“Stinking of urine I laid on the hood of the vehicle and tried to sleep”
We left Sunday morning from Cochabamba. We drove up the mountain pass that divides our arid climate from the humid air and jungle of Santa Cruz. There were six of us, all part of City of Refuge, wanting to be obedient to God, all wanting to help the people of Lagunilla. This was our first trip to the border village of Paraguay and Bolivia and we knew next to nothing about where we would stay, eat or get fuel for our vehicle. The communication to establish this mission trip was very sparse and difficult. The young man (Victor) who I worked with to get this trip together had to walk up a mountain that was near his village in order to get a very weak cell signal. For this reason we did not know all the details, but our team, JJ, Alyssa, Octavio, Benji, Liz, and Fidel wanted to encourage Victor and bring the needed food, medical supplies, and God’s Word to the people of Lagunilla. Our first day of travel was uneventful except for a washed out part of the road in which I was driving a little to fast and we bumped around a bit. That is normal here in Bolivia.
On Monday morning we departed Santa Cruz headed the south the five hours or so we were told it would take to reach the area that Victor was living and working in. About three hours into our trip we stopped to get a drink of water. That is where I noticed and smelled coolant leaking from underneath our vehicle. We were in a small town in the middle of nowhere and I had to make a decision. Luckily the lady who sold us our water said that there was a mechanic nearby.
We limped the vehicle along and found the mechanic. After a bit he came over and told us to find a shady spot that he had to wait for the engine to cool off before he could look into our problem. An hour later he sent a young boy over to where we were sitting and sweating. The issue was the water pump; he said it needed to be replaced. After discussing our options we decided that the best idea was for him to take his personal vehicle, go back to Santa Cruz to purchase the new pump and then return to install it.
We found a small pension (usually someone’s home which they convert into a small restaurant). We ordered lunch and ate oh so slow, knowing that it was at least a six-hour trip for our mechanic. At nine in the evening we were finally ready to get on the road.
This was our first delay a total of 10 hours! We were hot, sweaty, a bit irritable, and tired. At this point it was pitch black and I didn’t know the road. I had crude directions so we set off. I had spoken to Victor earlier in the day and told him about the situation, but at this point I could not get a hold of him, and he did not know we were on our way. Two hours later we turned off of the small two-lane road we were on and we thought we were only half an hour away from Victor, per his directions. We drove up a dusty, dark, dirt road. All of us anxiously waited to see Victor standing on the road. This did not happen. We finally spotted a small fire in the jungle a few hundred feet from the dirt road. As we got out and found our flashlights I asked Octavio and Fidel to accompany me into the jungle toward the fire. At the edge of the tree line we were met by a few kids carrying their own flashlights. We greeted each other and tried to explain our situation. We discovered that we had overshot our turnoff by almost an hour. Still no cell service and no communication with Victor.
At this point doubt had started to enter my mind, I silently thought to myself, maybe we should just head home. We turned our vehicle around and we headed back to the main road, I ended up taking a wrong turn and we got lost for a bit. On the way back we found a clearing and I decided to stop and try to reach Victor. To my joy he answered and we discussed our situation. He gave me new directions; he said he would have a large fire going on the edge of the jungle so we could find him. We organized and we should meet up in about an hour and a half, or so we thought.
Roughly two kilometers from the main road and an hour from Victor, the vehicle suddenly died. I was coasting downhill, our brakes were not quite working and I could not get the car started, even when trying to roll start it. All my attempts to get us started failed. This is when I uttered these words; “maybe we need to end the mission trip now”. I was discouraged. We finally rolled to a stop just on the edge of this dirt road and the small two-lane road. It was now midnight and we had no cell service. We began to discuss the vehicle problems and settled on the fuel pump. The vehicle was turning over but just not igniting. It had to be the lack of fuel. I laid down looking for the pump. I couldn’t find it. As the guys and I tried to push and pull parts on the engine, Octavio remarked, “dude you stink”. Apparently when I lay under the car I had laid in a large puddle of someone’s or something’s pungent urine!
We realized that we were not going to make it to Victor, and that we were sleeping out in the open. There was a small building behind us, a few wood shacks across the street from us, but not much else. Some of our team tried to get comfortable inside the cramped vehicle while some just sat outside under the beautiful star filled sky. Stinking of urine, I lay on the hood of the vehicle and tried to sleep. It was hot and humid all day and now the temperature was dropping that night was miserably cold as most of us were drenched in sweat and urine. I found a towel in my backpack and tried to cover up.
The next morning came awfully slow. While everyone was sleeping I started searching for cars passing by that would take me into a large town that was located 25 kilometers away. At 6:30am I got a ride and started looking for a mechanic. At 10am I returned with two mechanics that I had to plead with to come take a look at our car. After two more trips into this nearby town we finally found a mechanic and an electrician that found the problem. A bolt from inside the engine had come loose and it wedged itself and broke several discs inside of the engine. One more trip back to the town was needed to find transportation for our vehicle and us back to Santa Cruz.
It was during one of these trips back and forth from our vehicle to the town that I really began to reflect what I had said to our team the night before. “Maybe we need to end the mission trip now”. I talked to God and I felt horrible for thinking and saying that I wanted to give up. God reminded me of Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT) “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” At that moment I resolved to get our supplies to those for whom they were intended, and to encourage Victor who selflessly was working with them, out in the middle of nowhere.
When I arrived back at 10am to the vehicle, I found Victor standing with our team. He and another person from the village had walked out two hours to where we were. They had waited vigilantly all night for us to show up. When we didn’t they came looking for us. I spent most of the rest of the day with Victor going back and forth to the town and we had a good long talk. He told me how happy and encouraged he was with us for making the effort to come all that way to help him and the people he worked with. He teared up, we prayed with the rest of the team and finally we decided that he would get all the supplies and word of our love for the people of Lagunilla back to them.
While we did not physically make it to the village, Victor was definitely encouraged and the people who needed those life-saving supplies got them! At 6pm we finally were headed back to Santa Cruz. This trip taught us to never give up, even when it is uncomfortable. We were stranded 28 hours, but it was all worth it, even the $10,000 it will cost to get the vehicle fixed. This coming May we will do it all over again.