I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it in astonishment. Putting it back to my mouth, I said, “Pardon me, but could you repeat that?”
“Is it true that Pastor Angel died?”
I paused, wondering if this was a joke. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t heard anything like that.”
“Well, is he there?”
“Not at the moment. I could put you through to his secretary.”
“No, let me talk to Jeff.” The caller was referring to our program director.
I transferred it to Jeff, explaining briefly the nature of the call.
It was 1992 and I was answering the phones that morning at Phoenix Teen Challenge. Unlike most Teen Challenge centers, ours had a fully functioning church on the property. Angel was pastor of Phoenix Inner City Church and the director of Teen Challenge.
It was a typical morning. There was certainly nothing to indicate that tragedy was lurking. Just when I convinced myself that the caller must surely be mistaken, another call came in. This time the caller sounded distraught, identifying himself as someone from Texas. Pastor Angel and his wife had family in Texas.
Now my astonishment turned to alarm. My hand trembled as I transferred the call to Jeff’s office.
Then the executive director from Teen Challenge in Tucson called and asked to speak to Jeff. I felt nauseous. When I saw that Jeff’s line had cleared, I summoned an intern to my office.
“Orlando, answer the phones. I need to run to Jeff’s office. I’ll be right back.”
“Sure,” he responded. “Hey, are you okay? You look sick.”
“I’m fine,” I murmured as I headed out the door. I flew up the stairs, knocking on the door before pushing it open. One look at Jeff and my heart dropped. His face was ashen and his eyes filled with anguish.
“Oh no! Is it true?” I choked out.
“I don’t know yet. Can you keep all calls from me while I make some calls of my own and try to find out what’s happened?” Jeff was already reaching for the phone.
“What should I tell people?”
“Just say that we’re trying to confirm the information,” Jeff replied.
I rushed to my office to relieve Orlando, who glanced at me and tried to pump me for information. I rolled my eyes and signaled that I wasn’t saying anything.
Although I felt overwhelmed, I managed to maintain a professional air as I handled normal incoming calls and a couple more inquiries regarding Pastor Angel’s demise. One call was from our fellowship’s district office. Our superintendent’s secretary asked to speak with Jeff, so I complied.
I thought of Pastor Angel’s wife and three young sons, of the impact his death would have on so many people, not to mention the ministry. In between calls, I prayed, willing myself not to break down in tears. He wasn’t just my boss, he was a friend, and a great inspiration and encouragement.
During a lull in the phones, I managed to swallow a few gulps of my soda. That’s when I saw it, out of the corner of my eye, through the side window of my office that looked out onto the parking lot.
My mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. What in the world? The door to my office opened and there he stood with that wide, infectious grin of his.
“How’s it going? Anything important that I should know about?”
“Dead. They said you were dead.” All I could do was whisper.
That grin never left his face. “What?”
I guess he didn’t hear me. “Dead!” This time my voice raised a couple of octaves.
His eyes flickered and his grin wobbled a little. “Who’s dead?”
“You!” I was still in shock. I reached for the phone and hit the page into Jeff’s office. “Jeff, Angel’s in my office.”
Jeff was in my office before I could blink. Pastor Angel was still grinning. “What’s up?” he asked Jeff.
Jeff stared, then blurted out, “We’ve been getting calls that you’d died. Your wife’s on her way to the hospital. Someone claiming to be a doctor called saying you’d had a heart attack and pronounced dead on arrival.”
Now Pastor Angel looked astonished, although that grin never left his face. “No! You’re not serious, are you?”
We were serious. It had been a well-planned hoax designed to cause grief and havoc. We talked about it for years. To my knowledge, the perpetrator was never discovered.
*Author’s note: This is a true story. Names have not been changed, although none of the above is at Phoenix Teen Challenge anymore. However, they are all still very much alive.
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