Bouncing along in the van, we missionaries laughed about our adventures. We even joked about the fact that the van was still running after a whole hour. At that moment, we heard “Boom! Boom!” The van came to a stop, spewing steam onto the hot pavement.
“How funny is that?” someone laughed. “We just mention it, and the van stops!” More laughter followed as passengers waited for someone to get the van back on the road. Those of us who had made this trip out of Africa before knew it wouldn’t be that simple.
Adding water to the hissing radiator breathed life into the van for another few miles before our next breakdown. Once again, water sizzled as it rushed into the steaming radiator. A repeat performance would carry the van a few miles down the road until it stopped for good. Our pastor decided send for another van to finish the trip. “This one isn’t going to get us to the airport on time” he lamented. “You might as well get out and walk around while we wait.”
The air in the hot van reeked of sweat, perfume and animal droppings, a heady bouquet indeed. We happily tumbled out onto the highway. Instantly, I began to perspire from every pore. Sweat dripped off my nose onto my damp shirt. Rivulets of sweat ran down my back. The pavement beneath my feet burned through the thin soles of my shoes, making my feet sizzle like a Porterhouse steak on a hot grill.
As we waited, we commented on our surroundings. Just beyond the van was a large tree, hanging over the road like a giant bell. It was easily the largest tree any of us had ever seen. Every branch was laden with birds, squawking and screeching. One fearless young man in our group searched for an adventure to pass the time and spotted the tree. He ran toward it, found a rock, and turned to us, shouting, “Dare me to throw this rock?” Of course, no one dared him to throw the rock, and yet he did.
The moment the rock hit the tree, hundreds of bats and other birds erupted from inside the tree, wildly careening in all directions. For a quick moment I pondered the phrase, “blind as a bat” and wondered if they would sense us and try to avoid us. My answer came rather quickly as bats plummeted toward my head.
“Run for the van!” someone shouted. Bats darted around us in zigzag patterns, frantically trying to get away from us, as we frantically tried to get away from them.
Getting into the van earlier that morning had required a certain finesse. People choose seat mates, arranged their luggage neatly around their feet, and a sense of decorum prevailed. Lunging into the van to get away from the bats made us resemble eighth grade boys fighting for the front seat on a circus ride. We behaved shamefully as we pushed each other aside to get into the shelter of the van.
Our driver poured the last of the water into the radiator and started the van, managing to drive the length of a football field away from the swarming bats before it died again.
We spent the next hour inside the van, smelly, thirsty, sweaty and most unhappy with the young man. He didn’t even have the sense to apologize. Instead he excitedly stated, “What a great adventure that was! Could anyone guess the number of bats? And how big was that tree anyway?"
A woman giggled, “At least this was a less eventful trip than we had coming into the country.” We silently agreed as our minds drifted to the midnight trip into Uganda two weeks earlier. We recalled the chilling experience of a similar breakdown on a desolate, black-as-pitch highway. Being stranded was bad enough, but then someone turned on a flashlight. Every mosquito within miles was drawn to the open windows and pungent passengers. It was the stuff of which nightmares are made.
Ask any missionary about their experiences, and you‘ll hear amazing stories of wonderful breakthroughs as they toiled in foreign countries. Keep asking, and you will hear stories like this one--rich, funny or tragic stories tucked away in their memories. Those are the ones that wear them out or buoy them up as they work tirelessly to spread the Gospel to the nations.
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