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.

Facepalm.

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?

  • Dear Kevin

    Thank you for your story. I do hope you don’t still think you acted badly when the vehicle crash occurred. If the event unplayed as your memory serves you, I think you behaved pretty well in the circumstances.

    As far as miracles are concerned, I have witnessed part of one. I anonymise the other people in the story to protect their privacy, although there is already open mention of the key incident elsewhere on the internet.

    About thirty years ago I decided to visit a music teacher who had taught me very well at two of the schools which I attended. I travelled from the city where I was living to the pretty spa town where he lived and had a good day with him and his family. I had planned to return home the same day. However, as I recall, there was some major problem with the train service and so I could not get back home until the next day. Very kindly the teacher allowed me to stay for the night. The following day, which was a Sunday, he invited me to go to the church which the family attended. During the service the leader asked if anyone in the congregation had a medical problem for which they would like prayer. The teacher’s wife, a very shy lady, who was sitting next to me, cautiously raised her hand, and so we all prayed for her. (I found out at some point that after having a child successfully she had then suffered from endometriosis for many years, and so could not have any more children.) I think I asked her if she has felt anything when we prayed, and that she said she experienced a kind of warmth inside, but nothing more… Some months later I discovered that she had been healed, at the service, of her illness and had gone on to have another child! But for the problem with the trains, I would never have witnessed the event…

    This healing shows great compassion, and power, on the part of God. The tricky question, of course, is why not every sick person whom we pray for recovers from their illness in such a miraculous way, or necessarily recovers at all. Having said that, I tend to pray that God will comfort/come alongside sick people in their illness, and I know of at least one sick person who told me that he had felt the power of other people’s prayer sustaining him when he was ill.

    Much to be grateful for and much that I suspect will remain a mystery.

    Best wishes

  • I’ve heard about this incident for many years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it fleshed out like this. I know this is one of those pivotal moments of your lifestory, so I loved learning about it. Seems like something out of a movie, that “brushing” feeling you described while that amazing song plays. What a cool thing that you’ll be able to connect that melody and those lyrics with this moment for the rest of your life! I can’t recall anything inherently “miraculous” in my own life, but I know God has introduced various songs in various seasons that take me right back to His faithfulness. I love that He can use music, people, anything, to remind us, sometimes hauntingly, of His presence.

  • Wow Kevin – an amazing story and thank you for sharing that.

    I think back to my time at the Christian Service organization. As things were winding down in the months before it’s closing, I was very lonely and found myself alone in the big city. Most people had gone and I was holding on but it wasn’t easy.

    One day, as I walking in downtown DC, I said to the Lord, “I need a smile today, could you have someone give me a smile.” As I went throughout my day, I had actually forgotten that prayer, but God hadn’t Later that day, I was walking down Connecticut Ave. and I was alone on one of the blocks. I saw the police were closing the side streets, so I knew the Presidential motorcade was coming by. As I stood to watch, the President gave me a big smile and waved as if we were long lost friends. Then, I remember that prayer.

    God had provided – in this case it took the President of the USA to answer my prayer. He had no idea his smiles and wave was answering my prayer, but that’s okay. It’s always been a reminder to me that God cares about us and can work things out above and beyond all we can ask or think.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Born and raised in the Midwest, I find my heart bent toward nature and travel. Things that I love? Travelling, cooking, trying new food, hiking trails, exploring other cultures, the arts, stories – told and read – summer camp, and lists (seriously). Personality tests run the risk of putting people into boxes, so I'd rather let you get to know me before sharing what I "test" as. "Sojourner" is a term I'm becoming more comfortable using to describe myself and my lifestyle. Random facts about me: I played the bassoon for eleven years and can speak French. Let's journey together.

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