upward. By now my lungs were reaching their limit. Bubbles of air burst from my mouth and nostrils on their own. My body screamed for a breath of air, and I knew that one gulp of water was all it would take to send me to my grave.

You will lose the equipment but I will save your life. I replayed the voice in my memory. Who was saving my life? I was about to drown. I began to lose strength. I was terribly tired. My will was under assault. The blackness seemed endless. I almost inhaled just to get the agony over with. Thinking of Gaby and the children, I took another stroke, and I remembered that the man in my dream had promised to save my life. How I wished he were real enough to yank me from this watery grave right now!

And then I saw a shimmering glow. The surface was coming within view. Two, three more strokes and I broke the surface with a huge gasp they could hear up and down the river. Coughing, gasping, flailing at the water, I began to swim toward the shore. As I did, an absolutely surreal sight floated past me. It was a wreath of red flowers in the shape of a heart heading downstream. What a beautiful thing. I passed my hand through the wreath and swam with it.

Boafo, Kwesi, and Mike were treading water with me. They had been diving down, trying to reach me. As my feet touched the muddy bottom, Friday and Stephen were there, up to their waists in the water. They pulled me the rest of the way to shore. I lay there gasping and coughing, water coming out of my nose and lungs. Friday pulled the wreath from my arm.

“It is from her,” he said, pointing to the bridge above.

I rolled over to look at the bridge and a young girl was standing there.

“You were down for a long time, Boss. The flowers tell people downriver that someone has drowned. We don’t know if she meant it for you or someone else.”

I began to laugh. “Well, it wasn’t for me. Someone said I would lose the equipment but he would save my life. I don’t know where he was down there but here I am—alive.”

I stood and saw for the first time that I had a bone-deep gash eight inches long on my thigh. It was bleeding profusely. I needed some antiseptic and clean tissue to stop the bleeding until I could get to a hospital. I ran up the hill to the Land Rover and as I approached, I saw that a man was using a tool to break into the car. He saw us coming and ran into the jungle.

God had timed it well. Through these circumstances He saved my life and the $20,000 we would need to salvage the equipment.

When everything dried out, the equipment worked perfectly at the next crusade. Even the truck returned to the CfaN fleet after spending five weeks at the bottom of the river before we could get it out. I ended up losing none of the equipment. Which leaves me with an unsolved puzzle about the man in the dream.

“But the man said you would lose the equipment,” Boafo said.

“That’s what I thought he said. Maybe I heard wrong. Or maybe…”

The longer I live, the more I am at ease with unanswered questions. They make me smile as I go sleep on top of the equipment container in the heart of Africa. I look into the endless stars and I say, “Heavenly Father, Your ways are far beyond mine.” And then I sleep like a baby.

(Excerpt from: By Life or by Death, by Winfried Wentland with Stephen Bransford)