After college and a second summer at camp, I volunteered on a yearlong traveling youth and music ministry team. More will be shared about this year, I’m sure, but for now it’s helpful to know the following four things:
1. My team of six (and later five) was one of seven teams that year.
2. None of us knew each other when we all met for training in September.
3. Our team would spend January to April in East Africa.
4. My team of five was entirely Caucasian, and none of us had ever been to any East African countries.
In February, we had been in Tanzania for about a month when some other missionaries offered to pay for us to take a day off at a safari — pretty sweet deal, so the five us headed off one day to Arusha National Park.
It was a beautiful day — sun out, not too hot. Rather than try to explain the safari itself, I’ll let some photographs from the day tell the story:
Yes, it was a bit touristy of us. But after a month of cross-cultural ministry it was nice to enjoy a day as a team with no obligations.
Less than thirty minutes after that last picture was taken, our team and safari driver headed out of the park. As we rounded a corner, a large bus came quickly at us. The roads were dirt, and maybe wide enough for one and a half vehicles. Our driver did his best to pull over and get out of the way.
Everything was fine.
For about five seconds.
Then we felt the jeep tilt.
The next thing I remember was being upside down in the vehicle. At least two of my teammates were crying and screaming, and there was clearly commotion outside the vehicle. The other male on my team was already out of the vehicle, and I convinced the girl who had been in the back with us to get out, as I made it out myself.
We’d rolled way down the hill (we later decided on four and a half flips). I looked at my teammate with a “what the *%$# do we do?” look. Maybe I used words; I don’t remember. He said he’d get the other two girls, because the third was having a panic attack. So, I coerced her up the hill we’d just tumbled down.
Many Tanzanians were up at the road (more than the five to ten who had come down to our jeep) and they tried to get water for us. Eventually, the rest of the team made it up. One of the girls looked beat up, and another had to be carried up by several men.
There’s no way to share how many thoughts and questions raced through my brain at this point. And possibly no way for others to understand unless they’ve also been in a severe accident in a foreign country.
Through much miscommunication and cultural barriers, we made our way from the park to the police station to the hospital. The girls insisted that the guys get checked out too, but we politely refused until we knew for sure what was happening with the ladies of our team. The hospital decided that the girl carried up the hill needed to go to a larger facility, so we split up.
Leaving half our team behind, I traveled with her in an ambulance. She got x-rays done. I talked with one of the pastors we’d been working alongside. He prayed with me and convinced me to go back and sleep; the adrenaline was finally wearing off after midnight.
What was I supposed to have done in that situation? Was there something I could have done differently to make sure everybody was taken care of? Why were they so physically hurt and not me?
Thankfully exhaustion won over the onslaught of questions and the pain I realized myself feeling.
Waking up the next morning, I felt so stiff and sore. It was Sunday, and I was alone and beat up. But one of the Tanzanian teens asked me to go to church. I had nothing better to do, so I went. We walked very slowly — me with a noticeable limp in my left leg.
The church service was nothing spectacular; in fact, it was kind of terrible. A guest pastor from America … used a football analogy. Yes, an American football analogy in Tanzania.
Amidst my annoyance and separation from my team, I felt someone brush past my left side during the singing of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I looked over, but nobody was near.
Whatever, maybe I’m going crazy.
My three teammates from the other hospital joined me later that day. The next morning as we took two of the girls back to the larger hospital, I realized I wasn’t limping anymore. With no specific prayer on my part and no way of anybody else knowing to pray for that specifically, I could walk without (much) pain.
What do I do with this? I’m not one to call out “miraculous.” And I didn’t grow up thinking that miracles happen. I wondered how to handle this gift, this grace when my teammates were in the hospital and even needed surgery?
The answer wasn’t obvious then. The emotions and lack of understanding come back swiftly when I think back on that weekend.
All I could do was relay information — to the pastors, doctors, and people back in America. What could be done, really?
Prayer. Any of us could have died in that accident. Given the circumstances, how could we not be grateful?
Yet how should I deal with the outcomes? With my minor limp seemingly fixed while my teammates underwent surgery in a foreign county? Where did any of this make sense?
Clearly, I’m still unpacking this years later. I look and see God tangibly in those moments. Community and prayer sustained us during the hours and weeks to follow.
The deep truth echoes whenever the tune to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” plays within earshot. As I think back on those days, despite my questions, I return to a God who is holy, good, and faithful.
For anyone wondering, everybody was eventually okay from the accident. And I will be talking more about this group in future posts . . .
Have you ever experienced or witnessed something miraculous? What event from your story reminds you of God’s presence and faithfulness?