When Does The Next Bus Go Over The Cliff
God’s link between transportation and prayer
Anyone who lives overseas has to eventually deal with transport systems. Global worker life is full of these adventures. Varying factors can make some seem more challenging than others. Let’s face it: fitting one person into a VW taxi is a little simpler than fitting a family of five who would all like to travel together, but there are no other vehicles larger than a VW. What is a new global worker to do?
Well, let me be the first to encourage you not to become frustrated or overwhelmed at these things. There really is a God who has everything under control. I learned this from a national who was traveling by public transport. When he finally found a taxi to ride in, a lady sat beside him who had a very large basket full of vegetables, in addition to her baby and her luggage. She actually had the nerve to ask if our friend would mind holding the basket of vegetables on his lap while they traveled. This was going to be a four-hour trip!
Although it was an imposition, this young man agreed. Later in the trip, their vehicle suffered a head on collision with another vehicle, whereby our friend was the only one who was not injured. The reason? The basket of vegetables acted like our inflatable bags in our newer vehicles over here and he walked away without a scratch. So don’t be too quick to judge a situation as an imposition. God may be sparing you for another day.
You may not know what kind of transportation awaits you, but if you can find out ahead of time there are logistical considerations to think about. Are you going to be using a taxi or a rickshaw or a camel? Even if you are fortunate to own and operate your own vehicle, you will still have to deal with other aspects of transportation that are totally unique to your particular country. For example, some people can be driving on roads who have never been trained to drive. Others were trained by James Bond movies. People on the roads do not necessarily adhere to rules. They may be good drivers but unable to read. “Defensive driving” takes on a whole new definition when cultural boundaries are crossed.
Roads sometimes do not exist where the boy points across the furrows of a farm and says it is the only way to his village. Statements like “It’s just over there” may mean for us only a few miles. Two hours later, we realize we underestimated the power of those few little words “just over there.” Road signs that should give pertinent information like ONE WAY may be missing; animals may have more rights on the roads than pedestrians; the masses of people on the roads can make driving a literal obstacle course. Sometimes rules are not written down anywhere, but the community assumes that you know them because you live there, like knowing that major roads near places of worship are blocked off and cars impounded on days of worship. Where we were, you are not allowed to stop on roundabouts that are in front of banks. Once the military policeman shouted at me for 15 minutes; he informed me that the next time I did such a thing, I would be shot as a bank robber. Oooops!
Our first encounter with transportation challenges was in our own preparations stateside. You see, we thought with a three-year-old and a two-year-old traveling with us that we would utilize all our resources, and we stuffed their little carry-ons full of their things to take overseas. Sounded like a great idea, but we forgot to factor in that little aspect of Jet Lag that caused both of our toddler children to be extremely sleepy on arrival to the country (of course it could have had something to do with that Benadryl elixir I had given them to help them sleep that night on the plane, too). They could not even carry their own little bodies, let alone the carry-ons we had so carefully packed. In addition to their limp little bodies, the 747 that had just carried us across the ocean, now landed and parked itself on the tarmac—some 350 yards away from the airport terminal! All passengers were dropped off in the middle of the tarmac, no mini bus, no push carts, no porters to help you get over that stretch. All our luggage was dropped off the plane right there with us and had to be hand carried—by us—to the international one-story terminal.
Can you visualize this picture? Two sleepy children who needed to be carried, four very stuffed carry-ons, me in heels (I wanted to look my best!) plus all our luggage. My husband looked like the Beverly Hillbilly porter who piled it on higher and deeper. Oh well, so much for great plans. I sure wish someone had said something along these lines before we left. Where’s a good camera when you need one?
Another encounter with transportation challenges was in Switzerland. We were instructed to get on a trolley car that would take us to our designated hotel. Never having been on such a vehicle before, we did not realize that they only stop for a very short interval, as they have other trolley cars on the same tracks coming down the track behind them. Unfortunately for us, since we did not know this, Rick, my husband, had only gotten me, the two babies and half our luggage on the trolley when the it took off down the road, leaving behind my husband and the other half of our luggage.
I can’t describe what happened next except to tell you that it was complete panic. I realized that my French was not good enough to explain to the conductor that “That was my husband we just left behind!” and that I could not stay on the trolley without him as we would be totally lost from each other in a city for which I had no map. The conductor miraculously realized 600 yards down the hill that he at least needed to stop and let me and the babies get off. To this day, I do not know whether it was the tears, or the panic in my voice, or just a merciful act of God that helped him realize it. But there I was 600 yards down the hill, with the two babies and half the luggage. Where are my nice comfy Nikes when I need them most?
For individuals who own and operate their own vehicles, there are excellent books concerning overseas living that deal with transportation. It is cautioned that this can isolate one from the culture. I do realize that a personal vehicle can be isolating, but having lived overseas for more than eight years now, I am very pragmatic in this aspect of cross-cultural work. I know many of you will be like I was when I first arrived. I was appalled at other global workers who had drivers. It seemed so much against our ethical standards to ask another to do something that we could do for ourselves. And then there are all those thoughts concerning “wise stewardship of God’s money” and that having a driver, by our American standards, is a true luxury. But driving in a different country is not the same as driving at home, and we need to make the mental adjustment that not everything functions like it does in the good ol’ USA.
I had two terms living overseas where I did not need a driver. Our living situation changed in the third term and we had to make adjustments. Actually, it was after I was arrested twice in the same city that my husband decided that he needed to find a driver for me. ( Side note here: there were no phones where we were for that infamous prisoner’s last right to a phone call.)
On to how I got arrested. I had parked my car on the side of the road next to a market just like all the other cars parked on the side of the road. I was in the marketplace when people came rushing up to me to tell me that a lorry (a huge truck) had side-swiped my car. When I arrived, there was already a crowd. The driver of the lorry did not have his license, did not have his papers for his vehicle, and seemed to be slightly inebriated, But he did have one thing—he worked for a very powerful man in the marketplace. So guess who got hauled off to jail with her license, her particulars all in order and her smashed vehicle? You guessed it.
Fortunately, I was not shopping alone. As soon as we saw what was happening and how the driver of the vehicle that had smashed my car was not being taken into custody, I told one of my shopping companions to jump in a taxi and run home to get my husband because they were not going to let me go. It took four hours in the police station to secure my release. I am sure some of you can’t believe such an account, but a word to the wise: no matter how right you may be in a situation, you need to know the culture you are operating in. Sometimes only men have a voice in such matters. A woman’s words hold no weight and regardless of how long, hard and right my arguments would have been I was only wasting my breath. I would still have been there in that prison, if my husband had not come to my rescue. (So if you are single, make sure to ask the Lord to give you a “Father” that you can adopt for the time you are in the host country. You may never need him, but if you face the things we did, you will never regret having secured this one relationship.)
The second time I was arrested I was trying to get to this same market. We were on a side of town I was not familiar with, and a national friend who was with me in the car was giving me directions. In doing so, he directed me up a one-way street. Now mind you, the “One Way” sign had fallen down years ago, but everyone in town knew that this street was a one-way street—everyone, that is, except my friend and I.
So when we came upon the traffic warden at the end of the street (I waved hello of course), he jumped in the back seat of the car and ordered, “Drive us to the police station. You are under arrest. You were driving up the wrong way on a one way street.” Again it was one of those no-win situations. Forget the fact that the sign was nowhere to be seen, and my friend who had given me the directions was the only one the traffic warden would listen to. I have no idea what was said that made the traffic warden change his mind (they were talking in a dialect that I didn’t know), but several streets down the road, the warden asked to be dropped off and I was released.
These were the two incidents that convinced my husband and me that regardless of how good a driver I was, driving in the city would be safer if we had a national, who was a man, who knew the hidden rules, who could negotiate for me when and if I got into trouble, and who would see to it that I didn’t disappear into eternity in some mysterious jail cell that no one could locate.
Even though mentally I agree with writers that say a personal vehicle isolates one from the culture and having a driver may cause some problems, I believe each must pray, and make their own decisions based on their own circumstances. Sometimes the guys who write these great books are not mothers of three small children who are trying to get to market and back safely.
If you are a willing global worker but driving on the other side of the road is a paralyzing feature to your ministry, then I say remove the block. If God leads you to find a reliable driver who knows and understands the laws of the land, and knows what will make your Adam’s apple stand up in your throat, then by all means, pay the price and have the driver.
The title of this article comes from a girlfriend whose first in-country transportation experience was in the back of a bus going straight up the side of a mountain. To get to her station, she thought many times she was on the edge of her eternity. She stated then and there she had a very serious talk with God concerning her personal calling to global work and her total dependence on God for her personal safety. Now may be a good time to say to God, “Lord God, You are the one who called me to this country, and I will trust You that whatever means of transportation You provide, I know I will arrive safely there. In Jesus Name. Amen.”
To all you travelers on God’s Highway…. God’s Speed and protection on the way.