I imagine it is one of the common experiences of our culture.
You are sitting at church, likely as a child there against your will, and a missionary stands up front to talk about his experiences and tribulations and generally ask for money. As he talks about the joys of living in a country you’ve never heard of with a language you don’t speak; and of enduring destitution, persecution, and a general lack of cable TV; and doing all this for essentially no pay; you probably, like me, breathe a silent prayer: Lord, please don’t ask me to be a missionary.
For me, the memory is particularly strong. I was in high school, and happened to be struggling that particular Sunday with thoughts of what God would want me to do with my life, and particularly whether He would ask me to do something I really would prefer not to do. Just as I was mulling and praying over this, I hear the missionary say that perhaps the next great missionary could be right there in the room with us. “Perhaps even you!” he exclaimed, and to my horror, it appeared he was pointing directly at me.
“Yes, you!” he confirmed, pointing at me again. “What grade are you in?”
I was terrified. “Uh…10th?” I replied, desperately hoping that was not the answer he was looking for. Otherwise, I might have been forced to start flunking.
Fast forward a decade or so, and I was still not interested in being a missionary. Several friends had talked about the benefits of going on a short-term missionary trip, and how a week or two serving in a foreign country can be an enlightening experience. I figured, sure, I was game for that. I’d never even been outside the country, except for Canada, which doesn’t really count.
So when my church sponsored a week-long mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico, I was in. No shots or passport were required, and no special skills were needed. It was a family mission trip, so there would be folks of all ages along doing multiple different kinds of jobs. I figured that, if a 5th grader could go along and be useful, surely they could find something I would be qualified to do.
Plus, it was not that far away (maybe 600 miles), and we would be making the trip overnight on luxury sleeper buses. I had never heard of a sleeper bus, but was repeatedly assured by the trip organizers that the buses were very nice, and allowed everyone to sleep in their own bed. This was a big benefit for me, since I have a very hard time sleeping on a regular bus, or anywhere that I cannot lie down flat. We would leave on a Saturday evening, cross the border in the middle of the night when the customs lines were shortest, and be in Monterrey Sunday morning.
At least, that was our plan. God loves plans. They amuse Him.
6:30 p.m.: A friend swings by my house to give me a ride to the church offices, where the buses would be meeting us. It was recommended that everyone get someone else to drive them to the departure point, so we would not be leaving our cars in the parking lot unattended all week.
I did appreciate Rick giving me a ride, but had not expected his car horn to be malfunctioning. Namely, every time he would hit a bump in the road or turn his steering wheel either direction, the horn would honk. Luckily, we made it to the church building without getting shot. And, since the parking lot there is full of turns and speed bumps, the gathering crowd got the impression that we were quite excited to be there.
7:00 p.m.: We check in with the group for our 7:30 p.m. departure. However, no buses were in sight. One of the leaders announced that the bus company had somehow scheduled the pickup for 7:30 on Sunday, not Saturday, even though the written agreement had quite clearly been for Saturday the 9th. They were working on getting us two buses, but the bus company said they would be about an hour and a half late. So, we waited.
8:30 p.m.: Still no buses. The bus company now said that the buses would arrive around 11:00 p.m. A few lucky people who had brought their own cars left to grab a bite to eat, and some high schoolers even went to watch a movie. I walked the half-mile to the nearest Starbucks. It was closed.
11:00 p.m.: I was recruited to help direct the buses to the correct parking lot. About 20 minutes later, one of them shows up. Only one.
12:00 a.m.: The second bus arrives. Neither of them are sleeper buses, but we are told that the sleeper buses were coming from San Antonio and would meet us around Waco. We load the luggage on the buses.
12:30 a.m.: We are loaded and ready to leave, but the first bus (henceforth referred to as bus #1) has now broken down in the parking lot. As every male member of the party checks under the hood, it is determined that a pulley bearing has disintegrated. Without that pulley, the radiator fan will not work, and the bus cannot drive. The bus driver calls for help, but none seems to be available.
Bus #1 is a 55-passenger bus, whereas bus #2 is smaller, at about 44 passengers. We had 58 passengers. We were also bringing along a cargo van, loaded with supplies, and a small trailer. It was decided to cannibalize parts from bus #2 to fix bus #1, making bus #2 inoperable. We would then all crowd onto the one bus and the cargo van.
Most people went inside the church building to sleep while repairs were made.
2:00 a.m.: We are awoken to good news: both buses were up and running. I never asked how this was accomplished, but climbed on bus #2 as we finally left Dallas.
3:30 a.m.: We pass through Waco. No buses are there to meet us. We continue south, as the driver on bus #1 continually falls asleep and veers onto the shoulder rumble strips.
7:00 a.m.: We stop in San Antonio for breakfast and to swap buses. However, only one bus is waiting for us, and it is also not a sleeper bus. We still make the switch from bus #2 to this bus (bus #3), since we are told it is a bigger, 55-passenger bus. Somebody can’t count: it only has 48 seats, and a large spider crack on the windshield. We do get replacement bus drivers, though.
11:00 a.m.: We stop in Laredo, just a mile or two from the border, for lunch. Nuevo Laredo, on the other side of the border, is notorious for being controlled by violent drug-smuggling gangs, so it seems a good idea to get lunch early.
1:00 p.m.: The buses pass through the border security with surprisingly little wait time. The van, however, is not allowed to pass through, due to paperwork requirements for its trailer and cargo. The buses continue south as the guys in the van try to get paperwork faxed to them from Dallas.
1:30 p.m.: Not far into Mexico, we pass through a security checkpoint guarded by soldiers with machine guns and a 50-caliber mounted on a Humvee. The buses pass through with no trouble.
2:30 p.m.: We receive word that the van had made it across the border, but had been turned back at the machine gun checkpoint due to not having the right cargo receipts from the border. They have to cross back into the U.S., and then cross back through Mexican security.
3:00 p.m.: Someone on our bus, bus #3, smells something like burning rubber. The bus driver pulls over and checks the engine compartment, to find that the air conditioner belt has broken. A few passengers migrate to bus #1, but the rest of us just pop open the emergency hatches on the roof and stay with the hot bus.
4:30 p.m.: We enter the north side of Monterrey. The bus drivers have no idea how to get where we are going, though. Someone calls the mission and relays directions to the driver. Since the person with the directions is on bus #1, they pull in front of us to lead the way. That is when we notice that bus #1 is leaking large amounts of green fluid.
5:00 p.m.: Parked on the side of a busy Monterrey street, it is determined that the coolant leak could be fixed temporarily if we only had a piece of wire to use as a clamp. No one had any spare wire in their pockets, but someone noticed a stray piece wrapped around a lamppost, about 12 feet off the ground. One of the guys climbs up the smooth pole and retrieves the wire.
5:45 p.m.: We finally arrive at the mission compound, 23 hours after the ordeal started. As we unload, I take a quick photo of the bus company logo, just so I will not forget the name. Do NOT use Grupo Bejucos Internacional. Ever. For anything. Braun jokes that the name translates to “get there on your own”.
Oh, and the guys with the van, still stuck back at the border? They finally make it to Monterrey at 11:30 p.m., after 8 hours delays and one bribe of a security guard.
As several people cheerfully pointed out, clearly someone did not want us to go on this mission trip.
© 2007 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.