That day, we drove 20 hours in a 21 hour and fifteen minute window. We made a 20 minute lunch stop, two gas breaks which included potty time, and one official bathroom only stop. The trip started on a road in Kigoma, brought us past the salt mines of Uvinza, through the forest outside of Tabora, and over a very long stretch of nowhere and dust that somehow actually leads to Dodoma, Tanzania's official capital. Amazingly enough, the roads were suddenly nice when we hit Dodoma at about 6 pm, but the timing wasn't. As darkness fell and we pushed forward 6 1/2 more hours to Dar Es Salaam, the hazards were worse on the tarmac than they had been on the dirt.
The trucks and buses were out of control. As we passed ruins of wrecks and burned up semis, we watched truck after truck barrel toward us on the one lane road. Who knows how fast they were going. No one cares. Most of them are compromised in some way - there is no such thing as inspections or quality control. Every truck you pass is a risk for a broken axle, catastrophic tire blowout, or is driving past shining one high beam right in your face while encroaching two feet into your lane. It's survival of the biggest, baddest, and brashest. Our SUV is small potatoes, even with the giant bull-bar. At about 11:30 we passed about a hundred cars lined up behind a giant overturned cotton truck. It was an eighteen wheeler on fire. We were not going to wait. We would have been sitting ducks. About an hour past that there was a giant mob riot beginning outside of a nightclub. As we passed we were flagged down and asked to stop, and that was never gonna happen. It was the sitting duck thing again.
Needless to say we survived. There were moments it felt like that might not be the case, and I would definitely not do that again unless I had to (not in one shot at least). The truck took a few beatings. The kids - there were 5 under the age of 11 - did remarkably well. I don't know if I could have made it that long in a car ride like that except I was driving. I had a seat all to myself, even if it meant I had to pull my grip-locked fingers off the wheel when it was all over. Pulling into Dar at 1 in the morning is an interesting feeling. Especially with a car loaded with gear and luggage and a family of wazungu (white people) inside. It feels like you have neon lights flashing on you. We did at one point. The truck originally came to us with purple LED ground effects. Seriously.
Dar was a 2 day nap, with hustling for car parts and last minute travel items sprinkled in between. The flight to Turkey was a short 10 hours, but with the layover in Istanbul we had a 15 hour travel day. But who cares about that...that's the luxurious kind of travel that we love. And Turkey was incredible. Preaching to a church that now represents what is left of the Body in Ephesus was humbling. Seeing the ancient city and the church John the Apostle built there was an honor. Working alongside our family and sharing time with them in their world for the first time in years can't be aptly described. But it was so fast. It took about 16 hours to get from Izmir airport to JFK. The jet lag wasn't too bad.
Being in NY is always a blur. Family. Churches. Friends. So much history and work awaits us in NY it seems months fly by as moments. And then we were on the road again. Four hours to Jersey. Then ten hours to Savannah. Six more hours on the road to home. Our night in the hotel was good. We were almost in our own beds. Did I mention how great the kids did? I mean really, some people have trouble getting their kids through Wal-Mart. On some days, that's us. But so far I have documented about 70 hours of actual travel time and if 3 included crying kids I'd be surprised.
I'm not sure why this blog is all about driving and cars and plane flights. Probably because that's all it feels like sometimes. I mean, since we've gotten to Florida 4 weeks ago, we've put another 2,500 miles on the car. And those were the non-travel weeks. This week we'll put another 1,200, then next week it's off to Wisconsin. Then Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, and back to FL - with a flight to California in between. By the time we go back to NY by way of VA and MI there might be another 2,000 miles on the odometer. But hey, some of you might be wondering what the point is? Why am I rambling about all this? Isn't this the life we chose? Isn't exciting to get to travel? Isn't that the price of admission???
Yes is pretty much the answer. But here's the thing: The scope of this is bigger than ever before. That's the nature of growth. Our family is bigger. Our work is bigger, both here and back in Africa. Our commitments and obligations are bigger. Our capacity is bigger. But our days are not. Time has not changed one bit believe it or not. As we add days to the schedule, the schedule stays just as long (or short) as it was yesterday. It just always gets fatter and more bloated. Those are never words I use to describe healthy things. Needless to say it makes more and more sense to me that the Lord seemed to say two things to us as we began this season. Joy will be your strength and REST. That was all we kept hearing and all we felt as we made the turn back toward America.
We had so much ground to cover. And we are covering it. We have been very busy, but we haven't been rushed. That has been the key. Nikki and I are learning something about time this year. It's something we have taken for granted in the past. Time with our family. Time for our kids, Time with each other. Most importantly, we are learning something new about time with Him.
Everything submitted to Christ is alive. Or, if it isn't alive it gets redeemed. That means the actual value is applied to it. Even trash is worth something. There was a cost associated with it. If you burn it, it can be used for energy. When it's buried, that value is suspended because we have no access to it, and over time that paralysis can lead to true erosion of value. But the point is this - with God EVERYTHING is worth something. And that worth is eternal. Apart from God, the true value of anything cannot be applied. Our actions apart from God only lead to things that decay. Our lives apart from God are left as memorials, but in God they continue to grow, and create, and live more perfectly even after physical death.
My point is this: God has led us to a place where all of the work, all of the ministry, all of the travel, and dollars, and effort spent doing on God's behalf can only be worth something when they happen as a part of our relationship with Him. We have all heard the idea that riches are worth nothing if we can't share them with someone. Well what good was a life of sacrifice and service for God if we didn't share our love with Him daily, didn't hear His voice, and never exchanged words and thoughts of love with Him? It's not enough for us to sit at a dinner table with our families, in the house we built for them, over the steaks we provided, if we don't spend time looking each other in the eye and sharing our hearts. It's no different with God either.
So this season, as we run the race, as we stand in the gap, as we drive around the country, visiting people and churches along the way, one thing we will not miss are the moments, each and every day, where we love on God, let Him love on us, and do the same with each other. Because there - and only there - can joy be our strength. Because Christmas isn't about telling stories about hope, and tales of a savior. Christmas is about meeting that savior, about how the story of God giving Himself to us is simply an open door for us to meet Him personally and share a life with Him filled with peace and good will toward men.
In the business of your life, in the bustle of the season, don't forget to be present. Because being present is the greatest gift you can give your kids. Being present, being God With Us, was the greatest gift He ever gave us.
Immanuel is the present.