June 01, 1998 12:00 PM

It was just three years ago that Mike Stange performed his first miracle. After service at Vineyard Christian Fellowship church in La Habra, Calif., Pastor Bob Oliver asked the mechanic and member of the congregation since 1990 if he would help out a fellow parishioner who was having car trouble and couldn’t afford the repairs. Stange, 44, tinkered with the woman’s car for a half hour—free of charge—and got it running. “I have a gift,” he says, “and I’m willing to share it.”

Granted, it’s not as impressive as, say, parting a sea or turning water into wine. But Stange’s work on the cars of hundreds of church members has gained him accolades as the “Angel Mechanic”—and a 1997 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. A full-time operations superintendent at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Stange says the recipients of his largesse are often single mothers with “real needs. I started appreciating their struggles in life.” While fixing their cars, he adds, “I show them how to do it themselves, so they’re not freaked out when they open the hood.” Says Laura Stone, a single mom raising two teenage boys (and who learned from Stange not to put motor oil in the power-steering reservoir): “It’s nice to know there are people there for you, like Mike, to help you when your money is tight.”

A Southern California native who worked as a diesel mechanic in the Navy, Stange occasionally passes on major repairs. “I have a life too,” he points out, one that includes his wife of 23 years, Tawny, 45, a retired customer-service manager he lives with in Hacienda Heights, and their son Jason, 24, an MTA service attendant. Still, he says, “I get such an appreciation from doing this. I have a good time, I get to meet people, and on top of that I know that I’m helping them.” But there’s one perk he doesn’t get. “I guess if I was a single guy,” he says with a little smile, “I’d really be having a good time.”

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