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Friday, September 12, 2014

A no-good very-bad night and power in the Name

Some dear friends of our had a no-good, horrible, very-bad day.  Our team leaders from Burundi were flown by air ambulance from Bujumbura because a chronic disc problem in the wife's back took an acute turn for the worse.  She was unable to sit or walk and in constant pain.  Surgery that they had tried to avoid is now necessary.  They spent the night arranging the flight and the day getting here to Nairobi where they had a contact with a neurosurgeon at one of the two private hospitals in town.  A hospital that most westerners would actually recognize as such:  clean halls, spacious, lighting, curtains, wheeled gurneys that don't look like museum relics, abundance of staff, no visible blood or grunge.  By the time we got off work and went to meet them they had been settled in a small cubicle for a couple of hours waiting for a doctor to come.  We had a good visit, used our Kenyan cell phones and email, made calls to our office in America and the insurance company, interacted with the staff, prayed, and just generally tried to keep them company and help move the glacial admission process forward.  It was good to be with them and try to be helpful.  By a bit after 9 pm they encouraged us to go home, knowing we would arrive quite late already.  They were scheduled for an MRI in the morning, and hopefully surgery to follow.  Please pray for a safe and successful procedure.

That's when our no-good very-bad night really kicked in.  On our rather fast and surprisingly low-traffic ride into town we had abandoned plans to buy groceries or dinner because there was a huge jam around the shopping area, and we wanted to get there.  We had missed lunch and dinner and we asked the guard at the hospital if we could find something at 9 pm,  He directed us down the hill, where we could see a sign for a restaurant.  We turned onto another road and looked for parking.  Dark.  No street lights.  No cars.  The parking lot locked.  Confused we came to the end of the street and saw that there was a narrow curved connection to the main road that was clearly designed to bring traffic off the main road in the opposite direction, so we stopped.  Out of the darkness THREE police appeared, and demanded to see Scott's license.  You have committed a crime, they said.  This is one-way and you are driving the wrong way.  To make a painful story shorter they were lurking there for the sole purpose of extracting money.  There was no signage to indicate one-way, and we never entered the narrow connection, but they said Scott would have to go to the police station right away, pay 20,000 KSH ($250) and then return to court on Monday.  Of course they just wanted money. They produced a "boss" who had "authority" to hold court roadside and avoid the hours of delay.  I pleaded.  They were nice, then not nice, then nice again.  We finally settled on 9000 KSH (a little over $100).  Feeling discouraged, exhausted, three-days into jet lag, and hours from home, we again abandoned plans to eat and just headed towards Kijabe.

Which was fine for a few miles, except for numerous life-threatening buses running lights and barreling down on us with impunity, and no police in sight except for the ones lazing at round-abouts, stopping traffic at one point for 25 minutes straight while we sat doing nothing.  Oh well.  The night was about to get much worse.  As we headed up out of town the same traffic snarl we had seen coming in was still there, now 4-5 hours later.  We stopped.  We inched.  We crawled.  We were actually at a point where we were slowly rolling forward in our two lanes of the 4-lane divided highway when suddenly a dark long shape shot in my window.  My window was only down about 3-4 inches and I was texting my kids in America about one of them being sick.  I had my iphone held on by lap.  It took my brain a second to process what was happening.  It was frightening, this arm violating my space, reaching into my lap and grabbing my phone from my hands in a slowly moving car.  I screamed, Scott braked, I opened the door and yelled again, he ran between the lanes of cars and disappeared.  People stopped, asked what happened, looked sorry, but there was nothing to do.  It was pitch dark.

That phone is my connection to my kids.  And my number one work tool.  Scott pulled over into the median strip and got out of the car to look for the guy, but he was long gone.  He got back in and we tried to use his phone to get on the internet and wipe my account clean.  Of course, the page wouldn't load.  Then we decided to just call the phone and see if the thief was still close by and would sell it back.  He answered, Scott pleaded.  The thief was worried we were trying to trap him.  We offered just over a hundred dollars (again) because the hassle and expense of replacing the phone would be many times worse.  He said he'd come back.  Scott waited, even crossed the lanes of traffic to look for him on the other side (against my yelled protests).  Scott called him again, he kept saying he was coming, giving landmarks of where he was.  Then Scott decided to walk back in the direction we'd come from and cross the road again.  I could no longer see him.  It's after 10 pm, we're in the middle of a busy highway, but the sides are in shadow.  I have not been so scared in a long time.  In fact I could only pray over and over "Lord Jesus, have mercy.  Lord Jesus.  Lord Jesus."  It was odd, but that's all I could do, over and over and over.

For good reason, because while I was imagining an unstable, maybe violent guy, it was actually much worse.  Scott approached the person he saw who turned out to be a bystander, and while he was talking a gang of six men surrounded him.  At that moment he knew we had made a huge error in judgement.  It's only a phone.  Not worth a life.  They could have dragged him away from the road and beat him, taken the money and both phones.  But God protected him in that helpless situation.  He held out the money and talked calmly.  The thief held out the phone.  They tentatively had their hands on both for a second and then the exchange was done.  Scott backed away reassuring them over and over that he was not tricking them.  They counted the money and left, and he ran back to the car glad to be alive.

OK if our kids did that I would be so upset at their foolishness.  We were not using good judgement.  Blame it on jet lag and the late hour.  Or on the spiritual darkness of this evening:  A seriously ill team leader.  A bureaucratic tangle prolonging suffering while the insurance company dragged its feet.  Corrupt police.  Thieves working with impunity.  One guy against a gang.

But for reasons I can't explain, this time God protected us from ourselves.

We are still a bit shaken at midnight, and not looking forward to heading into a 48 hour call in only 7 more hours.

This night reminds me that we need, desperately, our partners in prayer to keep us and our teams in God's hands.  The reality of ebola has really hit us being back.  The tenuous nature of everything.   And the direct confrontation with palpable evil.  Thanks for praying.


Anonymous said...

Lord, teach us to pray.

Jill said...

I apologize if this double posts. I am so thankful that you were both spared physical harm! I am certainly praying for you and your family.

The Drs. McLaughlin said...

Nights like last night remind me of the difficulties of living as a foreigner in a foreign land. There's nothing more uncomfortable and scary. Praying for peace and thankful for your safety!

Anonymous said...

Praise the Lord for His mighty angels
protecting you guys.. AND getting the phone back.. : ) wow... been there done that .. even in a Western Country.

Anette (Windy) Veldhuyzen said...

Wow. I'm so grateful that you are all alive and well. I thank the Lord for His kindness.

Larisochka said...

Good heavens, I am SOOOO sorry, and thanking the Lord for His mercy. Praying for you all - and for some rest and recuperation. Lots of love, Larissa