|It wasn't quite this bad! (Google Images)|
A single candle flickered in the room, threatening to leave us in darkness as we prepared for bed. Chilling drafts crept in through cracks in the wall, the roof, and the partially opened door. Rain pounded down outside.
I lay shivering on a straw-filled mattress. What we had come to this community to do was not going to be easy. Fear and superstition in rural Colombia, South America made it difficult to explain the Gospel. How could an inexperienced team of Bible students break through years of deep-seated tradition?
It was during summer vacation in 1978, and I doing children’s ministry with some of my students from our Bible Institute. We had planned to offer the program in six churches—three in Medellin, a highly industrialized city of over a million people, and then three more in our rural churches.
My coworker Maria and I—plus Gustavo, our lone male team member, and two other students, headed out to a farming community about an hour outside of Medellin. Once we got off the main highway, the going got very rough. The path was filled with craters and jagged rocks that seemed destined to rip something vital off the bottom of my small car. We finally decided to get out and walk, leaving Maria to drive, in the hopes of lightening the load and avoiding any major damage.
When the path ran out, we were still some distance from the home where we would hold our program. Maria parked the car by a small schoolhouse on a hill just off the path. The school yard was about 10 feet above where the road ended. The car was out of sight. I was sure it would be safe enough parked away from the embankment with the doors locked and the brake on.
Our hostess Guillermina and her husband Efrain were poor tenant farmers. They entertained us royally with what little they had and they were so excited that we had come to tell their friends and neighbors about God’s love and forgiveness.
That afternoon we rounded up children from the neighboring farms and began our first kid’s meeting. It was late when we escorted them back to their homes. A house meeting was planned for the evening. The church people began to drift in one by one. Some had walked a long way. Because it was beginning to rain, the return trip home promised to be a wet one.
By the light of gas lanterns and with every bed and bench occupied, Gustavo delivered a stirring message from the Bible. Outside, the storm grew worse.
After the meeting, all us girls were glad to climb into our beds to escape the cold. The bedroom door wouldn’t shut, so I propped it closed with a box to keep out the worst of the draft. At last, Maria blew out the flickering candle and we settled in, seeking a little warmth against the dampness of the night.
I could hear someone talking on the porch outside. Suddenly the door flew open, sending the box crashing against the wall.
“Señoritas, señoritas!” Guillermina cried hysterically as she burst into the room and threw herself at the foot of the bed. “Forgive us!” It took some to get her calmed down enough to find out what we were supposed to forgive her for.
On the way back to their homes after the meeting, the Christians had found my car upside down in the middle of the path. Two tires had been slashed. The other two were flat. The gas line had been ripped out and some damage attempted to the motor. Earlier Gustavo had offered to sleep in the car for the sake of security, but it was too late for that now. What will we do? I wondered.
“Señorita,” our hostess continued, “we know who did this. Efrain is going out with his machete to punish them.”
Efrain, a new Christian, had once been notorious for his temper. Once again, anger had taken control. As our avenging angel he was now prepared to do battle.
“No”, I begged, “tell him to stay here. Murder is not God’s way of dealing with this.” Guillermina scurried out of the room after her husband.
Voices rose and fell outside the door. The four of us prayed that somehow God would prevent Efrain from this evil mission. Gustavo talked and prayed with him all through the night and our prayers were answered.
I shook uncontrollably as questions raced through my mind. How bad was the damage? How will we get back to Medellin? Why did this happen on the first night of six weeks of ministry? How will we do all the other clubs without the car? Was there worse to come?
Just hours before, I had congratulated myself that we had gotten the car this far without any damage. Now it was ruined.
As I lay there, God began to minister to me. Verses of His care and protection flashed through my mind. He reminded me that where the Spirit of God is, there is no room for fear, for “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7). There on that prickly mattress, peace returned. The car was His. Hadn’t I given it back to him when He first provided it? It was no longer mine, but HIS to do with as He pleased.
I fell asleep, thanking God and asking His forgiveness for my worry and fear.
The next morning, before we went back up the road to see the car, we had devotions together as a team. We prayed that God would glorify Himself through this situation. By the time we reached the school yard, a small crowd had already gathered. News travels fast, even in the remote, telephone-less hills of Colombia.
We answered the questions of all who passed, telling them about God and explaining to them why we had come here in the first place.
Our efforts at getting the car on its “feet” and back to town, accomplished with the help of La Unión’s battered fire truck, were closely watched and reported. As a team we resolved that we would stay, finish out our week, and not only talk about God’s love and forgiveness but prove it.
The meeting that night gave us the first glimpse of what the Lord was doing with His car. We were invited to hold our service in the home of a neighbor who wasn’t a believer. Strangers appeared at the door and the house was full to the rafters with people who had never heard the Gospel before. Curiosity had overcome fear. This amazing blessing would repeat itself every night during that week.
Colombians are very careful with their cars. Damage is swiftly repaired and keeping the car looking good is a “must”. But even after we returned to the city, I was reluctant to fix the car. Apart from the tires and the damage to the motor, both passenger and driver’s sides were crushed from being rolled down the embankment. This external damage provided us with endless opportunities to witness. At gas stations, stop signs and parking spots, people always asked what had happened. And when they asked, they received far more than just a “tale of a missionary car.”
With my limited understanding, I thought of the car as only a means of transportation from one place to another. But in God’s hands the car was to become an invaluable part of the missionary team, proving once again that He is always creative, always right and always faithful.