It seems like this year I am constantly apologizing for not writing a blog. For a couple of months things were very hard for me here in Swaziland. I was overwhelmed (again) by the need, somewhat discouraged, there were so many things to do and I was faced with a lot of changes. For those of you who know me well, you know that when I get overwhelmed or discouraged, I tend to withdraw into myself. Hence, writing a blog just wasn’t what I could do. I couldn’t find the words to write about my challenges and frustration without my emotional and spiritual health showing through the words. So instead of writing a blog, I turned my focus and concerns on God. I dove deep into the Word, completing two bible studies (Beth Moore’s study on “Esther” and Priscilla Shirer’s study on “Discerning the Voice of God”) and focusing on writing in my prayer journal. I talk to God a lot; not necessarily long prayers, but a lot of short ones. But when I really need to pour my heart and soul out to God, for me writing my prayers in a journal is the most intimate way of communicating with God. Those of you who know me well, you also know that while I can type anything very fast, I do not like to handwrite anything. But when it comes to my special communication with God, it has to be in my own handwriting and then the words just flow. So I am sorry that my blog suffered, but I am so thankful for my time with the Lord. I’m even more thankful for all of the blessings he has poured out on me and those I work with and/or love. What seemed so overwhelming and discouraging in March and the beginning of April became obvious works of the Lord in the later part of April and so far in May. It is almost like the Lord is blessing me even more because I didn’t give up or try to do things all on my own, but instead, I turned to Him for comfort, guidance and strength. These last three months have been quite a journey but it has been worth every minute of it to feel God’s unfailing love, realize his grace and be witness to his power every step of the way.
The blessings are too many to share, but let me share the biggest one…well, one of the biggest ones. It certainly was a situation that was causing me to be overwhelmed and discouraged and I couldn’t figure out what to do. And that would be the situation with my car. If you are a long time reader of my blog, you know that I use and abuse my vehicle. It is really the heart of my ministry and one of my life lines. When I left Swaziland last December to go to the States for the holidays, I knew that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My car was just not safe to drive and the problem had to do with the same suspension and alignment issues that I have had fixed three times since coming to Swaziland. I had some work done on it in March to get me through until I could find a new vehicle, but in the last couple of weeks I could tell the repairs weren’t going to be enough to make the vehicle road worthy on the roads I drive on. I had to admit I needed a newer and more reliable vehicle. I came back to Swaziland hopeful that the Lord would guide me to the right vehicle. However, once I got back on African soil, my faith wavered a bit as I started looking for a new vehicle. There were very few vehicles like I wanted available both in South Africa and Swaziland. And those that I did find were way, way over the upper edge of what I thought I needed to or could spend. So I started looking at vehicles that were in the same range as my Honda. But the problem with them is that they are all direct Japanese imports and had almost as many miles on them as my Honda does. Three times I started back to one place in Manzini to try and negotiate a lower price with the dealer on a Nissan X-trail that had only 6,000 km less than what my Honda has. Each time at the last minute I changed my mind. On the third time, I felt there were no other options so I was just going to go do it. I was almost to the dealer when I heard that quiet but firm voice say “No. Go to Nelspruit.” I felt a bit like Peter when he denied Christ three times, but was so glad for God’s grace and intervention. So I called my friend Mary Beth to see if she could come with me on Monday. She was able to come with me which was such a blessing. We went to every dealer we could find. Finally at the last one, we told the Salesman what I was looking for and he pointed to a 2004 Nisson Hardbody double cab 4×4 Bakkie (pickup truck). I said sure I’d look at it, but thought for sure it was like all the others, more than I could afford especially because it looked in better condition that what I’d seen so far. The salesman opened the door for me to sit in it while he explained some of the features. When I asked the price it was right in the middle of what I thought I could pay and the number of kilometers was low. Both Mary Beth and I felt a peace come over us as soon as we looked at the truck. I put a deposit on the truck that day (Monday).
But of course, this is Africa. Nothing is simple or goes according to what one’s plan is. Handling financial matters in Africa is one of the most frustrating things there is. I had asked the salesman if I could put part of the truck price on my American Express card. He checked and came back and said no, but that I could put it on a MasterCard or Visa card. (Ok. I have them.) So I started withdrawing my daily limit on my ATM card from the States trying to collect as much cash as possible. The rest I would put on my debit card and my MasterCard. I had a plan. On Thursday two other missionaries were going to Nelspruit for the day, so I went with them to purchase the truck. Surprise. I could only put 10,000 rand on a credit card (about $1300.) and they wouldn’t let me use more than one card. OK, another reminder that not everyplace in the world operates as we do in the States. I told the salesman that the US banks wouldn’t care how much you put on a credit card. It just means more interest for them, which of course isn’t a stellar example of our practices since we’ve been the leader of the financial crisis in the world. So now off to plan C.
I had money wire transferred over from the States. We went through a fire drill trying to get the process started while I was still in Nelspruit because it was early in the day for the US. But all of our hard work didn’t help. The money didn’t come out of my account until Friday afternoon in the US. I just kept withdrawing as much cash as I could out of my savings account in the US. Finally on Thursday of this week, more missionary friends were going to Nelspruit for a Doctor’s appointment. I went with them. It has been a week, and although the money had been taken from my account on the previous Friday, it still wasn’t in the bank account of the Car dealership. It was sitting in the Bank’s head office in Johannesburg. (grrr) So I talked to the Sales Manager and he went to talk to the bank, and to make a long story a bit shorter, I was able to pay for the car and take it back to Swaziland Thursday evening.
However, (remember, this is Africa; there is always a however.) the salesman had to come meet me at the border Friday morning so he could fill out export papers and get a border police clearance for the vehicle. Police clearance is nothing more than physically looking at the engine number and chassis number to make sure they match the paper work so they know the car isn’t stolen. We were going to meet at the border at 7:30 am. It took the salesman 2 hours to get the paperwork done, printed, approved and the vehicle cleared by the police. But he handled it all. I just sat and read a book. It was such a blessing to have him do it for me. After the border my plan was to get the car registered in Swaziland in a record breaking one day. I went to the reveue office to pay for the police clearance in Swaziland. Then when I got to the Manzini police station for them, they said there was one “yellow piece of paper” that the dealership didn’t give me. It turns out it is the transfer of ownership document from the dealer, the owner, to me, the buyer. But the police officer also told me that I needed to pay the import tax on the vehicle before they could do a police clearance anyway. So I went and paid 14% tax on the vehicle. But now I will have to meet the salesman again at the border at 7:30 in the morning to get that piece of paper. Then go back to Manzini (about 50 – 60 minutes from the border) to get the police clearance, go to another town to get a vehicle inspection, then go back to the revenue office to pay the registration fees and turn in all the forms and then finally go to the place where they make the license plates. And I need to get all of this finished before I have to leave Swaziland by about noon to drive to Johnanesburg to pick up our team from the Wesleyan Center at McNeese University in Lake Charles, LA that arrives tomorrow evening. Think I can make it??? Of course I can. This entire car thing has been orchestrated by God and if God is for me, who can be against me?
I must also say that the car salesman and the manager of the sales department were both extremely helpful and sympathetic. I have never received such good service anywhere, even in the US. I had a lot of time to talk to the salesman and found that he is a Christian. We had great conversations about the affects of Apratheid, the pitfalls of having a King, etc. I was so grateful to them both for keeping me informed of what was going on and for trying their best to get the vehicle to me as quick as possible.
So, tomorrow evening the team arrives. We will spend the night at emseni, a Christian retreat center near the Johannesburg airport. Then we will drive to Swaziland on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we will go up to Lomngeletjane. The team will be in Swaziland from Tuesday. May 19th until Friday June 4th. Stay tuned for stories and pictures of their time in Swaziland.