When on those highways and byways…

by Richelle Wright on November 12, 2014

I used to find it some combination between mildly amusing and slightly annoying when I’d hear people pray for “traveling mercies,” even though at the time we were crisscrossing the state of Michigan (as well as a few adjacent states) almost every weekend seeking the financial support to head to West Africa as missionaries.

Then one wintry Sunday, we literally crept on four wheels, all night through a genuine winter blizzard only to arrive home, in the wee hours of the morning, and find a man we’d never met before sleeping in our bed (a story for another day). We ended up on the rickety pull-out sofa in the basement, struggling to drag ourselves out of bed and get up and around in time for the beginning of our home church’s missions conference just a few hours later. After that fiasco, I’d occasionally catch myself silently asking God for “traveling mercies,” particularly during those unexpectedly long trips.

medium_3005107423There was also that time late one August. We drove nonstop from Lansing, Michigan to Miami, Florida. Well… nonstop except for a few hours in a Georgia Walmart escaping massive summer heat. Our car at that time was minus air conditioning and plus three little ones in car seats! Several hours later, I actually prayed spontaneously, aloud, thanking the Lord for “traveling mercies…” and then woke my husband up. He’d fallen asleep at the final stoplight, just prior to reaching our destination.

We still hadn’t begun the adventure of international travel. Once that started, we experienced

  • long airplane rides,
  • sandstorms while boarding which then delayed our flight,
  • close connections,
  • stacks of luggage that had to be lugged through developing world airports,
  • reroutings,
  • long layovers with children crashed and sleeping sprawled anywhere,
  • difficult fellow passengers,
  • discovering that even though we’d reserved seats together , our reality was far different – my family scattered all over the plane, the two year old sitting by herself, and no one willing to switch seats,
  • hopeless searches for something both edible and affordable to eat.

Oh yeah – I can’t forget one other key detail. I’m terrified of flying – like panic attack terrified! It usually lasts from the moment I climb on the plane and fasten seat belts – at least until we reach cruising altitude. At that point I can almost distract myself from that feeling of imminent doom. This isn’t one of those fears that has gotten better with time or experience. I pray, quite literally starting days weeks months before, that God will grant me His “mercies as I travel” and enough relief from my terror that I can at least function.

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I stopped  laughing or considering those prayers for “traveling mercies” to be trivial. 

Then we began traveling in Africa

It took me two years to get brave enough to consider driving in town, on my own. The problem wasn’t the standard transmission – that was pretty much all I’d ever driven. Rather it was driving in a place where traffic laws were merely suggestions, stop lights and stop signs were optional, and four lanes regularly squeezed onto a two lane bridge. Drivers were often inexperienced, erratic, unpredictable and impulsive when driving. Roads were shared with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, goats, sheep, dogs, donkeys and carts, camels piled high and wide with straw, herds of cattle, food vendors, newspaper sellers, beggars and unsupervised toddlers. Drivers appeared convinced that the axiom “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” was the rule of the road, regardless of pre-existing traffic patterns. We discovered that walking around your car wasn’t sufficient – you had to be sure to look under it too before beginning to drive – when my husband ran over the leg of a toddler sleeping unsupervised under our car one afternoon. I found out first hand that signaling a right hand turn and then proceeding to make that right turn from the right hand lane where’d I’d been all along wouldn’t inhibit motorists from trying to pass  at that moment… on the right. I’ll never forget the day another vehicle nudged a bicyclist, knocking him over right in front of the tire of my Land Cruiser. I felt the tire slowly roll up and over something. Fortunately, it was the bike wheel and not the bicyclist.

Every. Single. Time we left our house in a car and nothing bad happened became an opportunity to thank God for His “traveling mercies.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vehicular accidents result in more deaths worldwide than malaria. They are the primary cause of death for those falling in the five to 29 years old age bracket. This is particularly true in the developing world. (1)

Now, less I give a wrong impression, not all of our road experiences were bad. I’ve had more flat tires than I’d care to count – I’ve never actually changed one myself. Someone would always volunteer to do it for me… and sometimes even refused a gift of money.

We’ve also seen Africans accomplish both amazing and hilarious things while operating motor vehicles:

  • A mouthy Tabaski sheep wrestled into submission between motorcycle operator and passenger, all during rush hour traffic.
  • Several large cattle sleeping peacefully on the roof of a minibus. The bus was cruising at 80km/hr…
  • A motorcyclist transporting a full-sized mattress balanced on his head… while driving through sand deep enough to stall other vehicles.
  • Young camels loaded inside Peugeot taxis.
  • Guys riding on top of huge trucks packed with fire wood. Their purpose was to lift power, phone and other lines as the trucks traveled through town.

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Praying for traveling mercies, pleading with God for His protection as we were out and about, became a preoccupation. But it also served to continually remind me that safety was an illusion, often out of my control… Our complete and absolute dependence was on God and God alone. Driving in the developing world also actively cultivated a spirit of thankfulness. After all, every non-eventful vehicular outing was cause to thank God for His “traveling mercies.”

I thought things might get better after returning to the States. Except now I expect drivers to behave as was typical overseas. My nine year old son was riding with me on one trip when he asked, “Mama, why do you get ready to honk every time we pass by a big truck?” I hadn’t even realized I’d maintained a West African habit of driving with my hand on the horn – just in case! Additionally, it probably hasn’t helped that we’ve now reached that stage of life which includes student drivers… We currently have three new or learning drivers in our house and I’m waiting for one to arrive safely home as I type!

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What strange, incredible or amusing things have you seen as you have traveled the roads where you live?

Share about an everyday thing you used to take for granted, but which God now uses to make you more thankful and continually aware of your dependence on Him.

(1) SOURCE: WHO

photo 1 credit: oneVillage Initiative via photopin cc

photo 2 credit: photo credit: Timmo via photopin cc

photo 3 credit: photo credit: crankyshooter1 via photopin cc

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Malana Ganz

    And I thought Panama was bad….and I don’t even dare drive here! You are a brave woman!
    And there is medicine for flight anxiety. It is cheap and really works. My husband uses it only when he has a flight longer than 3 hours, and it saves him from claustrophobia and panic attacks. Very much worth it!

    • Richelle Wright

      Some days I feel brave. Others… well, hysterical might be a better description.

      I know about those meds and have something I carry with in case I need them. But… the fact that I’d never get on a plane of my own design is also a neat way that God carries me along and confirms that He’s sending… and going… right along with me.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Malana Ganz

        What a wonderful perspective….I hope that most of the days you ARE on the brave side. Do you have a favorite verse that you refer to when you get panicky?

        • Richelle Wright

          I’ve memorized Phil 4.4-9, which has been especially good for me because a typical symptom of a panic attack is heart palpitations and that tight feeling in my chest as well as the fears that can overtake my mind. Those words are not just precious, but literal sanity savers for me.

          • Malana Ganz

            I recently read about those overtaking fears, ones in which the worst outcome is expected. I had a terrible time with those and what I read recently made me realize that those thoughts are like trying to tell the future – which is sorcery. It made me think really hard…even though I have overcome a lot of this, I realized how deeply spiritual the root of these worries is. Buena Suerta with all of your struggles! We are in the stands cheering you on so that you may receive the victor’s crown!

          • Richelle Wright

            Had never thought about it that way before, Malana… about those worries being like trying to divine the future… wow! Convicting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them and for the encouragement. May you ever feel God’s presence!

  • We see lots of amusing things while stuck in Nairobi traffic. Like the Christmas goat being wrestled into the undercarriage of a falling-apart bus. Or the angry motorcyclist who ripped off a bus’s side mirror when it got too close to him. But our favorite thing? A motorcyclist making a couch delivery. The furniture was balanced carefully on the back of the bike, and the driver’s fellow delivery man was sleeping soundly in the couch’s cushions.

    • Richelle Wright

      THAT’S hilarious! 🙂 Did you get a photo?

  • Amanda

    On the way to Dakar I saw a full grown steer (horns and all) peacefully checking out the passing scenery on top of a huge coach-bus. The bus was so big…I kept asking myself how they got it up there!

    • Richelle Wright

      We watched them load the cows on top of the minibus/taxi once – and that was a mix between downright funny and me standing there with my chin on the ground. I can’t even imagine how they’d do it on top of a coach… at least not without machinery – or maybe a pit they’d drive the vehicle down into??? Wow!

  • Oh, I hear you. You know one of the strangest things I’ve seen, though? Missionaries (people who I know HAVE the financial resources to make different choices) allowing their young children on motorcycles, and WITHOUT HELMETS. I think some people become so desensitized to the everyday risks of motorbike travel that they just stop making sensible decisions. And then they justify it as adapting to the culture. Oh, and don’t get me started on people who choose not to wear seatbelts when they’re available.

    • Richelle Wright

      For the longest time, we crammed our then 7 children into a corolla hatchback that was supposed to seat 5. Our sending church raised the funds for a land cruiser and one of the things we insisted on was seat belts… of course, that meant tracking them down from a junk yard in the States and then installing them in our cruiser….

      of course… that didn’t mean our kids wanted to wear them… it was like a never ending battle!

      as far as the motorcycles and helmet-less… there’s no longer a helmet law in the state where we live right now – so weird to see people riding without that bit of protection. they’d just passed a helmet law our last term in niger – sometimes we’d laugh out loud to see what people wore… or crafted to wear. we saw a guy who’d taken styrafoam packing and lots of tape to make himself a helmet.

  • Casey

    “Safety is an illusion.” So, so, so true! That balance between the illusion and responsibility is a regular struggle for me but a great practice for listening to the Spirit.

    • Richelle Wright

      I’ve been thinking about that more. My picture of safety is clearly an illusion… because God is real, He is truth and my vision of safety doesn’t always equal His reality. So there’s the safety that I want and hope and strive for. Then there’s the safety I find in Him… by listening to His Spirit.

      Just wish my vision/version didn’t shout so loudly on some days.

      Thanks for commenting, Casey!

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