Anybody who is tempted to think that missionary work is boring needs to read this article. My trips with our students to visit their practical ministries have typically been anything but boring. I have crossed precarious bridges, had encounters with exotic wildlife, and met a host of interesting people. None of this, however, came close to the sheer adrenaline level I experienced last night.
Some background is in order. This weekend we had an evangelistic campaign in the city of Exu, about an hour from the seminary. There will be pictures and detailed reports later. Suffice it to say, people were saved, and God was glorified.
Fresh from this exciting event, I piled into the truck with four young people (three seminary students and a girl from one of our local churches) and Mikey. Mikey was sound asleep and, fortunately, missed the whole thing.
Between Exu and Crato (where the seminary is located) there is a gigantic plateau, called the Serra do Araripe. To get home, it was necessary for us to climb the ridge, cross the plateau, and go down the other side. The roads on either side are steep and winding. The road on top is straight as an arrow, and desolate.
As we began our ascent, I noticed that the truck was not showing it’s usual “oomph”. I attributed this to the fact that we were loaded to the gills with people and supplies. We eventually made it to the top and stopped at a gas station–the last outpost of civilization before the other side of the plateau. There we encountered the other members of our team in another pickup. The driver of that truck asked me if everything was OK, and I–not even thinking about the slight trouble I had experienced–assured him that we were fine. Then we took off, the other vehicle in the front.
As the gas station faded into the background, I noticed that we were having trouble keeping up with the truck in front of us. I had the gas pedal to the floor, and still our companions were disappearing into the night. Soon they were gone. At just that point, the truck completely lost power. The engine was running, and would accelerate when I touched the gas, but somehow this was not being translated to the wheels, no matter what gear I tried.
Coasting to a stop and getting out of the car, we evaluated our situation. Simply put, we were stuck. Our options were limited to two–wait for someone to come back looking for us, or go get help. The first option was not attractive at all, considering the fact that we were alone in one of the more dangerous patches of road in the area, and had no idea when people would figure out we were missing. The second option, while equally unattractive, did seem to be the lesser of the two evils. After all, looking back, I could still make out the green glow from the sign of the gas station we had just passed.
With this in mind, I gave instructions to Daniel–the only male student with us–to stay with the girls and Mikey while I walked back to get help. I placed an iron pipe in his hand–which I carry in the car at all times and affectionately refer to as my “security system”–and solemnly charged him with the protection of the women and child. Then I struck out in direction of the light.
There being no streetlights and absolutely no houses anywhere nearby, the only illumination I had was provided by the stars. And what illumination! The night air caused them to appear much closer and bigger than normal, and I reveled in their beauty.
As I continued to walk I would look at the stars, and then at the greenish light in front of me. Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, if that light in front of me were just another star. That train of thought brought me up short. The same principle that made the stars appear closer than normal was also making the sign appear nearer than it actually was. Much nearer.
Suddenly, the prospect of a long walk in the dark caused fear to well up within me. The stories of assaults in that area returned to my mind in all their gory detail. I remembered at that point that every snake I have ever seen in the wild here in Brazil has been dead on the side of the road–and made the assumption that at one point they had been alive on the side of the road.
My ears became alert to even the slightest noise. Just about then I saw the distant growing lights of a car. The possibility that they would stop and help was slim to none. Nobody stops on that road, and for good reason. As the headlights grew in front of me, I moved over to the side of the road to get out of their way. Just as the car passed, I stepped off the curb and onto some dried grass, which crackled under my feet. A dog barked somewhere nearby, and I ran like I had never run in my life.
As I strained my legs to get from them every possible ounce of speed, I listened intently for the sound of canine panting behind me. The only panting I heard came from me. Relieved, I slowed down to a walk.
Looking up, I saw the green glow of the sign in front of me. Looking back, I could no longer see the blinkers of the car. How far had I walked? How far did I still have to go? I had no idea. I continued to put one foot in front of the other, always looking toward the sign, which never seemed to grow bigger. The starry skies stretched in an endless circle around me. I began to lose all sense of distance and perspective.
Suddenly a light appeared, no more than fifty feet in front of me, and stayed there. I slowed my pace and listened for some sound. There was none. The light bobbed a little, and I got the distinct impression that it was a flashlight. I could not make out anything behind it. Glancing behind me, I saw another light–this one a little further off, but still too close for comfort. Still no sound.
“Who’s there?” I called out with a shaky voice. There was no answer.
My heart began to race wildly, and I waged a desperate war against panic. My palms were sweaty and my tongue was dry. Faintly in the distance, I heard the sound of an engine. If I can wait until the oncoming vehicle passes, I will be able to see what is behind the lights, I thought, and if they are bandidos, I can make a run for it.
I stopped and waited. Slowly the sound of the motor grew louder. Suddenly, the light in front of me grew and divided into two. I jumped to the side of the road just as the large dump truck–who’s lights I had seen long before I had heard the motor–passed by. I stood there for several seconds breathing hard and wiping gobs of sweat from my forehead. I could now see that the lights behind me were also from an oncoming truck.
I began to fervently pray that that truck–or any truck, for that matter–would stop and offer me a lift. Disappointment flooded me as the eighteen wheeler roared past…and then hope sprang anew as it stopped and began to back up. I ran up to the cab. The driver rolled down the window and looked at me.
“Are you the owner of the Hilux I saw back there?” he asked. I assured him that I was. “Hop in,” he said. “I’ll take you to the gas station.” The only sweeter sound I have ever heard was when I asked Itacyara to marry me, and she said yes.
I climbed into the cab of the truck, silently blessing all truck drivers everywhere. It was amazing how quickly the soft-green glow of the sign in front of me grew as we approached the gas station. The truck driver stopped and I thanked him profusely before getting out.
Of course the gas station had no phone, but there was a weigh station across the street operated by the state police. I walked over there, and went up to the window. As I put my hand on the counter to explain my situation to the officer, I was stung by a bee. So great was the amount of adrenaline pumping through my system that I barely felt it.
The officer invited me to come into the station, where he and his co-workers were watching TV and checking the scores of their favorite teams on the Internet. After spending what had seemed like an eternity in the middle of nowhere (actually about an hour and a half) I felt like crying at the sight of computers and telephones.
Especially telephones. I called Itacyara to let her know I was ok, and then called one of our missionaries in Crato to see about getting help for the car. He assured me that he would arrange everything, and we hung up.
I chatted with the guards for awhile, and then walked back over to the gas station to wait for the missionary who was coming to pick us up. I prayed that he would come quickly, and prayed for the safety of the people back at the car.
After buying a Coke and talking to the gas station attendant for awhile, I sat down on the curb and waited for help to arrive. After what seemed like another eternity, I saw the familiar headlights of my colleague’s SUV.
As we started back toward my car, I asked him to set his trip odometer so I could see how far I had come. “Oh, I already clocked it,” was his reply. “You came 7.4 kilometers.”
7.4 kilometers. That is about 4.6 miles. I estimate that I walked about three miles of that before the trucker picked me up. When I was in the US, I used to run around a lake that was three miles in circumference. It was a well lit trail, with lots of joggers. I used to feel a great sense of accomplishment when I was done. After last night, jogging around Lake Hollingsworth is nothing.
Believe it or not, this was only the beginning of last night’s adventures. Remember that there were five people and a metric ton of luggage back at the truck.
I must get on with various tasks of the day, so I will write part two later.
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