The first half of this story can be found here.
The groundwork has been laid. Or in the case of this story, it is very shaky. As we were to find out as we entered my Red Sea. See, it really is red. Just as a reminder, here’s what it looked like.
That trooper is Pastor Scott, getting ready to enter the muddy water.
So, the Hilux has come through grinning and we have decided that we too can take the plunge. And plunge we did. Literally.
I gunned it, and off we went. Now my sense of time has been all messed up. But I’m pretty sure it was a matter of seconds that it felt like we began to float. Yep. The wheels had left the ground – or what there was of it. I kept gunning, I think we were all rocking or leaning forward, willing it to move forward. NOT happening.
Living in a place like Niger, situations like this while not common, are not unexpected. And you just sit and wonder, ‘Huh. What do we do now’? But I think this is the first time I’ve personally been in the midst of ‘a situation’ (that’s what the Jamaican’s call them. Situations. Not problems), that is ongoing – and has great potential for great danger in so many ways.
Amazingly, the engine kept running. Based on instructions I was given, that was a good thing. Something to be happy about. While pondering for a minute or 2 (or was it seconds?), I realized that I felt cold water at my feet. I looked down and said ‘The water is coming in”. It was then that I was informed that the water was up to mid-calf of those in the back seat. No one was screaming. Everyone was praying, and I’m sure thinking a myriad of thoughts. As was I.
Like: It’s going to be dark in about 18 minutes. Very dark. Will we get out before then? Are we going to flip over in the fast flowing water (rapids) to our right? I started to remember stories I’d heard of others and quickly dismissed those. Or – will I be spending the night sitting in the middle of this lake? Because I’m not leaving this vehicle. I will keep that engine running. And, what about this team? I’m responsible for them too. And what about all those helping to push? What if we do hit ground and we lunge forward and hit someone? And, we WILL get out of this water and I refuse to go backwards. We’re NOT going back. We will only move forward. All the while praying for God’s mercy, grace and gosh darn we needed His help!
As the car is filling up, I think we made a unified decision that everyone get out. Except me. I’d already determined I wouldn’t leave. There were already loads of people at the sea, and at this point, most of them were surrounding us, and everyone started pushing. I had it in gear and by golly we were going to make it. And we did – about 50 feet or so. I think. That was after much effort. Shouting was going on in probably 4 languages. We were quickly filling with water and getting heavier. I was sitting in the driver’s seat with water up to my waist. Because the back was filled with water it was heavier, pushing the front end up a bit. Maybe 30 degrees? I looked back at one point and the water was up to the ceiling in the back of the vehicle. All our stuff was floating. We did manage to get our valuable things out – purses, camera’s, phones. Except Delfin. His phone was in his pocket.
So Tara is on the bank guarding our belongings. Scott and Delfin were looking for some kind of help. Never mind that he doesn’t speak a word of the local language. We got wind that a tractor was coming to pull vehicles out. That was a real glimmer of hope as we sat waiting. Josiah was near the vehicle with me, as well as countless other young men. I had the window down, and we were just waiting. Josiah was measuring the distance that the water was climbing up.
As I looked around, it occurred to me that I had a very captive audience. So I decided it to be the perfect opportunity to share the Gospel. By this time, darkness had fallen so I couldn’t see the dark faces I was talking to. But I could hear them. And they could hear me. One of them told me he was cold. Which made me realize I was cold too. Whatever. Seemed insignificant. As I said, Josiah was standing there too, and even though he couldn’t understand the conversation, he did understand that I was talking to these young men about Jesus. And he found it quite interesting. Well, I’m not quite sure what he thought, but just that he said he would give $100 right then (and this is a guy who detests spending money) just to be able to have a picture of this scene. So rather than write about it all here, in the next few days, I will include Josiah’s thoughts on the whole experience in a guest post.
At some point while talking with these guys, my window went up. It was down, then it was up. The water was giving the electrical system a mind of it’s own. The far back was full to the roof, the back seat was full to the headrests, and water was above my waist in the drivers seat. I couldn’t get the window back down. Things were beeping. Extraordinarily, the engine was still running. I had that.
Here I am in the drivers seat…
I don’t see myself as stubborn, but I can be pretty determined when necessary. But I began to think at this point staying in my running vehicle was stupid. It was filling up with water, and my window was stuck up. Scott (I) finally decided that I too needed to come out. Dressed in a skirt and shirt, I half swam-half climbed out the passenger side window. There were several hands helping me. I was surprised at how weak and shaky I felt, but I blamed that on the uneven muddy ground and deep water. The engine was still running! Scott and one of my new friends helped me to the ‘shore’. While I was having church inside the vehicle, Scott was finally able to walk to where there was a signal (did I mention that even though I was able to talk to Neal at the mouth of the sea, once I entered there was no signal?) and he was able to make some calls. Until that time, the last Neal heard from us was that we were going to try and plow through and he hadn’t been able to get us after that either.
Now that we know our people knew what was going on, there was some relief, knowing that help would somehow be on the way.
Meanwhile, shivering, I’m being pushed, pulled and steadied, while walking to the spot where Scott was able to make the call. I was going to try and reach Neal. Remember it’s a dark night. And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but some sort of tractor, wonderfully near. He wasn’t a mirage – and you can only have those in sunlight anyway. He was the real deal. In Hausa it’s called a Dandankaro. Some sort of road grader I’m told. But his biggest asset was that he was big. Very big. As shaky as I was, we felt happy enough to abandon the phone call attempt and go back to the swimming truck. This was going to be exciting.
Check it out!
At this point someone decides (probably Scott), that I should go wait with Tara and Josiah while he goes and helps with excavation. So we climb to the top of sand pile where tons of other people are watching as well. There’s a village nearby, and I’m pretty sure the Red Sea was providing loads of entertainment for all the men from that village.
Here’s the scene when Mighty Yellow showed up.
Mighty Yellow first pulls out the yellow van. Just yanks it right up out of the water. Happy screams and cheering.
The blue truck is next. Same result. More cheering.
My new found friends who are now quite sure I’m bonkers, were waiting with me and informed that as soon as mine was out they were going home. I found out some about them, and were surprised that some were married with children. They also assured me the engine would be fine =). Our turn has come. Scott is in the water with several others tying(?) whatever it was they were using to the bumper. Second attempt. Nope. Somewhere here – I think after attempt #1, Scott got in the drivers seat.
I’m trying to hold hope up, but it’s receded a bit, unlike the water. Finally they are able to secure the rope (?) to something after they opened the hood. After significantly more effort than what was used for the other vehicles, our shiny white 4Runner emerged from the sea.
So many people were ‘helping’… And amazingly the trusty engine ran all the way until she was pulled out! (I don’t think I’ve ever called my vehicle a ‘she’ before, but somehow it seems appropriate here) Then….she gave it up. Except for the electrical system. That was going bonkers! It, and by ‘it’ I mean the electrical system, kept on trying to start the engine. It was almost comical. Funny or not, it couldn’t have been good, so Scott was able to disconnect the battery.
After she was pulled out, the water began to drain from inside. First I cheered. And thanked God. Then it was sad. I don’t know why. But to think that a couple hours earlier we were sitting in our comfortable and strong 4Runner, as she was returning us from a day of camp and ministry, and here she was all soaked with water and sand. In places where water and sand ought not be. I guess it’s like anything after any kind of destruction.
I actually don’t remember getting back in the driver’s seat, but at some point I did. Oh yeah, it was so that we could now be pushed up toward the road, to make towing home easier.
In comes my knight in shining armor. Drove right by us actually. I tried to honk but remember the electrical system was bonkers. He was with Grampa in their vehicle. The cars wanting to get to the other side were lining up and it was dark, so they went right past us. But they weren’t going to get far – unless they entered the water. Neal walks up to see me in the drivers seat and just smiles and says it’s ok. Then I heard the familiar voice of my friend and co-missionary Lola. I couldn’t see her but I heard, “Danette? Hello. It is well. Why don’t you let Pastor Nelson drive now.” Such a welcome and soothing voice. I think what I said is, “That would be wonderful.”
Knowing we would be leaving soon, so many people were crowding around – SO many people – telling me how much they had helped and what was I going to give them. At that point I was so frustrated and spent. My Knight showed up again and I told him I couldn’t deal with them anymore – please make them go away. He did, as the team and I quickly got in with Dad. We were all soaked and covered from head to toe in sand/mud.
From there things moved quickly. Dad drove us home and Pastor Nelson and Pastor Koyejo and Lola had come in a Hilux and they were there to tow our 4Runner. It was a great feeling to leave the whole ‘situation’ in someone else’s hands.
We arrived home at 10:30 pm. The tow-ers got our vehicle to our mechanic and parked it. Neal got home after 12.
The hot shower was wonderful, and reminded me of a thought I had while sitting in the middle of the sea: this will be over at some point, and I will get to take a hot shower. From the time we left Tamou to the time we got home was only 4 ½ hours. For a drive that takes 90 minutes, we sure crammed quite an adventure in that time!
Our mechanic has taken stuff apart and is assessing and trying to dry stuff out. Tomorrow we should have more of an idea of the damage.
Now, what are my ‘take-aways’ from this experience? I think I’m still figuring them out. But two things come to mind.
First, God is doing great things both among the youth in Niger, and in the Tamou region specifically. The title of this post is “I don’t need any more stories.” But honestly, if ‘stories’ are what it takes to bring more people to Jesus, bring them on. So many of our stories come from these trips and times in Tamou, which to me is a clear indication that God is doing great things there. Even greater than we know. So do we think it odd that the enemy would be against us? Not really. However, we are sure that if God is for us, who can be against us? Ain’t no Red Sea stopping the Kingdom of God, and it’s not stopping us!
Second, Prayer. It’s the backbone of what we do. I’m never really sure that I can effectively communicate its’ importance. Before these camps, I sent out a request for prayer email to almost 500 people. The TTC team sent requests to around 200. That’s a lot of prayer cover.
I don’t even want to consider what could have happened in this situation if we didn’t have that prayer, and I also wonder what could be done if there were even more.
The youth camps were effective and powerful, training up and army for the Lord in Niger. And prayer for them needs to continue.
And yes, prayer for us. For our team here. For all of our families. For our churches. For our partners. For the finances needed for things like vehicle repairs and church buildings and Bible schools. I could go on. So if you’ve ever wondered if prayer matters, take it from me, sitting in the middle of the Red Sea, we seriously depend on it.