Our family had been in Ethiopia for about two weeks one February when we decided to visit the village where we’d soon be living.
My husband John is a water engineer. Our task was to put in a water system for the Tokay area and surrounding villages. We had just begun language school in Addis, so our skills were limited–but we were excited to see the village where we’d live for the next three years, about four hours west.
We wanted to get there and back before dark (bandits, breakdowns…you get the idea). There was also a war going on between the Communist government and rebel troops, but the danger seemed far away from us at the time (fateful music plays here…).
We borrowed a mission vehicle and loaded up our two boys, ages 2 years and 4 months. The trip was long, with potholes and huge ruts slowing us to a crawl at times. Unmaintained paved roads can be much worse than dirt ones, we discovered!
But the trip was worth it as we got to meet our coworkers and wrap our heads around where we would soon live.
The Journey Continues
We started home around 4 PM. Our tank was getting low, so our first priority was to fill up with diesel. But stopping at every little village on the way back yielded…nothing.
We were dangerously low on fuel when we heard a screeching noise followed by a horrible grinding.
We pulled over and were instantly surrounded by Ethiopian children and young men. A few of the men seemed to know what they were doing with cars and tried to help.
The fan had lost a few of its blades. Eventually, the men were able to get the fan belt off and we were on our way again.
However, with no fan blade, the engine got hotter, and the battery couldn’t recharge. Our lights grew dimmer.
We had no power brakes, and quickly discovered our perilous inability to stop quickly on curvy roads randomly crossed by goats, cattle and people.
Add to that the lack of diesel…and we began to get anxious.
“Trust and Obey, Mommy”
We began to pray and sing to keep our spirits up. One of our favorites: the old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Jonathan kept wanting to sing it again, piping up with “Trust and Obey, Mommy and Daddy.”
Which was just what we needed to do. And through singing praise to God, our fear melted.
And Then What Happened?
We got about ten kilometers down the road before the car totally died. As we rolled to the side of the road, smoke poured from the engine. The entire family bailed out.
But just as we did, we heard gunshots off in the woods. Not knowing if it was a military base or something worse, we all bailed back in! When the smoke cleared, John decided to find a phone.
The kids and I locked the doors and prepared to wait in the dark. I didn’t want to waste the flashlight’s batteries–but being alone in the back of a truck with two small kids in a war-torn country at night clenched my chest.
Think about these things
I would turn the light on for a while so Jonathan could color or play with Luke but switch it off every time a truck roared past or I thought someone was walking by.
Yet it was amazing how the peace of God kept me from panic as I focused my mind on Him.
After what seemed like hours of waiting, I heard the sound of knocking at the window of the truck and John’s voice calling. John had returned in a car with two ladies–such gifts, both of them–from the Finnish Mission. They offered to take us home.
During our ordeal, God reminded us through Scripture and song to trust him. We found Philippians 4: 6-8 very true that night:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Huddled in a truck in the dark in rural Ethiopia, God taught me the reality of hope and joy in the midst of the worst circumstances.
And one of the best ways to focus my own thoughts? To sing, like Paul and Silas in a dank, infested cell.
When you encounter inevitable fear living overseas? Sing the truth to yourself. Trust and Obey.
Gala raised five children in three different African countries over 20 years (whew). Her husband John is a water engineer who brought clean water to many remote villages. In her words, their ministry consisted of “baby wipes and water pipes!” She now writes from Colorado Springs, where they serve with Engineering Ministries International.
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