Divine Appointments, connections, the meeting of minds and the chance to share experience, has to be one of the most exciting and frequently answered prayers in my life.
I often close my eyes and ask to meet the right person, at the right time. It must be easier for the angels to organise if you are going to a social gathering. We're in Lockdown right now, so it's unlikely I will meet anyone today, but it's 8.10am on a Sunday morning and anything could happen. I'm going to pray:
'Lord Jesus Christ, please bring me into contact with a person or people of your choosing today.'
Why do I want this? To extend his kingdom or mine? To bless others or to bless me?
'For your sake, Lord. Just use me.'
I was once on a train, heading for a New Years' church service, followed by a buffet lunch in London. I prayed for a divine appointment, that I would meet someone of the Lord's choosing. An amazing thing happened. I ended up having lunch with an old, old man in an ill-fitting suit. He turned out to be an eminent physician, in his nineties, and exactly the person I needed to meet at that time.
I had been commissioned to write a screenplay about a prisoner of war to the Japanese, but it was still in the first, sketchy stages. Bill admitted that he had been a medical officer when Singapore fell during WWII. He's been sent to Changi and then a military prisoner of war camp on Blakang Mati or 'Hell island', which he said was far worse. He was unwilling to talk about it at first, curtly suggesting I read books others had written. This was vaguely disappointing, but was able to meet up with him on many other occasions, when he gradually told me more. He agreed to proof read my script, insisting on terminology I had not considered important. 'We were not in prison,' he insisted. 'We were in a prisoner- of-war camp. The distinction is important.' I was surprised to hear they hardly ever saw the Japanese. 'They were very short-staffed.' I had been led to believe otherwise by Hollywood movies but it was probably one reason why the guards were so intimidating. Although he had treated wounded Japanese soldiers, they refused to recognise Bill as a doctor. 'All I had to treat my patients with was saline. Sea water.'
When I first met Bill, he was still working as a Harley Street allergist.
'May I give your manuscript to one of my patients?'
I was hesitant. 'What does your patient do?'
'I'm not quite sure, but she's frightfully pretty. I'll ask my PA to find out.'
The lady in question was the Executive in Charge of Production at Working Title, a major British film company. I quickly sent him a revised draft.
Working Title did not snap up my screenplay, but I was able to introduce Bill to another film producer who was interested, and began to develop the story into a novel. I was able to re-tell his story about the joy of finding a jar of Marmite on the camp rubbish heap. The Japanese had been pillaging Red Cross parcels but disliked the taste and discarding it. 'They thought it must be axel grease,' Bill told me, explaining that it was exactly what he needed to treat Beri-beri, being high in vitamin B12.
What I didn't realise, was that although Bill had been able to forgive his captors, he had not spoken much about his time in the camps until he met me. Like meany he had pretty well blanked it off. I so hope that I was able to help him to speak with humour about his painful experiences. I gave him a copy of one of my own memoirs for his 100th Birthday. After that he began to speak more openly about his Christian faith.
Being members of the same City Livery Company, we kept meeting at various charitable events, chatting on a coach as we went to visit a school. I was not surprised when Bill told me he'd been invited to walk down the red carpet when the film 'Railway Man' was released. He began to take part in WWII memorial events and flew to Singapore to commemorate peace. Having kept pretty silent for years, Bill was happy to chat about his time as a prisoner of war on 'Desert Island Discs' and I was thrilled to hear that he had able to talk about treating those held captive in the Far East. My only regret missing the launch of his biography, to which I was invited. It was entitled, 'From Hell to Hay Fever.'
My book is now called 'The Man Who Got Out of Japan'. It has won three literary awards but it still waiting to be published. I long to honour Bill and those brave, brave men and women who suffered so that we might enjoy freedom. Bill was very nearly beheaded by a Japanese officer. By some miracle he survived, was bale to return to his wife, raise four children and make a huge contribution to modern medicine, instigating the pollen count and pioneering major advancements in immunology. He told me that he probably saved the life of Saddam Hussein, 'He was smoking forty cigarettes and day' but explained that a patient is a patient. Bill ended up living until he was 108, outspoken until the end.
What a divine appointment! Finding a friend would have been enough.
Read more - Bill's obituary