“The most important thought I ever had was that of my individual responsibility to God.” Daniel Webster
As our van shuddered to a stop in the mud we looked out to see the coffee bushes standing sentinel-like in the semi-darkness. They were black under a moonless sky little more than an arm’s length away. Our vehicle sat tilted in the muddy ditch that ran parallel to an impassible road. The place–the middle of Brazilian coffee country. Doris and I soon felt cold, very cold that winter night even though the temperature was nowhere close to freezing. There was little we could do except hug each other for warmth since the van had no heater and if it had it would have been useless for the battery had gone flat and unable to start the stalled engine. There was no hope of that changing for there was no way to get ourselves out of the mud.
We were chilled to bone for Doris and I were used to the heat of the tropics. And counting on hot weather that afternoon, we had worn nothing but the lightest of summer clothes. So the only way to keep warm that night was to hug each other–closely. Even so we shivered and wished the long hours would quickly pass. But the time dragged slowly. We were alone and isolated out in middle of coffee fields with only the coffee bushes to watch over us.
There was another chill that reached us that had nothing to do with the weather. It was the chill of worry. In our case we had left our two children, one three and the other five, in the care of a local girl in our home in the village of Neves. Our promise had been to be back home about 9:00 p.m. Would the baby sitter consider her job done at a certain hour and go to her own home leaving our children alone? What could happen if the house were left unlocked all that night? Of course we loved our children but that night they were exceedingly more precious. We had no idea what danger might confront them—or even happen to us alone on a distant road.
And yet another chill. The local papers had carried the news of the murder of a taxi driver, one night at a crossroads not far from where we lived. Though Brazilians are normally kind and considerate, yet criminals may be exceedingly violent. They often murder when robbing someone for that takes care of witnesses. We were stuck far enough from anyone that our presence was unknown.
And still yet another chill nagging at our minds during the night. The van had a flat battery. There would be no mechanics or batteries available for miles beyond those coffee fields. And then we were in a muddy ditch with no idea who might help us or even how or what vehicle would be available to pull us back onto the road.
After an all-night of hugs, we were delighted to see the sun rise over the coffee fields. Little by little I could make out the row housing used by the workers on that particular farm. Then a little later I could make out in the distance a group of men, workers no doubt, waiting for the day’s orders. Could they help us? I had no idea but that is where I headed. I explained my predicament and they offered a hand. What could a few men do?
This was their solution, no doubt quite obvious to them but not to me. They came with their wide hoes they used to clean around the coffee bushes and with them they scraped the mud away from the wheels of the car so the tires might have traction. But I understood something they did not know. The previous evening the battery would not turn the engine.
But as I switched on the ignition this time, the starter growled and the engine turned over so slowly. Then I heard the engine fire on a couple of cylinders and then start. I was able then to drive out of the ditch and head for home.
So how did we find our children and the baby sitter? They were all asleep when we arrived home. I suppose they felt there was no use staying awake just because the parents were away somewhere.
Chilled to the bone? Yes, in more ways than one. But so much more could have gone wrong than just getting stuck in the mud. How do Doris and I explain it? We are sure that guardian angels were on the job, obeying the orders of the eternal King, our God.
FILLING IN THE STORY
Here’s how we came to be stuck in the mud there in the interior of the State of São Paulo. We had travelled that afternoon over the very same road to a village where we planned to hold a service—part of what was involved in planting a new church.
But we had no sooner arrived than the rain began to fall. We wasted no time in turning around for home. Why? It was the roads. All the interior roads were dirt so that when it rained the road’s surface turned to slippery red gumbo. Besides that they were graded with a high crown so it was the most natural thing for a car was to wish to visit the ditch.
That same muddy road was reason we had a flat battery—for travelling so carefully and slowly, the old style generator could not handle the load of the lights. In the darkness of that moonless night, as far as we knew, our only neighbors were the millions of coffee bushes.
Our predicament also affected two laymen from our congregation. We had let them off at very simple home close by the roadside. There a number of children came running out from the house, across the dirt yard to meet our van. They were excited to meet the two men for they had come to hold a service in their home. There would be a story for the children and in any case just having visitors out in the country was a big event. The plan was for us to pick up these two men on our way back home.
But when we did not appear our men slept on the floor. Why on the floor? These country homes were small and so poor that even the children there often slept crossways in one bed. There were no extra blankets in this home to soften the feel of the typical brick floor. I imagine that next morning the men were feeling cold and their bones must have been aching.
What did these two stranded men have to say to us when we arrived? Certainly no words of criticism. Instead these men shared their story of being able to complete their mission of telling the story of Jesus. I am sure it touched their lives for those who led the service were similar in many ways to those who listened.