Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Captain Kang, the uniformed Korean in charge, shielded his eyes from the light, and singled me out hiding in the shadows at the back of the hall.

Then, in English, he announced to everyone “I can see Stephen is here today.”

Feeling thoroughly conspicuous, I smiled and stood-up, proud simply to be back in what was, for me, a very expensive church to be attending.

The Salvation Army’s Korean Corps. was the first of a whistle-stop recap of my social life in Auckland, founded as usual on my faith that God would provide me with a way to get home afterwards. (no buses home after 6pm)

Many old Sally Army friends greeted me with a mixture of pleasure and surprise, so I dutifully showed them all my hard-won Work Permit, and as usual glossed-over any pretence that I knew what their names were.

There were two things they all seemed to agree upon:

1. That they were pleased to see me, and

2. That I had put on weight. I mean forget that myth about how Asians hide what they think, these guys were actually pointing at me. And they weren’t even pointing at my stomach, but up at my cheeks.

I quickly developed a stock gag to compensate: "This is what happens when you move back in with your mum for 2½ months."

Having downed my first Korean meal for ages, and been presented with 16 biscuits to take away, I headed off down Queen Street for my second gatecrash of the day.

Back in the UK, I had looked through my pictures of this area and recalled actually being here. Now that I actually was here again, I felt as though I was walking inside my giant photographs.

They were very expensive enlargements. What on Earth had I been thinking? How could God possibly have wanted me to waste so much money on coming here again?

And there it was - my daily underlying question of whether, despite my life’s implications to the contrary, God really does direct our steps.

From my friends’ perspectives however, I knew that today I would be met with either open arms, or quizzical bafflement at why on Earth I had come all this way back.

"Gobleator!" yelled Freakazoid as I emerged from the youth hostel lift.

She always calls me "The Gobleator", particularly appropriate since I always leave her with the Arnie-esque promise "I’ll be baaack."

(According to the Koreans of course, this is the only way in which I resemble Arnie.)

Anyway, as I went through my post, I caught up with her, Leni and Sue, and continued to dish out the Tesco sweets that I’d brought from the UK for everyone.

I was also particularly shocked to hear that Lionel, the hostel’s token old guy, had had a stroke and was currently lying in a bed somewhere up at Auckland Hospital. I quickly got the details of where and made a mental note to go see him after church that evening.

In the kitchen, I checked the free food shelf, caught up with Hui and got myself a glass of water, at which point Andy skidded through the doors to gape at me in utter disbelief.

Oh good, now this was the sort of reaction that I had been hoping for.

What I hadn’t anticipated however, was his reason.

Yesterday Andy had gone to visit Lionel in hospital, and upon reaching the ward had been met by a nurse who’d surreally asked him "Are you Steve Goble?"

Maybe it was delirium, but Lionel had wanted to talk to me. Not, I gauge, to confess to murdering his cook, reveal where his stolen millions were buried, or send me with his dying breath on a quest to Tunisia to find the lost ark of the covenant (disappointed about that one), but… I think he had just wanted to talk. About anything. Like we had used to.

Of course Andy had told him "No no no, Steve Goble’s gone back to England, he’s been there for months, he’s not coming back," so Andy’s amazement at seeing me in the flesh the following day, some 10,000 miles away from England, was understandable.

I asked him at what time yesterday he and Lionel had had this conversation – about 3pm. Near as I could make out, this had been about the time when I had been lying on my bed wondering if coming back had been a mistake.

Andy remarked what a huge coincidence this whole thing was.

So I got an Indiana Jones line in anyway: "Happens to me all the time."

Anyway first my English-speaking church beckoned, so I walked the familiar trek with my backpack up to Ponsonby, where as usual the service was already in progress.

As I approached the near-deserted car park outside however, I spotted another friendly face – it was Mr Hippy the ice cream salesman! We agreed to rendezvous at the hospital later for him to shout me a sandwich from Subway, and give me a lift home.

Inside not much had changed. Greg was enthusing away at the front as usual, and afterwards I got to see Jamie,
Chris Riding, Neville, Kylie, Jack’s family, Janine, Ben and Shane, who gave me a lift to the hospital.

Hospitals. Having, in recent years, repeatedly visited relatives and friends at them back in the UK, these places were becoming too familiar territory.

It was therefore with my customary apprehension that I took a deep breath and walked into Lionel's ward. What would I find? A body with a million tubes coming out of it? A confused old man who didn't remember me today? Perhaps he didn’t want anyone seeing him in whatever his current state was? Perhaps… the bed would be empty, and made-up for someone new. Oh dear.

It turned out Lionel was going with what seems to be the factory-setting position for hospital patients - slouched forward in bed asleep.

I sat down, and looked at him. I have a worse-than-most memory for faces, (and names unfortunately) but that was Lionel all right. Looking very serious. And unconscious.

Presently, he wearily opened his eyes and squinted at me.

Oh boy, I really wanted to take advantage of this. "Hi Lionel, I’m still in England, because this is just a dream. Woo-oo-ooh!!! Well, I must be off – Mr Hippy and I are going to eat a Subway."

Well, that’s what I wanted to say. In actual fact I was too afraid of giving him a coronary, so I quickly told him that I’d got back from the UK yesterday, and deliberately avoided mentioning any knowledge of his having asked for me. That would have been awkward for both of us.

He weakly managed to grate a few words, finishing with a consonantly-challenged corruption of "So – I suppose you’re gonna gnaff orf now, are ya?"

Oh yes, that was definitely still Lionel in there.

He dropped off again, and after much effort with a phone-card that I’d found many months ago, I made contact with Mr Hippy.

The following night Lionel seemed to have taken a turn for the worse – he was flat-out. Although he wasn’t a Christian (which raises ethical questions about what I did, but it’s never stopped me before) I prayed over him.

The next day I found him sitting in a chair, but still apparently comatose. The nurse told me he’d been awake earlier, and eaten, but now there was no response.

If you’ve ever visited someone in hospital, you’ll be familiar with the dilemma of whether to try to wake them up or not. I took his shoulder and had a go, but Lionel wasn’t even stirring.

I examined his face. I watched his breathing. It occurred to me that, although not reacting to me, he didn’t actually seem to be asleep. I thought of all those stories of coma patients who’d heard every word that had been said to them, and realised this was one of those opportunities.

So, looking like a complete idiot, I started talking to this apparently asleep guy, regardless of whether he actually just wanted some quiet to rest. I told him about England, about my sister’s graduation day, about my family and lots of other things, until I ran out of stuff. It actually hadn’t taken me long, but there was still no change, so I made my excuses and left.

Then, as I was walking away, with a tremendous effort Lionel heaved his head slowly upwards, and forced from his mouth a question about my sister.

As I sat down to continue talking to him again, I knew with 100% certainty, that I was in exactly the place where God wanted me to be.


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