This past month on a recent road trip to the west coast, I had a little problem with a big pothole, which resulted in my Toyota Land Cruiser being sidelined for a month while we wait for a new differential case and rear axle to be shipped in.
In the meantime, the work of a missionary doesn’t slow down. One aspect of missionary life that has been hampered by this unexpected car problem is travel. I really needed to go to the southeast coastal town of Manakara to meet with our missionaries Billy and Jo Wilson and our Tanzanian missionary Paul Balela. God has been doing some great things in the region and our church planting school there is quite successful. I really needed to sit down with them and talk through some things and plan for the future.
I decided to travel 12 hours each way by bush taxi since it is the most common form of transportation in the country. I figured if the Malagasies could do it, so could I. I arrived at the bush taxi station two hours early so that I could find the right taxi going the right direction and get the front seat for my long legs. After being led to wait on the wrong bus for an hour and a half by the baggage porters, I finally got on a bush taxi heading the right direction, just a few hours later than I had planned.
It turns out that this taxi was overloaded and was 15 cms over height limit on the roof rack. This resulted in our taxi rocking back and forth more than normal around the corners and a small payoff to the police at each random traffic stop. It also poured rain for the first 8 hours of our trip through the night. The gasket in the passenger side door was pretty bad and soon my right arm and leg were quite wet.
We drove on through the night and sleep was evasive. This severely overloaded 15-passenger van, which serves as a bush taxi, was slower than most and completed the serpentine 1000 kilometer trip in just under 18 hours. Surprisingly, that included an hour stop to change out the front brake pads halfway down the steep escarpment. Needless to say, I was very happy to climb out of that van and hug my missionary colleagues once I arrived in Manakara.
After great meetings, good food, and catching up on each other’s lives and the ongoing work, I was obliged to head back to the taxi station just 24 hours after having arrived. This time I chose the faster taxi, a Mercedes Sprinter, for the leg home. While on the way down to Manakara the roof rack was loaded mostly with plastic buckets, cooking pots, and thousands of flip flops for sale on the coast, the roof rack on the way back up to the capital was loaded with pineapples, coconuts, honey, and more than 6 dozen chickens in large woven baskets.
True to their word, the way home was much faster in the Sprinter. Arriving back home at 5 AM after only a 12 ½ hour drive, I was very glad to finally be back home where I could stretch my legs and get some sleep.
While I have traveled by bush taxi numerous times before, this longer journey was truly an eye-opening trip for me. I gained a much greater appreciation for all my Malagasy pastor friends who crisscross this massive island doing seminars, training leaders, opening churches, and visiting isolated places. These pastors do not get paid extra money and get no accolades for their travels. They have a burning passion to train others, and to see the church advance. Many of them travel thousands of kilometers a year in just such a bush taxi. I hold these pastors and their work in high esteem and I realize just how blessed I am to be able to travel with a Speed The Light vehicle. Can’t wait to get mine out of the shop!