I have told this story to several individuals in the last seven-plus years, but have never mentioned it in a sermon or in print. It was a remarkable event, one my son, Gary, and I shared with five other people right outside Boma Ngombe, Tanzania. Gary was 10 years old and it was the first full day for one of our sons to be out of the country on a mission trip. One of the American missionaries was driving us back from Moshi, where I had taught Bible class and preached that morning. We were on our way back to Arusha, nearly halfway, when a teenaged orphan girl on a bicylce darted from behind a Coaster bus attempting the impossible feat of crossing the road despite automobiles going more than 50-miles per hour both ways. Our driver did everything he could to avoid hitting her, but the embankment where we were was sheer and steep. When she hit the windshield directly in front of me, I remember the feeling of horror that went though my head hit the dashboard almost as soon as we hit her. Gary was sitting in the second row, behind me, and watched the whole thing. I saw her continue to roll after hitting the road several feet behind our SUV.
As a Christian and human being, I felt anguish and disbelief at the girl lying there. As a father, I felt much guilt for exposing my son to such trauma and danger. As a brother, I felt great empathy for the young man who had to cope with the knowledge of what had just happened and how it might effect him. As a fellow passenger, I felt fear and shock.
To allay any apprehension you might feel, the girl survived the accident. She broke her hip and suffered substantial abrasions. Yet, I think of that day often.
That day, I saw how zealous some are to evangelize. Elly Martin accompanied the missionary, who drove the orphan, Joyce, and her adopted mom to the hospital back in Moshi. By the time they had driven the distance, Elly had gotten the woman police officer from Boma Ngombe into a Bible study and had taken the opportunity to teach Joyce’s “mom,” too. Could there have been a better object lesson about the uncertainties of life than that? What gave him the presence of mind to try and win the souls of the officer, the mother, and the orphan? He appreciated his own salvation.
That day, I saw how quickly things can change. One moment, we are thinking about lunch at the Meru Game Reserve. The next moment, and for many moments after, we thought about the suffering of that girl, the devastation of our driver, and how it might impact the work there. What was Joyce thinking about as she started her day? Did she have plans? What was she looking forward to in the days to come? All of that changed in an instant.
That day, I saw the fragility of life. I am still amazed that she survived that encounter. Many, especially on that highway, have not. My son would tell you that moment helped clarify the importance of his being ready to meet Christ. Life, that precious gift from God, can be recalled at any moment. While the whole episode happened in a seeming flash, the Bible refers to the end of time and earth as a mere “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52).
How I wish that never happened! But, how instructive it has been for me since that day. Hopefully, undesirable moments like these can be our teachers, guiding us to look past here and now and ponder that which lies beyond, Him who is above, and those that are all around us.