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.
There 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,
- 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.
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.
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!
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